Working and living with a long term condition

By Parmjit Kang, Antimicrobial Pharmacist (The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust)

When I received my diagnosis of Lupus during my pre-registration year, everything changed.  I was quite ambitious and enjoyed breaking boundaries and realising my dreams, but my dreams were to be altered unexpectedly.

Getting qualified

After years of unexplainable or incorrectly diagnosed symptoms, I finally knew what was happening to me.  My body was fighting me.  Throughout University I knew something was wrong, but I was determined to complete my degree.  With the support of my dear friends and course tutors, I realised my dream and started my pre-registration year in hospital with a renewed feeling of optimism and hope.  I was prescribed medication to manage the lupus, but it caused a rare adverse effect which affected both of my hips, avascular necrosis, a loss of blood supply to the bone.  I had my first hip operation half-way through the pre-registration year, and again because of the support of my friends and colleagues at work, I qualified and went on to have a thoroughly rewarding career as a hospital pharmacist.

My profession gave me control

During those early years of managing a new condition and the operations that followed, my career was equal to my faith in keeping me motivated.  Through work I made some fantastic friendships with people who are now like family to me.  In the early years that followed, there were days when I would almost forget that I had lupus. I worked hard at making sure I was doing all that was expected of me and more.  Looking back now, I can see that I needed my profession, because it made me feel that the dreams that I had as a child were still possible, that my hopes could still be achieved. That I was capable, able, and of value, that I could still have control on the direction of my life.

Support from my pharmacy family

As human beings, we have an innate emotional need to be accepted and to belong, to be part of something greater than ourselves.  Pharmacy gave me this.  From the start I was accepted and nurtured as a member of the team, and I credit my work family for any success that followed in my life.  My life had become so entwined with my work, I didn’t know where one started and the other ended.  Managing a long-term condition quickly became second nature to me, I knew which foods adversely affected me, and that staying calm was the panacea to succeeding in this life.  

Mental health is vital

Hindsight is a great thing, but I wish I had understood then that looking after myself involved more than just staying physically well.  I realise now that mental health and physical health are connected so deeply, that you cannot have one without the other.  Along with the medication prescribed, I wish someone had prescribed some self-care and provided information on how to spot worsening mental health, as a diagnosis of a long-term condition increases the risk of poor mental health. I focused on meeting all the demands of me, whether from my career, my family or my friends, but didn’t appreciate that my priority should have been me.

Be kind to yourself

To all of you starting out in your professional lives, to those of you managing or struggling with a new diagnosis of a long term medical condition, to those of you who feel you must constantly prove your worth and be there for others - your patients, family, friends or the wider community - please remember to be kind to yourself first and foremost. You too are a friend, a family member and that patient, you are more than the layers you build up. Be kind to yourself first, then you can be there for others and lift them, which in turn will lift you.  Never be afraid to talk about your experiences, as you just do not know who is going through something similar and needs to know that they can make it too.

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.