I’ve known for a while that I’d have to write a post about how to cope with a job and CFS. It’s quite a bittersweet topic for me, as I’ve definitely had my ups and downs and upsets around the world of work and in many ways, I let my job situation define me for many years.
As many of you have read in my story, I trained to be a high school teacher after I graduated from University. The course was tough- a hell of a lot tougher than my final year at Uni (which had been incredibly intense), but I was really keen to get my first real job and go full steam ahead with what I had learned on my year-long course. I moved to London with my other half and got a job at an amazing Performing Arts college- music to my ears, literally!
However, the days got longer and more physically exhausting. My legs, back and neck would ache constantly, I had terrible insomnia, I would get double-vision whilst teaching a lesson,I would slur my words and get really confused while teaching something really basic to a class. I would set my alarm an hour earlier than I had to sometimes, because I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get out of bed for at least 45 minutes after my alarm went off. Contrary to what some people think, teachers work really, really flippin’ hard. It’s not just about the teaching anymore- just when I had all my lessons planned for the next day, I had to answer emails, sort out admin, tidy my classroom- you name it. I quickly got very tired of having to do everything aside from what I loved to do, which was teach. Eventually, I was eating an evening meal of two bits of toast (you read that right) while preparing my lessons as home, as I simply could not bring myself to leave my work or relax (Type A personality? Me?!). I had so much to do- how could I? I had Friday nights off, spent most of Saturday sweating about school and then worked all day Sunday. It was absolutely no life at all, and I ignored all the relapses (some resulted in me being off for a week, for some I ended up in hospital, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I was off for around 4 months- hello CFS!) I had to push on- I just had to. All my friends who’d just graduated were earning great money and progressing in their careers, so I had to be seen to be doing the same (notice my language here- had to be seen to be, yikes!).
After I realised that I couldn’t handle the pace of teaching full time, I started my own tuition company and it was amazing. The company was basically me (ah-hem!), but I was just-packed solid with clients. I started work at about 4pm and would finished at around 8pm every night. I loved it because it meant I could have a lie-in, get up slowly, do my teaching prep during the day and, if I had some energy, go into the centre of London for a stroll. That stage of my life was so happy, and I was making the same amount of money as I was teaching in high school.
This whole experience taught me that it is possible to create your own employment situations, even when you’re dealing with CFS.
So, when I moved to Australia, I knew I had to do a job that gave me the same amount of flexibility. Teaching in the evenings gives me exactly the same amount of freedom and it means I can prioritise my health. I can go to yoga before I start teaching, have a healthy lunch, do some prep and then enjoy spending time teaching, rather than being a glorified admin monkey.
I started work in Sydney and was doing so well with the full-time thing that I decided to enter a 9km running event, as a group of people at school where doing it (running over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and finishing at the Opera House- how many people can say ‘no’ to that?!) Now, I should state that I hadn’t properly run since I was a student at school myself, but thought, ‘To hell with it- I can do 9km!” My body was screaming for me not to do it, but I did it and finished in a great time. The fact that I’d only jogged around the block twice before the event made my time even sweeter- yey me!
I knew something was off though when I couldn’t stomach solid food for a full 3 weeks after the race- 3 weeks! I must’ve shocked my body into oblivion…and then one morning I woke up, and guess what?! Woohoo! Relapse! I knew it was coming- I knew it! Cue- 2 months off work and me having to hand my notice in. After that I thought, “never again”- never again will I compromise my health for the sake of keeping up with everyone else…and to this day (so for the past two years now), CFS hasn’t bothered me at work once. I’m finally clear. Still teaching in the evenings and still being unwaveringly loyal to my health.
I know what you’re thinking though- that’s all very well for you, but how the hell am I supposed to handle it?
I’m one of the lucky ones. I manage to work full time and have left CFS and all its worries behind me. I know every one of you is in a different place on your journey- working full-time and killing yourself, working full-time and clinging on, working part-time, receiving care from loved ones, receiving benefits, looking for suitable work, unemployed or simply being so tired that you can’t even think about work.
The first step in the process is accepting wherever it is that you’re at. You know the Carl Jung quote, “What you resist persists”? – I resisted making changes to my job until health complications persisted in my life and ultimately caused me to relapse.
Here are some hard, honest question to help you find your way through working with Chronic Fatigue, bringing in an income and prioritising your health at whatever stage you’re at:
- Can you honestly, honestly cope with your job the way it is right now? Are you burning the candle at both ends in an attempt to save face and cover up what you’re really feeling? Do you know deep down that you’re heading for a fall (any day now)?
- Are you losing yourself in a job that really isn’t you and is sucking the life out of you and your soul?
- Is there any way you can alter your work environment or asked people at work to help you? Would leaving early one day a week help or asking to work from home now and then? Can you ask them to provide an adapted work station for you?
- Are you hiding your heath issues from people at work or are they supportive of you?
- Do you keep relapsing because of your job or your feelings towards your job? Are you frightened of relapsing?
- Do you know how to relax properly at the end of a day at work?
- Do you feel guilty for resting and recovering while everyone else is out there working (including your husband/wife or family)? I did, big time- this was my biggest obstacle.
- Is that extra day a week you’re working worth the money for the effect its having on your health?
- What hobby or habit can you incorporate into your day to make your life a little bit easier? (Playing with your children, having a green smoothie, walking around the block after hitting that spreadsheet, being kind to yourself or reading an inspirational book, for example)
- Do you keep beating yourself up because you hate your job, but can’t get out of it? Are you stuck in a cycle?
I know that finances play a huge part in our decisions towards work- we rely on our finances for our self-worth, stability and security, and packing our jobs in is a big decision. I know when I took that evening teaching job that I would be earning a lot less than teaching in high school. I kept searching online (with my big, fat ego egging me on), desperate for a high school job because of the money, even right up to signing my contract. But I knew deep down that we were going to be ok, and that this evening arrangement was the best thing for me. All of my friends have 9-5 super stressful jobs and live for the weekend, and I’ve finally stopped comparing myself to them. What’s the point? I’m happy, healthy and enjoying life (i.e. Monday- Friday, not just Saturday and Sunday)
I’d love to hear your comments below- are you working at the moment? What have been your difficulties?
Love and support,