My experience of working with RA

Aside from the shock of having been diagnosed with RA at the age of 34, the worry surrounding my career and if I was going to have to give it up was weighing heavily on my mind. I was diagnosed with RA in October 2010, two weeks after I had had major back surgery to correct a prolapsed disc. Having to inform my employer that, after already having 7 weeks off for the operation I was now facing an uncertain future and the possibility of more time off was more than I could process at such a daunting and uncertain time.

I have worked for ASK Restaurants for two and a half years as a restaurant manager. I love my job and the buzz of a busy restaurant - the thought of being confined to an office job 5 days a week 9 -5 fills me with dread. I am an active person who loves mixing with people and being busy. I have a great team, many of whom have worked for me for years at various other companies and I would be heartbroken if I had to leave them.

I can remember the anxiety I felt the day I met up with my boss to tell her about my RA. I felt like a hypochondriac, a fraud and above all a failure. RA is a debilitating lifelong illness, but one that is not always outwardly obvious, and if you’re like me, you hide it well.

She listened whilst I explained my situation and how I thought it would affect my job. I remember how upset I was - Tamsyn had been my boss for a little over a year at the time and we had always had a great working relationship but first and foremost she has a responsibility to the company, and I was scared that my RA would inhibit me from fulfilling my role to its full and that they would somehow deem me unfit to work and I would lose my job. As unfair as this may seem this does happen and I had read some horror stories on the internet of people who had experienced it first-hand.

I don’t remember much from that initial conversation apart from her rubbing my shoulder and saying ‘we will do everything we can to help you’. The relief after this conversation was immense. At my age I couldn’t retire and with a mortgage to pay I couldn’t work part time or live off benefits.

Since that day the company has provided me with new office furniture to make my admin more comfortable and allowed me to adjust my shift patterns to suit and they always allow me time to go to all my appointments. I don’t work early in the morning when my RA is worse, I also work 4 days not 5 so that the days I do have off are not taken up with doctors, blood tests and rheumatology appointments. By doing this they have also limited the possibility of me having bad flares and taking longer periods of time off, I also have a life because I have enough time to rest between shifts.

I am very grateful to ASK for their understanding and compassion and I hope that more companies can learn from their example.

RA is a manageable condition if those who suffer are given the flexibility to manage it. It doesn’t have to restrict you; by offering flexible working conditions and educating themselves about the illness my employer has given me the freedom to make the most of my situation and to continue doing what I love.

Autumn 2011: Clare Kendall