As my regular readers will know, at the end of last year I made the very difficult decision to leave my job as a litigation lawyer and move into a more policy-focused role without any litigation element. It was a big change, and it felt like a big loss. As much as I adore my new job, there are certainly elements of my old job I miss. Most of all, I am sad that the decision wasn’t one I could make because I wanted to, but because I had to.
Now, as my endo and adeno continue to cause trouble, I’m faced with another decision – reducing my hours.
Today, I want to talk about how you make these types of decisions. I highly recommend using a journal to write down your thoughts on this, or to talk at someone. I find it helps solidify my reasoning and makes me think it through logically and thoroughly.
Basically, there are a lot of questions to ask yourself.
First, and most obviously:
1) Can you physically do it?
Whether you are asking this about the number of hours your are working, the type of work you are doing now, or the type or work you are looking to move into, it is the most basic consideration. If you cannot get through a full day without the pain driving you to your knees, or sending you to the bathroom to cry multiple times a day, or forcing you to take serious painkillers that compromise your ability to do your job in other ways, it might be time to rethink your current work.
When thinking about this, don’t just take into account whether you can struggle through a work day. Think about whether you can get through a work day and still have the strength to feed yourself, keep yourself clean, and complete those basic necessities of life? Life does not begin and end with work, and if a full-time day in your current role results in you collapsing into bed fully dressed as soon as you crawl through the door every day, that job is not working for you. Some days like that are a reality for many people with chronic pain, but if that is the majority of your days, it is not sustainable and you will end up in a really, really bad way.
2) Are there changes you could make that would let you keep the status quo?
Now, it may be that cutting your hours is the change that lets you keep your job, but other things might work too. If you work in a standing role, such as at a checkout, and you find that painful, could your employers give you a chair? If you have an office job that involves sitting all day, could a sit-stand desk help? Would a heatpack at your desk make a difference? If you struggle more in the mornings, could you start and finish work later, or vice versa if your pain is worse in the evening? Is there any way you could work from home for a day a week? If you have to wear a uniform, are there allowances that could be made for a stretchier waistband or more comfortable shoes?
Remember that the Disability Discrimination Act mandates people making reasonable adjustment for disability (see section 5). If you aren’t sure that what you are asking for is reasonable, or your work is saying it isn’t, consider a chat with a lawyer. Legal Aid commissions around the country have helplines for free advice, and many lawyers will give you a free initial consultation or do the first 15 minutes for free.
Please note that the above is not legal advice.
Ultimately, though, if there isn’t an adjustment that will do enough to let you stay where you are, that’s another sign it may be time to move on.
3) Can you afford it?
Sadly, this is the worst question, but it is one of those horrible realities that ultimately dictates what you choose. It can put you in an awful situation where your body can’t physically afford for you to keep working, but your family (or even just you) can’t afford for you to not. Let’s not pretend that the DSP is a lot of money, even if you can get it, and Newstart is even worse.
That being said, it is still a relevant consideration. If you have a marketable, flexible skill, there might be things you can do to supplement or create income outside of Centrelink. For example, if you are fluent (and certified) in a second language, you could pick up some translation or phone interpreter work. If you have good English skills and can work at a computer, editing or transcription might be good. If you are a superb knitter, perhaps there is an Etsy store in your future. With all of these, though, bear in mind that your income is reportable to Centrelink and may reduce your payments accordingly, so assess whether it is worth it for you.
If you don’t have a skill or the energy to market it, what else can you do? Are cheaper accommodations an option (noting that moving is a big deal even when you are healthy)? Are you eligible for government housing or rental assistance? Are there any costs you can cut down on? These are not nice questions to ask, and I hate the idea that people have to go through this, but it is a relevant consideration.
If you know that you cannot physically work any more, but also have no idea how you can possibly afford not to work, speak to a disability advocate, social worker, or community lawyer. Ask what funding options there are and what you need to do to qualify for them. Get as much medical evidence as you can from your treating team. I can’t guarantee that things will be fun or easy (in fact I can almost promise it will be agonisingly frustrating), or even that you will be able to find the answer, but it will help inform your choice.
What are your other options?
If you are considering a workplace change rather than unemployment or a reduction of hours, what are the options for you to move on to? Is your prospective employer likely to be flexible? Will the new job suit your needs? Will you enjoy it? Seriously, mental health is important. You want to like your job, especially if you are spending a lot of time doing it. Will the new job allow you to grow and advance?
These questions are, sadly, less important that the physical and financial needs, because, well, you need to be housed, fed, and capable of standing up.
None of the above will give you an answer, but I hope that asking yourself these questions helps make the decision a little clearer in your mind. It may also help you justify it to other people (not that you should have to, but there are always judgemental people).
Have you had to make a decision like this? How did you decide in the end, and do you feel like it was the right call? Let me know in the comments.