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From a young age, I have measured my value in my accomplishments. Right or wrong, I have discovered this pattern, and I can see it weaving in and out of different stages of my life until we get to this point where I’m almost 34 and starting to consider how much longer I’ll be able to work full-time. For someone like me, this is an earth shattering thought because it’s made me question not only how I will afford to live also my value in society. Chances are a lot of other chronically ill people have been on this road or will be so I’d like to share some of my thoughts and processes to how I created a game plan for my career.

When to consider changing your work life
I didn’t say “when to consider quitting your job” because I think this is much more than just quitting a job. Considering your future career and career options often involves a lifestyle change and can affect more than just you if you have a family (or even if you’re single). I recently had my first MS relapse in 7 years, and it definitely made me slow down and reconsider some of the things I’m doing in my life, my career being at the top of that list. I have what I consider a stressful job; it’s often quick deadlines and for me that equals high anxiety. I realized after this last relapse that I couldn’t continue in a high stress workplace anymore, this type of job just wasn’t something I was willing to put my body under stress for.

I had known my job was stressful but it wasn’t until I was forced to stop due to relapse, that I was really able to see how high my anxiety was day-to-day. After almost two years of this, I decided it was time to move on. There is no right or wrong answer for how long you need to be at a job before you decide it’s not good for you, it’s a personal choice. The first step is to be honest with yourself when deciding that you need a change, the next step is deciding if that change includes continuing to work or to essentially retire. The luxury of quitting altogether isn’t one many people have, so for most us it’s a conversation about what kind of work we can do, and how much of it we can do. Being honest with yourself isn’t just about acknowledging a toxic workplace, it’s about coming to terms with whether you’ll work full-time, part-time or not at all. What is your body telling you?

What are your options
So many of us feel stuck in our jobs for a plethora of reasons and I’m not here to tell you your fears are silly or unfounded but I can tell you that there may be more options than you think. You may have to go outside of your chosen career path, or do something you never dreamed you’d do, but there are options. Before you make any major changes, I’d encourage you to take notes and really pay attention to your body and your mental capacity to do your job for a few weeks. Post relapse I found that my brain was shutting down for the day much earlier than it used to. It was taking me twice as long to complete simple tasks. For me, that was a sign that long, stressful work days weren’t going to cut it anymore.

If you have an employer you can be honest with, talk to them. There may be a way to change your role, or cut your hours to accommodate you. If this isn’t an option for you, consider finding a part-time job or a work from home job. There are legitimate websites that can help you find real work from home careers and there are also some other jobs that are not in any one specialty like data entry or customer service. So many “call centers” are now remote, which can often take a lot of the strain off of you when you skip commuting. You may have to take a pay cut. You may have to switch fields. You may have to get outside your comfort zone, but this is about compromise.

If I quit my job, I won’t have insurance
For the time being, securing insurance is something that just about anyone can do. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but I’m saying there are a few ways to get insurance if you lose it through your employer. First check to see if your employer offers insurance for part-time employees. Next think about anyone in your life that you can share a plan with, maybe a spouse or your parents if you’re under 26. If this still doesn’t apply to you, we do still have the ACA. While the ACA isn’t the most stable choice right now it is a choice and I had a few ACA plans over the last couple of years and I really appreciated all of them. Not everyone loves them, but this new life you’re looking to create is all about compromises. If ACA isn’t your thing there is COBRA, which is very expensive and not a long term option and the last one I can come up with is Medicaid. I have never been on Medicaid but I have many chronic illness friends who do use it and seem to get all the coverage they need.

But how will I pay for stuff?
If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’ve mentally asked me a few times now, “yea but how am I going to pay my bills or take care of my family?” I don’t know your unique circumstances but I do know that cutting my hours was something I did not take lightly. I don’t have oodles of money (I’m chronically ill, of course!) and I definitely have my fair share of bills, so cutting money is something I spent a lot of time thinking about. My best tip is to make a budget. Not just a budget to see what you spend on things, but a real budget that you use to monitor your spending and to make sure you don’t overspend in other places. Budgeting is not fun for most people, but it’s the best way to see where you spend your money and where you can cut back. Not to mention, there are so many budgeting apps available and they actually do make it kind of fun.

Another thing to consider is how does cutting back on working fit into your life goals. I don’t know anyone who put in their life goals “stop working due to chronic illness in my thirties” so what I’m talking about is, do you want to buy a house? Remodel your bathroom? Travel the world? Buy a new car? Assess your life goals and what is the “need to do” and the “want to do”. This won’t be the first time you’ve had to make tough choices because of your health and it won’t be the last. This process is also not saying you’ll never have enough money to take a trip around the world, but it may mean it takes you longer to save or maybe you only go halfway around the world. You’re looking to make compromises with your day-to-day self, so you can preserve the quality of life for your long-term self.

Closing pep talk
Your job does not dictate your worth. Read that sentence again.

Your job may dictate your wealth but not your worth. If you need to quit due to illness you are not any less smart, kind, emotionally capable, etc. It is so easy to entangle our worth with our job and our contributions to society, but when you leave this earth no one is going to say, “Wow, Janet was an amazing accountant”. They’re going to say “Janet had a huge heart, a bright smile, and made a mean chocolate cake.” You are more than your job. If you can figure out a way to continue to sustain yourself by working less, and it will preserve your physical and mental wellbeing, please consider doing it.