Maintaining Professionalism While Living With Long-Term Illness

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 1 in 5 American adults live with some form of mental illness. Per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 adults in the USA have a chronic disease. Combined, that’s more than 120 million Americans living with chronic health issues today. And yet, despite the sheer number and severity of the issue, mental illness and chronic pain are still taboo, leading many people to fight their fights on their own. Many don’t understand what it’s really like to face chronic illness on a daily basis, and the struggles these illnesses present. Therefore, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Command Prompt has decided to shed light on long-term illnesses, mental and physical.

We are reaching out a helping hand to those who are in need or struggling, especially in these trying times. In light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, many people have experienced isolation and depression, whether it’s been circumstantial or chemical. Given the many barriers to mental and physical health care, we want to help in any way we can, even if it’s just by enabling the conversation. We’ve also added some resources at the bottom of this page, in case anyone reading this is in need of more immediate support.

As a professional and a student living with mental illness, I know how hard it can be to stay professional and productive when you’re struggling. Chronic illnesses present unique struggles and so I’m here to share some of the things I’ve learned that have helped me. Hopefully, this can help some of you, too.

It starts with you

Self care starts at home. You can’t neglect your physical and emotional needs at home and expect to be healthy and do great work at the office. Like with many things, it starts with you.

  1. Self care. Take care of yourself - whether it means eating when you’re hungry but don’t want to, resting when you’re in pain but have chores to do, or taking a bubble bath, just ‘cause. Keep in mind, though, that people love to talk about self care as this magical cure-all, where you take a spa day and forget about your worries for a while. However, self care isn’t all rose petals and bath bombs. Sometimes, it means making yourself go to work even when you hate the thought of it, cleaning the house when you just want to let the dust bunnies take over the world, taking your medicine despite the crappy side effects, or brushing your teeth when you just couldn’t care less. Self care is doing things that are good for you, first and foremost, and I cannot stress enough how important that is. You cannot take care of your other responsibilities unless you take care of yourself first. So evict those dust bunnies and get to work - you can take that bubble bath later, I promise.
  2. Healthy coping mechanisms. It can be easy to let your emotions build up. Sometimes it’s stress around work, or struggles with mental health, or interpersonal issues. Whatever it is, effective coping mechanisms will make your emotions that much easier to deal with. Instead of your feelings building up into a giant pile, you start putting them into boxes and neatly stacking them. They’re still there, but now they’re at least manageable. Life can be a never-ending cycle of roles/responsibilities, and we all have our own ways of dealing with it all. But not every coping mechanism is a good one. Many common coping mechanisms are self-destructive and do more harm than good. That can be big things, like, drinking, drugs, and self-harm, but it can also be smaller things, like ignoring your friends or losing your appetite. For me, coping looks like writing songs, listening to music, and cuddling with my dog. While effective coping mechanisms look different for everyone, ensure that it’s effective (meaning, it’s actively decreasing stress levels) and isn’t hurting more than helping.
  3. Support system. You are not alone. Let me repeat; you are not alone. No matter how lonely you might feel, no matter how busy people in your life are, no matter how hard it might be to talk about it, you are not alone. There is someone in your life that will always be there for you, no matter what, and will gladly help support you in whatever you’re going through. It might be a parent, a sibling, a friend, a partner, or a therapist… whoever it is, don’t keep this from them. Reach out, talk to them, be honest with them, and tell them what you need. Even if all you need is to get it off your chest, there is someone who is more than happy to listen. Talking about it can lighten the load, so to speak, and allowing others to carry some of that burden can give you the space to begin to work through your “boxes”. And if you’re not comfortable talking to them about it, that’s okay, too; just remember that there are resources available to you when it’s time.

In the workplace

  1. Communicate with your coworkers and boss. You can’t expect anyone to understand or be able to provide support if you don’t tell them what’s going on. While it can be really intimidating to talk to your superiors about this, transparency will go a long way professionally. You may worry that you'll be perceived as less capable, but if they don’t know you’re having a hard time and your performance suffers, that’s when they’ll start to think those things. If you communicate to them what’s going on, what they might see, how they can help, etc., then there might be understanding and flexibility. While not everyone will empathize, it’s better at least to try. And your coworkers will be able to offer support as well, so don’t leave them out of it either, especially those who you consider to be friends or allies. And, as a bonus, your openness may even encourage others to reach out and ask for help when they need it, too.
  2. Don’t make excuses or cultivate self pity. You still have responsibilities even when you’re struggling. You can’t just ignore a deadline and procrastinate because you’re in a bad place. Yes, you can (and should) communicate with your superior if you’re finding it difficult to get the job done, and hopefully this will breed some level of understanding in the appropriate situations. However, that doesn’t mean you can start slacking off or feeling bad for yourself. If you start victimizing yourself or using your struggles as an excuse, you’ll never get anything done. You can work through your struggles on your own time; for right now, put on your big-kid panties and get to work.
  3. Set reasonable expectations. You have to prioritize in order to avoid overworking yourself. If you’re in an especially dark place, and you know that even your best effort won’t result in the usual outcomes, then don’t try to do everything you’re usually capable of doing. It’s okay to put less on your plate if you know you can’t handle it. That doesn’t mean you should sit back and do the bare minimum; you just have to keep in touch with yourself - and your colleagues - to not bite off more than you can chew. If you overwork yourself, you risk going into burnout, and the last thing you need is to burn the candle at both ends. Take a breath, do what you can, and don’t stress about what you can’t.
  4. It’s okay to forgive yourself. You’re doing your best right? Then don’t beat yourself up for your shortcomings. If you mess up, miss a due date, or even straight-up forget a task, it’s okay. Take a breath, own your hiccup, do what you can to fix it, and keep moving forward. Kicking yourself when you’re down isn’t conducive to healing or to productivity. Keep working hard, keep doing your best, and remember: you’re still human, and you can’t expect to be any less flawed than those around you, especially if you’re coping with long-term illness.


In the end, it is possible to be productive, and successful, and happy, all while struggling with chronic, mental, and invisible illness. It can so easily feel like it’s impossible, like you have no hope and an empty future. But the ball is in your court. The process starts with the choices that you make today. Your first step is working to succeed in wherever you are in life at the moment.

As a final message, I just want to say that you’ve got millions of people who know what it’s like, who are on your side. It’s so easy to feel alone, especially nowadays, but you’re not. And if you feel like you are, here some resources and helplines for people who need help, no matter what it is:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233
  • National Graduate Student Crisis Hotline: (877) 472-3457
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673
  • Child Abuse Hotline: (800) 422-4453
  • CDC National HIV & AIDS Hotline: (800) 342-2437

For even more, go here:
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