Friday, November 14, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: "Women, Work, And Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend"

Today, I am honored to be interviewing Rosalind Joffe about her book, coauthored with Joan Friedlander, “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend” for her virtual book tour. Rosalind was one of the first people I connected with online when I started researching autoimmune diseases and was trying to find the support of others like me (chronically ill). She interviewed me for her blog Working With Chronic Illness very early in my blog “career,” so I feel like I have come full circle having the opportunity to interview Rosalind today for my blog.

Leslie Rott: First of all, Rosalind, could you provide my readers with a little bit of background about yourself and your book?

Rosalind Joffe: I’ve lived with chronic illnesses for 30 years – multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis (5 years and then ‘cured’ with ileostomy), and others. My husband and I have two grown daughters and I’ve worked since college (35 years) except for two years, when I was on SSDI. When I returned to working after disability, I decided I had to figure out work that I could continue to do with my unpredictable health issues. And it had to be something I cared deeply about, enough so to get me out of bed even on the worst days and would be worth devoting my limited resources. And I have done that -- coaching people with chronic illness in keeping their careers going. This experience inspired the book. Realizing how difficult it is for anyone, but women in particular, to live with chronic illness and stay successful in the workforce.

LR: What is a virtual book tour? How does it work and why did you decide to have one for your book?

RJ: A virtual book tour is an online journey that takes readers to different bloggers who post something about your book. These days, non-fiction books don’t typically sell well in brick and mortar bookstores. But the Internet, with its ability to hone in on a special interest, gives niche books an opportunity to find their audience. I know that the disease community is a vibrant blogging force and believe that this is a terrific way to get my message out there while also creating stronger links among the bloggers.

LR: Why did you choose to focus your book on working women specifically?

RJ: From working with such a wide variety of people with chronic illness, it’s easy to see that there are so many issues that need to be addressed regarding work and chronic illness. We chose this focus for three reasons: both Joan and I had personal experience with autoimmune disease and working, four times as many women than men have autoimmune disease, and these diseases tend to get worse during those years when most people are at the intersection of career and family building.

LR: How do you, as a woman with chronic illness, manage to balance all of the commitments in your own life?

RJ: Well, it depends on what you mean by balance. We’re always “balancing” commitments, but that is different from being “in balance”. In the last chapter of the book, I describe hope and resilience and I think those two qualities are what sustain me. The sense that however bad this moment is, tomorrow could be different and better, is hope. And the ability to bounce back to a standing position, even after you’ve been hit with a resounding punch, is resilience. I’ve worked all of my adult life on nurturing these two qualities.

LR: One thing that I have found so interesting during my time as a chronic illness blogger is the universality of the stories and experiences shared by members of the chronic illness community, regardless of disease. Just as an example, even though I am not a working woman, your book resonated with me on many levels (see my review of "Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend"). Why do you think this is and do you view this as an integral part of what keeps the chronic illness community going? :

RJ: I’m delighted to hear you say that because from the outset, when I developed, I decided that I wanted to work with anyone who lives with any chronic illness or condition, not just people with multiple sclerosis or ulcerative colitis (diseases I have). We focused the book on AD because of the prevalence among women, but we tried to emphasize that although course and symptoms among chronic diseases might vary, the issues that they create in our lives are the same.

And I think that’s critical for people to realize. It gives all of us living with chronic disease a common voice rather than struggling to see how one disease differs from another. The more we can see the common themes, the better able we are to address and get what we all need – from healthcare, the workplace and society at large.

And now, I’ll step down off my soapbox!

LR: In your book, you provide a lot of advice for working women, women who are knee-deep in their careers when chronic illness steps in. What advice would you give to women in their 20s and 30s who are coping with chronic illness and are trying to balance other life issues as opposed to working (for instance, being in graduate school, like me)?

RJ: I’ve found that it’s helpful to realize that we are who we are wherever we are. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a student, a parent, or a working person. The issues are the same. You’ve got competing demands on your energy and time. You’ve got other people’s expectations for what you can and can’t do. Finally, you’ve got your own interests, needs and expectations. You can’t possibly meet them all – even healthy people don’t. You’re just likely to meet fewer than other people. But if you normalize the challenge by recognizing that everyone makes compromises, faces disappointing themselves and others, and has to realign what is possible, you can put things into perspective. We waste a lot of time being unhappy over what isn’t. Better to focus on what is.

LR: In your book, you talk about women with chronic illnesses as being part of a “sisterhood”. Aside from blogging and sharing our stories with others, how else can we keep the “sisterhood” going and participate in advocacy and awareness regarding chronic illness without wearing ourselves out in the process?

RJ: That’s a tough one for me to answer because blogging and sharing stories is what I do (in addition to working with my clients, coaching them). Although we wrote the book for women, I’ve always wanted to and tried to include men in this discussion as well because I’ve seen that chronic illness is just as hard on men as it is on women and in many of the same ways. We all benefit from knowing we’re not alone.

LR: Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?

RJ: Since I have a hunch that most of your readers are more like you (a student) than not, I encourage them to consider the long term when making decisions – whether it’s about school, work or personal. Living with chronic illness can mean that you live with more limitations than you’d like. So you have to be more strategic and maybe even a little less spontaneous. But if you’re lucky, life is long and if you’re patient, you have time to achieve most of what you seek. It might not be in the time frame you want or even the package you expect. But when you maintain hope and resilience, you’re more likely to recognize that dream when it becomes your reality.

LR: I think that many of us hope to live up to the challenge that you pose, to fulfill ones passions, while still being able to balance all of life’s craziness in addition to chronic illness.

Thank you, Rosalind, for allowing Getting Closer to Myself to be one of the stops on your virtual book tour! My readers and I greatly appreciate all of your efforts and the advice and wisdom that you offer, both in the interview today, and in your book, “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend”!

Please make sure to check Rosalind’s site and view all of the other blogs that have taken part in the virtual book tour thus far, and who are yet to come next week.

1 comment:

  1. Leslie,

    Thanks for participating in Rosalind's virtual book tour. I will be having a guest post from her next week at my blog as well, and I have learned something new each and every day of the tour. I thought your questions where great, and they answered a lot of things I think about as well, even though I am older than you and not a student at the moment. The universality of chronic illness that you touched on gives more in common than not, regardless of our life circumstances.

    As usual, I have been impressed with Rosalind's ability to get across important information in a clear and concise way. I have read her book and found it very useful, even though I am not employed at the moment.

    Thanks again for being involved and for your advocacy on behalf of us all. Please check out Rosalind's post at my blog on Nov. 20th.