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Personal Story

What I’ve learned about work and Crohn’s disease


I’m a child of Egyptian immigrants, and it’s common in our culture to aspire to careers as doctors, lawyers, or engineers. I believe that while it has something to do with status, it’s more about a sense of stability -- for our parents to feel that we have job security.

By Basmah Ali

Even though my parents were more flexible with my siblings’ and my career choices, it was still expected for us to study hard and do well. That, along with the Western mentality to value fast-paced work environments, can put a lot of pressure on people with Crohn’s disease such as myself. In my case, I eventually became very ill partly because of it.

I provided youth mental health and social services for years. I absolutely loved being around the kids, and nothing brought me more joy than to see them grow as my teams guided them. Nevertheless, these positions were very demanding to my body. I dealt with severe anemia that left me in a constant state of exhaustion

Working with kids requires a lot of activity with little time to relax. My co-workers were able to do their jobs, and I didn’t want to ask for accommodations for fear of being perceived as unable to do the work. I pushed myself hard just to keep up with everyone else. 

The fact that the kids dealt with trauma themselves made it just as mentally draining as it was physically. I was completely wiped out after every shift and didn’t use the time in between to take care of myself. All I thought about was keeping my job for the security factor I mentioned before and the health insurance for my expensive medications, so I just kept going. 

I was excited when I got a housing case management job back in the summer of 2015. The job still involved a lot of moving, but there was also time to sit and perform administrative work. I thought I was going to get the best of both worlds. 

Unfortunately, transitioning between two jobs meant that I didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford treatment necessary to help me manage my Crohn’s disease. I ignored how sick I was getting until I was inevitably hospitalized right before Christmas. 

I had been working at this organization for a few months and asked if I could perform administrative duties at home while only traveling to visit clients. I was fired instead. Even though my family was supportive while I was healing, I felt useless and unworthy. 

It took me a year and a half to find a cashier position at a food cooperative. It wasn’t what I imagined I’d be doing at my age, but the co-op was very flexible and understanding. I only worked part time and was provided a chair to preserve my energy. The job also gave me an opportunity to start doing things that I love again, like spending time with my family and friends. 

I took time off during COVID-19 to take a wellness coaching course. I’ve been looking for work in my field, but previous experience makes me wary of working those long hours again. I wish I could give some advice, but I’m figuring it out as I go. What I can say is that what you do doesn’t define you, so work somewhere that positively impacts your well-being.  

Original source here.

Posted on: July 6 2021

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