12 Questions to Ask Yourself When Going to Work Feels Difficult or Impossible Due to Chronic Pain or Illness

I am not an expert when it comes to managing employment in the midst of chronic pain or navigating work when you have a disability. This is a complex topic that plays out in different ways depending on the individual and the situation.

At the same time, I have some personal experience in this area. I can think of times in the past when going to work was exceedingly difficult and other times when work felt downright impossible because of the extent and persistency of my pain.

Each difficult work situation I have faced has required a different solution. At one point, I made the sad decision to quit a job I loved because it was just too much. Another time, I pushed through pain for longer than I thought possible to keep a job I really needed. Other times I have worked fewer hours at my job outside of the home, and supplemented this with work-from-home options.

Giving up a job or making job changes due to pain or illness is an emotional ordeal. No one wants to leave a job because they are physically unable to keep up with it. Nobody wants to admit they can’t handle their current line of work anymore. And many times, giving up a job doesn’t feel like an option due to financial reasons or because it would mean losing necessary health insurance.

This is a complex topic that requires different solutions for different situations, and because of that, I am not going to offer any specific advice. I am simply going to provide some questions that you can ask yourself that may give direction for how to move forward.

  1. Who can I talk to about my situation so we can brainstorm ideas together? 

Perhaps the first question to ask yourself is who can support you as you make any important work decisions. Who can you bounce ideas off of? Who might be able to provide unbiased and rational advice?

2.  Are there accommodations I need at my current job that I have not asked for yet? If so, what roadblocks have prevented me from asking for what I need?  

I’m just going to say it – asking for accommodations sucks. There is always the fear that people won’t believe you need accommodations or that people will think you are exaggerating about your needs. Perhaps worst of all, you worry they will say “no.” When people have said “no” to my requests for accommodations, it felt like a punch in the gut. In the moment, it felt as if they were saying, “you don’t matter enough for us to accommodate you.” And it made me wary of asking for accommodations in other situations.

But if accommodations are the difference between keeping and giving up a job, don’t let guilt, shame, or fear get in the way of asking. Identify the roadblocks you personally face when it comes to requesting accommodations and make a plan for how you will go to your boss with your request. It may help to remember that employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with a legally recognized disability.

  1. Could I turn my current job into a more manageable work from home position?

It doesn’t hurt to ask. You might be surprised how flexible your employer is willing to be.

  1. Should I try to find a different job that would allow me to work from the comfort of my home and set my own hours?

On several occasions I have used this option. Two websites I have personally used are Upwork (a freelancing website) and Tutor.com (where I tutored English, writing, and career services).

I am currently looking for an online job to supplement my current work, and I have found Flexjobs and Idealist.org to be my two favorite search websites for virtual work. You do have to pay a small fee to join Flexjobs, but I have actually found it to be worth it (this is not an affiliate link).

There are so many options when it comes to working at home, so whatever your area of work, I highly encourage you to see if it is possible to do it remotely.

  1. Should I consider working fewer hours?

Perhaps you would be able to manage your job if you cut back your hours. Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask your boss if it would be possible to change your job into a part-time position.

  1. Should I consider seeking out a less physically demanding line of work?

Several of my friends with chronic pain and illness went back to gain schooling in less physically demanding fields. This isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s worth asking if this would be possible for you. 

  1. Do I have skills from the past I could turn back to?

Think back far. Do a lot of brainstorming. Write out a list of your skills, abilities, and experience. I bet you have skills and resources you haven’t considered for a while.

  1. Am I at the point where I should apply for disability?

There is no shame in applying for disability if you are physically unable to work. This is a topic I am not personally familiar with enough to know the ins and outs of what the process entails. But, perhaps you are at the point where this would be worth looking into.

  1. If I quit my job, what would be the benefits and what would be the costs? Do the benefits out-weight the costs? Or do the costs out-weight the benefits? 

Weighing the costs and benefits has been a huge factor in my decision to quit or stay at jobs. On several occasions it has been the biggest factor. Write out a costs and a benefits list. Figure out what the most important factors are in your decision. Figure out which factors you are unable to compromise on, and which factors leave you with some leeway in your decision.

10. Am I forcing myself to continue working solely out of guilt, shame, or fear of how others will view me?

There is a mindset in our culture that our value arises out of our work and ability to contribute to society. But, the truth is that nothing about your value, nothing about who you are as a person, will change if you quit your day job. Nothing. Your salvation and identity in Christ are not affected by not going to work. God’s view of you does not change by how much you are able to offer to society. If guilt and shame are the only things holding you back from quitting a job that has become too much to handle, perhaps you should seriously consider quitting your job. 

  1. Have I asked for help from my church, community, family, friends, or helpful organizations in my area?

 Asking for help is hard. But it’s so necessary. Perhaps your church could help you financially. Perhaps your family or friends could help you with stuff around the house, and that could free up energy for you to continue going to work to provide for yourself. Perhaps you could afford to work fewer hours if you received food from an organization such as WIC or found other assistance in your area.

  1. Have I prayed about it yet? Have I asked God for wisdom and guidance? Have I asked God to provide?

Have you prayed about it as much as you have thought about it? Have you sought out God to give you direction on what he desires for your life? Have you taken God at his word that he gives wisdom to those who ask and provides for his children?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject! How have you handled working while also managing your health? What tips do you have for others who may be in the same situation as you?

For more thoughts on work, faith, and chronic pain, check out my booklet, But God, Wouldn’t I Be More Useful to You If I Were Healthyavailable on Amazon in kindle, paperback, and audible formats.

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