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A guide to managing chronic illness at work and home

One of our members, Kathy Rimmer FIML, experienced a life-altering diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2012/13. She shares her insights on how managers can support themselves and their teams through major health challenges.

Here is a heartfelt letter Kathy wrote to her past self, who looking back was unaware of the imminent threat about to blow-up her dream life and career.

Dear Past Self,

As I sit in a coffee shop, awaiting my next hospital visit, I feel a deep sense of dread. The rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the sound of clinking cups and murmured conversations, yet all I can focus on is the oppressive weight of my thoughts. My mind drifts back to those days filled with doubt and suppressed anger. Misfortune seemed to follow me, and I often felt lost in a sea of responsibilities and expectations. 

A thought occurs to me, what do I wish I had known before, during, and after developing a chronic illness over a decade ago? 

I’m writing to you from 2024, hoping these words of wisdom will provide the courage and strength you need to endure what’s coming. Serenity will come, but it will take time. The journey is not easy, but it gets easier as you learn to create and implement various strategies. 

BEFORE: Beware Red Flags!

Life seems great now. You are in your mid-30s, working at a high level in a medium-sized corporate, balancing a full-time job, networking, and a personal life. You are living your dream life of a happily married military spouse, parent of a healthy son and daughter, and a homeowner. But without family nearby, you felt the weight of independence, rarely asking for help. This self-reliance leads you to physical and emotional exhaustion that will manifest in 2012/13. 

Looking back, I see how this drive pushed you beyond your limits. You ignored red flags and carried on, convinced you had to manage everything alone. Your health deteriorated with alarming symptoms, yet you still refused to prioritise your well-being. 

DURING: Facing Reality

The consequences of ignoring red flags became severe. Burning your hand was brushed off, but the shooting pain in your jaw, a potential heart attack sign, led you to drive yourself to the hospital during your lunch break. It wasn’t a heart attack, but this led to six months of not knowing what was wrong, wondering if you had a psychosomatic condition.

At your worst, it will take you 2.5 hours to walk 2.5 km on the treadmill with air conditioning, cool packs and breaks… and you couldn’t stand for longer than 15 minutes without severe nerve pain, requiring 16 tablets a day to function. 

Know that you strive and thrive by taking 12 months of leave without pay. During this time, you pivot, study and obtain extra qualifications, start your own business and measure, monitor and manage your daily health.

AFTER: Five step strategy – STAND

1. Stop and Listen

When your body signals distress, stop. Don’t ignore it. Reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s essential for your well-being. Even when you didn’t know if you could get out of bed or feel your legs, you kept pushing yourself. Instead, you should have called someone—your partner, a friend, a colleague, anyone.

Manager Tip: Stop and listen to your direct reports. Have a human-to-human conversation and identify if someone is not coping early and get them to your EAP. Don’t keep asking them to do more and prove themselves. Acknowledge their achievements, not just the gaps and stretch goals.

2. Take time

Do not cancel your holidays because work was short-staffed. You didn’t take time in small regular blocks and ended up taking years to improve your health. Schedule breaks, prioritise self-care, and remember that doing nothing is sometimes the most productive action you can take for your health and sanity. Looking after yourself is not selfish; it’s selfless. 

Manager Tip: Ensure you and your staff  are taking time off for sufficient holidays and personal appointments. Even marathon runners need extended recovery time, and so do you and your staff.

3. Acceptance

Accept where you are, your limitations, when and how you need help. Asking for support and being vulnerable can lead to invaluable assistance, stronger friendships and a sense of community. Just saying “I am good” and soldiering on until you crash needing a whole weekend of sleep to recover, is NOT good! 

Manager Tip: Get support ASAP or encourage your staff to get it. Refer to your EAP, a Mental Health First Aid Officer or talk to a GP and get referrals for counselling/psychology and/or an occupational therapist. Nowadays, Someone.Health is a good bulk-billed online option for mental health in Australia. 

4. Next step

Focus on the next step rather than the entire journey. Small, consistent actions towards your goals are more sustainable and less overwhelming. The path is not always a straight line—expect and embrace detours. 

Manager Tip: Ask if your staff member has sick leave. If so, encourage them to use it. Are there options for reduced hours? Your good staff do not want to leave; they need stability and some time to sort themselves out and get well. We should be cross-skilling staff to spread workload and allow ourselves and staff to enjoy time off. If this isn’t happening, start focusing on creating team-based goals. This includes your role as the manager. 

5. Discernment

Learn to discern what truly matters. Prioritise tasks that align with your strengths and passions. Ask for help in other areas, this creates a TEAM, where Together Everyone Achieves More and everyone supports each other using their strengths. 

Manager Tip: Identify if your staff are adapting for a prolonged period. For example, in DISC profiling a high ‘Influence’ person, who is people-focused, yet stuck dealing with data processing and very little people contact will be adapting. Prolonged Adaptability Stress Syndrome (PASS) can lead to long-term disease. 


Life is about enjoying the journey, meeting people, and learning along the way, not just reaching the destination exhausted. Additionally, I’ve learned that the body stores memories and feelings in profound ways. Our experiences, emotions, and even traumas are physically held in our bodies. 

Your physical symptoms were not random occurrences; they were your body’s way of holding onto and manifesting unprocessed emotions and stress. Understanding this connection, releasing negative emotions, and negative self-sabotaging beliefs is pivotal in your healing journey. Dear past self, take these insights to heart. Embrace support, prioritise self-care, and remember that sustainable success comes from harmonious effort. 

With love, wisdom and gratitude,
Your Future Self

P.S. The MS Clinic report was exceptional. The MRI showed ‘history’ of lesions and no new lesions, and they couldn’t find anything wrong. 

P.P.S. Remember progress is better than perfection and I promise to follow my own advice in this letter to stay well long term.  

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