Sirpa Jokinen modified her working life to suit her work ability after falling ill – “You’re the top expert in your own coping”


Sirpa Jokinen has many different professions and believes that a person can do anything if they want it enough. However, sometimes you may come across a situation where you can’t take your work ability for granted. This has also happened to Jokinen who believes that in such a situation it’s important to recognise your own limits, have the courage to talk about your situation and have the understanding of the people around you.

Sirpa Jokinen

The education and work history of Sirpa Jokinen (in the photo) from Saarijärvi is at least as nuanced as our interview session on the successes and challenges of life held in an October morning. Jokinen, aged 55 years, has completed the degrees of a cook, salesperson, nutritional technician and podiatrist. She has accumulated work experience in the tasks of, for example, a café, clothing, gas station and kitchen salesperson, catering supervisor and bakery product demonstrator. She has also worked several jobs at the same time.

– I’ve looked for different job opportunities all my life and liked that I’ve been able to work in different kinds of tasks. I think that anyone can do anything if they want it enough, Jokinen says.

However, towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Jokinen had to stop when she was faced with obstacles.

– I had spent four years in Jyväskylä working as a kitchen salesperson, and I also worked as a bakery product demonstrator on the side. The sales work was quite tough, and I was also facing challenges in my personal life at that time. For these reasons, I got burned out, she describes.

New profession out of a hobby

After healing from burnout, the TE Office offered Sirpa Jokinen the services of a vocational guidance psychologist. Jokinen had planned to apply for a job in the restaurant service industry because she was already familiar with the field. However, she came up with a new idea in the discussions she had with the psychologist.

– The idea of completing a further vocational qualification in podiatry was born out of my hobbies. I had purchased a podiatry device that I used to care for the feet of my friends and family. At that time, a practical nurse’s degree or other similar education in the health care sector was an admission requirement for studying for the qualification, but I had no such educational background. However, with the help of the vocational guidance psychologist, it became clear that the competence in nutritional information that I had acquired in my nutritional technician training, which corresponds to a current university of applied sciences bachelor’s degree, met this criterion. I finally got to start my further vocational qualification in podiatry at the Jyväskylä Educational Consortium Gradia in Jämsä, Jokinen recalls.

Jokinen completed the work placement included in her studies at a physical therapy facility called Kunnon Syke where there was a need for a permanent, part-time employee.

– I told my supervisor: “Hire me. I haven’t graduated yet, but I can work alongside another podiatrist.” I got the job and worked for that employer from 2012 to 2019. In addition to that, I worked as a personal assistant and a bakery product demonstrator.

Changed plans due to cerebral haemorrhage

In 2019, the owner of the physical therapy facility proposed that Sirpa Jokinen should study as a practical nurse so that Jokinen could enter herself into Valvira’s register and also receive clients who acquire physical therapy with a service voucher.

– I told that I can’t handle it right now. Afterwards, I’ve wondered whether the occasional and unexplained feeling of fatigue that I experienced around that time was the first sign of what was to come, Jokinen says.

Jokinen’s work ended in the physical therapy facility, and she continued her working life as usual as a grocery shop’s cashier. Jokinen’s future plans also included establishing her own podiatry care centre.

However, her plans changed in February 2020 because Jokinen suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. Jokinen went on a three-month sick leave, during which her recovery started well. Yet, something still felt wrong.

– I felt guilty that even though I was not paralysed and I could speak normally, I felt depressed. I spoke to a physician about it, and they told me that rehabilitation is also for these kinds of situations and wrote me a referral. I went to group meetings related to rehabilitation three times, and I felt that rehabilitation was a good solution. My spouse also participated in the first meeting. I thought it great that people close to me were taken into account because sometimes people around an ill person may suffer even more than the ill person themselves, Jokinen expresses her gratitude and says that she is still occasionally affected by fatigue and mood swings, but still feels that she is ultimately a positive person.

Thoughts about maintaining work ability and health

Sirpa Jokinen recommends seeking rehabilitation for people who face similar challenges in their work ability as she have experienced. What other tips does she have for maintaining work ability and health?

– I now understand that you must also be able to say no when it’s necessary. I don’t work too hard, and I don't bend with the pressure of external demands every time. As far as mental health problems are concerned, I’ve found that speaking is often the key to resolving them. I myself have talked a lot about my feelings to my family members, and it has seemed meaningful. It’s also a good idea to be honest about challenges related to work ability in your work community. I know that fears can easily surface. That’s why it’s important that you’re not left alone with your thoughts. It’s also a good idea to try to live the same kind of life as before as far as possible.

Jokinen feels that there is room for improvement in the treatment of cerebral haemorrhage patients.

– I was in good care at the hospital for ten days, but after that I was basically left on my own. In my opinion, it would be important for the health care services in the ill person’s residential area to be informed of the person’s illness. After the hospital period, they could contact them about possible follow-up examinations and ask how the person manages in their daily live and what their state of health is. I’d also like to see more information distributed on peer support activities organised by the Finnish Brain Association, for example.

Jokinen encourages employers to be flexible if, for example, the employee wishes to have shorter working hours or tailored work tasks due to reduced work ability. Such measures may make it possible for the person to remain in working life. They can also promote recovery in such a way that the new arrangements do not necessarily remain permanent, but you can return to previous working practices as work ability is restored. Jokinen also reminds that injuries or illnesses may not always be visible outwards. In these situations, the employer should trust that the person who has encountered challenges related to their work ability is the top expert in their own coping.

Courage to try something new can open up new opportunities

After falling ill, Sirpa Jokinen still worked in the grocery shop for some time, but she stopped working there soon after because the noise and bright lighting in the working environment put too much strain on her. Today, Jokinen works in tasks that are better suited for her work ability. She works as a light entrepreneur in her own podiatry care centre in the centre of Saarijärvi. The summers are quieter in podiatry work, and Jokinen has had the opportunity to work summers at Activity Park Veijari that is located in Saarijärvi. Jokinen’s tasks include maintaining and developing grill and café operations and leading summer workers. She also continues to work as a personal assistant.

What does work mean for Sirpa Jokinen?

– I think that when you dare to try something new, it can open up opportunities—and not just in working life. For me, work means more than just earning wages: for example, it means encountering people, says Jokinen whose free time hobbies include miniature work, house care, exercise and meeting friends.

Photo: Amalia Jokinen

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