I’m really curious about what others may have learned about coping with chronic invisible illnesses or depression in the workplace. Are you able to work? What are your experiences like? What have you learned?
In the past, I feel like I have successfully hidden my illnesses (endometriosis, fibromyalgia, PTSD, migraines, and depression). This worked for me because I like to keep that part of my personal life private and separate from my professional life. I have also been concerned that my illnesses would interfere with my career if everyone knew. I have been working in an active, male-dominated field in fairly conservative areas where my workplaces have not seemed very compassionate towards a situation like mine. I work full time and have a stressful, demanding job. It’s been really hard, but I have found ways to handle hard days, pain, etc. I take time off and have made adjustments.
Some things that have helped me manage my illnesses at work:
- A later start. One really great blessing I’ve had over the past few years is the ability to go into work later in the morning than most of people in my office. Nearly everyone is there by 8:00 a.m. For me, with my fibromyalgia, the mornings are extra tough. I am so sore and stiff every single morning. I feel like a ninety-year-old woman when I creak my way out of bed. I now have a slow and gentle routine to wake up at 6:30-6:45 a.m. and get into the office by 9:00. It means I stay later, but that’s fine. I feel much better and by the time I leave, everyone else is gone and it’s nice and quiet, easy to focus. With my supervisor and workplace being flexible about my start time, it has greatly helped me.
- Work at home. Another wonderful, helpful adaptation I’ve been able to make is working from home. If the workload and schedule allow, I have been approved to work from home one day each week. It has really helped me with my fatigue, stress, and probably even my pain. The thing I like most about it is how peaceful it is. My office is stressful to me and not a very positive environment. My home is peaceful and comfortable for me. It’s quiet and I’m able to focus. Another aspect I really appreciate is that I’m able to do my laundry that day and double-task. It really helps me balance everything that needs to get done.
- Setting aside my “Self Care Week.” I have a bad week every month now. My migraines are triggered hormonally with my monthly cycle, and are terrible and tend to interfere with my life for at least 2 days. On top of that, I have been pain and bloating from the endometriosis. My fibro seems to be worse at that time. And, I have an extra hard time with my depression during PMS. It’s just a bad, bad week. I’ve started to mark it on my calendar and try not to schedule anything big during that time. I’ve recently decided to make it my “Self Care Week” instead of “Bad Week” and am making an extra effort to handle myself with TLC. I have some ability to manage my schedule and just recognize that week will not be the best for major meetings and demanding projects. I don’t tell anyone that’s what I’m doing. I just do it and the work still gets done.
- Taking sick days when I need them. I am so thankful to have paid sick leave. Of course, this week I just ran out so I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. In the past, I have been able to take sick days if I felt crappy. I don’t try to push myself too hard because I know that backfires and I just feel worse! If I am having a terrible day with a migraine or intense fatigue, I will take some sick time. Sometimes it’s just a short amount of time and sometimes it’s a day or two. I have not previously needed to take days for depression, but since my depression turned severe six months ago, I have needed to. For example, I took some sick time off to have my ultrasound. When I felt so sad afterwards, I took a couple more hours of sick time so I didn’t have to go back and cry at my desk.
- I drive. My PTSD affects me most as a passenger when someone else is driving. I try to drive as much as possible. This can be a huge stressor for me, very anxiety-producing. Having a panic attack as a passenger in a car with a coworker or superior would be really humiliating for me and it causes me a lot of anxiety about my anxiety… So I set it up to drive whenever possible.
Now, I feel like I’m at the edge of what I can cope with. Honestly, I feel like I’m over the edge of what I can cope with. Since getting the news Tuesday of my endo recurrence and ovarian cysts, I have not been able to think straight and I am extremely sad, on the edge of tears most of the time. I’d like to take more time off, but I’ve just used all my sick leave and feel like I should save some vacation at least in case I need time off for surgery, appointments, or other treatments. I’ve told my boss in a general way that I have some serious medical conditions that I need to deal with and that I recently got some very bad news. I have some coworkers who are truly really good friends, and I’ve told them everything. Other coworkers don’t need to know. Those that do need to know, because we’re working together on something, were also told generally that I’m dealing with medical issues for a while. It’s been really tough to keep working through this, especially this week. It looks like I’ll be signing up for FMLA and having more conversations, potentially, with my boss about the situation once I know more about it.
Anyway, curious about the experiences of other people and thought I’d share some ideas that have really helped me. I am thankful to have the flexibility and autonomy to take advantage of these options. I am thankful to still be able to work and be relatively active. I’m thankful to have insurance. I still don’t quite know how I’m going to navigate this grief and fatigue, pain, etc. and keep up with my work, but we’ll just take it one step at a time I guess.
Text copyright Snowdroplets 2016.