A woman with lupus lying in her bed working on her laptop, as her dog comforts her and cuddles up beside her.

Lupus and (Tweaking) Our Careers – Part 1

Many of us had specific career-related dreams since we were young children. In fact, I can remember some of my closest family members or my parent’s friends asking me as I progressed in school, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” or “What do you plan on studying in college?” The concept of choosing a career early on is ingrained in our minds from a young age.

But what happens when an unexpected diagnosis like lupus derails the plans you have spent years working to achieve?

My career wishes

Since the age of 7 or so, I knew I wanted to work in the medical field. I “knew” without a doubt I was going to be a doctor. Many plans were made – I’d go to college, become a physician, and travel across the globe to volunteer. These plans would combine my love for medicine with my love for helping people.

Unfortunately, I started exhibiting strange medical symptoms at age 8, and they continued to intensify through my teen and early adult years. By the time I reached college, still not having a diagnosis, I knew in my heart I would never make it through medical school. Having majored in chemistry, I thought if I pushed myself hard enough I could at least make it through the nursing program at my college.

And I almost did.

Nursing school with lupus

Toward the end of nursing school – years in at this point – I suffered a pulmonary embolism, a small stroke, and a variety of other medical problems. While I finally had a lupus diagnosis, I really had no understanding of the severity of my issues and how they were going to impact my education, future career plans, finances and more. In my ignorance, I assumed I would get some medication and viola!...be on my merry way, wrapping up the nursing program. Boy, was I wrong!

Learning my limits

While everyone’s lupus diagnosis and journey are different, there are also many similarities between us. Over the years I have spoken to hundreds of people who had to make major career and educational changes because of an unexpected diagnosis of lupus and/or other autoimmune diseases. I didn’t know it at the time but I was going to spend the next few years in and out of the hospital, trying to figure out the correct medication cocktail, implementing lifestyle changes, and also spending a lot (and you know what I mean by a lot) of time in bed.

Facing the facts

I was crushed. And if you ever had to give up a dream like an educational choice or give up a career path, you know too how crushing that decision (even if it is one forced on you) can be. I wish I could sit here and tell you I took it well and immediately transformed the lemons that were handed to me but I didn’t. Instead, I sat with it for a while. Yes, I had a pity party first – “What was I going to do now?" I asked myself repeatedly. “Did I just waste all of those years in school?” And, don’t even get me started on the amount of student loan debt I was left with.

Luckily, after some time, my Type A personality and refusal to give up kicked back in. I couldn’t do much. In fact, as some of you may be familiar with, even a shower at times was difficult. But as I was stuck there in bed – whether it was in the hospital or at home – I could do something I loved to do since I was a child. And that was to write!

Learning my other strengths

During this time, I also prayed a lot, hoping I would get an answer to how I could use my gifts and talents in a new way, as my doctors were not clearing me to return to school or work yet. Time prevents me from going into too much detail here but I can tell you over time, an editor at a local newspaper saw something I wrote for a friend and asked me if I would be interested in doing some freelance writing. Over the past 12 years, that life opportunity morphed into an entirely different career for me – working as a journalist (mainly in the medical sector), for some of the largest media outlets in the world.

Now, not all of us will have to completely change our career or educational path. I know many people diagnosed with lupus who transitioned from working in the field full-time to working from home full-time, or part-time in order to rest. There are also people who decided to attend college solely online if their major allowed for it. And then there are people I know who did, like me, change their path completely, allowing them to work from home as their body allows. Here are a few of the paths they choose:

  • One friend of mine went back to school in a sense online, getting a certification in graphic design (which took less than a year). She then opened her own graphic design and branding company, specifically focusing on women-owned businesses. She works from home, and with her permission, I am allowed to tell you she makes close to six figures with her home-based business.
  • A few individuals I know diagnosed with lupus took a course online in medication transcription, or transcribing in general and work part-time from home.
  • Some people I am friends with went more of the freelance writing, editing, and ghostwriting route, all options you can do from the privacy of your own home!
  • Other people I have spoken too moved into a new sector in their field. For example, a friend who was a former ER nurse is now an online-telephone nurse for one of the major insurance carriers.
  • Another woman I know who is an attorney, now works as a consultant, allowing her to rest when she needs to (and removing the stress of being in a courtroom often).

Job search for people living with lupus

In addition to these, there are so many at-home, remote jobs available in any job search website you visit (hint: search “remote”, “virtual” or “telecommute” in the job title box), such as Indeed and ZipRecruiter. Many companies today hire at-home customer service agents, travel agents, return assistance, or technical support.

If you are in limbo at the moment and aren’t sure where you might fit in terms of redirecting your career, I’d suggest visiting a website like 16personalities.com and taking the Myer-Briggs test. The results with tests like these offer you a variety of employment options that mesh well with your personality and work behaviors. Then you can further tweak those options by choosing something that would fit with your specific needs (ie, medical condition, limitations, etc.)

I hope you enjoyed the first part of my career and lupus series. We would love to hear more about adjustments you may have had to make, and how you went about moving forward. Your personal experience can be the encouragement someone else needs! Stay tuned for more information on employment laws, disability, and workplace accommodations, coming soon!

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