Work & Chronic Illness
Work is a constant enemy to my endometriosis and at times will definitely aggravate my body into having a total meltdown. Sometimes it's self inflicted as I've pushed myself too hard, other times it's because my job has been particularly stressful and it's caused my endo monster to trigger a nasty flare. So I want to try and provide as many suggestions as I can to try and help those of you seeking to make working with endometriosis easier. Obviously this is based on my own experiences with navigating work life with a chronic illness but I hope that talking about my journey will be useful to you!
Now, this is the part where I state that I'm lucky. I've always been fortunate enough to A. work with employers who are generally supportive when I've had to deal with my murderous uterus and B. that for the most part manage I can manage my endometriosis so that I can make it through the working day most days.
However, it has been difficult and I won't sugar coat that. Some days it's really fucking hard to not roll over and cry myself back to sleep after calling in sick. I've had days where I've vomited in pain in the staff toilets and have requested to go home straight away or I've collapsed in the corner of the office praying that my painkillers kick in quickly. I'm not trying to preach to the choir here but I do want to let you know that you're not alone. Whilst are experience of working is a very individual process, I do hope is that my suggestions help!
So what steps can you take to make working with a chronic illness more manageable?
Communicate: Of course it's absolutely at your discretion if/when you tell your colleagues and how you go about it. You might prefer a need to know basis, you might want to be upfront but ultimately it's important to take the time to evaluate who you would trust/need to talk to should your endometriosis/pain cause problems whilst you're working. I think it's important to tell at least one person you trust so they are aware if you need support and so they know when to panic (or why you're having to lie down on the office floor during your lunch break).
State the facts: I've found that being straight to the point about having endometriosis and what that means for my health promotes a much better response that being vague about it. How do I mean? 'I have endometriosis which is an an inflammatory condition... My symptoms can be... This means that...' By stating it factually it reduces that grey area of understanding and opens up a discussion about how you can be supported in your workplace.
Know your limits: This is something that is meant with love and something I had to learn the hard way. This is particularly relevant if you're starting a new job or perhaps trying to work your way up the career ladder as you may find yourself wanting to take on more responsibilities as a way of proving yourself. Just remember to be mindful of when you're taking on too much and pacing yourself accordingly so you don't overdo it.
Use the word 'no': This is linked to the above point as I feel it happens more with a new job or career progression. Saying no can be difficult but a necessary word to say when protecting your health. What I'm trying to say is, is that it's okay to say no, it's okay to be honest and say that you would rather not take a task on (but obviously make sure you give a reason - you don't want to give off negative vibes!)
The to-do list: I bloody love a to-do list. Firstly, because it allows me to plan my day and it allows me to prioritise. Secondly, it allows me to conserve and use my energy accordingly. This boils down to you being able to see what shit needs doing ASAP and what shit can wait without causing any problems should you find yourself unable to work.
The 5 minute rule: A good friend of mine once said that any task that can be done within 5 minutes should be done as soon as it's set. I always palmed it off but actually I found it's super helpful at conserving energy. Why? One 5 minute task doesn't use a lot of energy but if you let all the 5 minute tasks build up then they can become way more exhausting and stressful which can potentially trigger a flare up.
Know your rights: This is dependant on where you live but it's always worthwhile to know what the law states in your country in regards to employment rights, long term sickness, work place discrimination, etc. Knowing what is and isn't allowed in regards to yourself and your employer means you're prepared should an issue arise.
Emergency flare kit: It's always a good idea to have a toiletries bag full of flare kit essentials just in case you are in pain and/or have a flare up at work. Basics to always have are painkillers, a muscle rub and heat patches. Clicking this link will take you to my blog post of my go to products to help when a flare occurs.
Comfortable shoes: This might seem random but hear me out. There is nothing worse than feeling like crap due to a flare and then having to spend the day in more pain because your shoes don't support you well. My work requires me to be on my feet a lot and I found my pain was significantly reduced when I invested money into comfortable shoes and/or comfier insoles.
Stretchy clothing: An elasticated waistband is a life saver. I'm fortunate in the fact that I don't have to wear a uniform but even in previous jobs I have always made sure that my trousers have an elasticated waistband and/or are high waisted. Having clothing that is responsive to bloating and pain makes flaring a much more comfortable experience (if that's actually a thing!).