I work with chronic pain. That being fibromyalgia and chronic migraines. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but many of us do. What are the things we do to manage working and chronic pain?
- Accommodation: First on the list is that when you work with chronic pain you think of the types of accommodation that would be beneficial to your work environment. For me: A) My migraine Fl-41 tinted glasses to help with light triggers and photosensitivity and being able to wear them at work and B) having someone come and do an assessment on my office so that it works for someone with fibromyalgia. You do want the environment to be as adjusted as possible for your needs. And you need to know what those needs are. It could range from just needing a space to mediate on your breaks. You needs may vary from someone else.
- Medicine: We bring just in case medicine as well as our regular medications with us to work. Just in case medicine is for unpredictable situations. Like I have medication of IBS flares for example and then also Imodium, for when that is an issue that needs to be resolved at work. For migraines I have my triptan, my rescue and anti-nausea medications. I also bring with me a migraine balm I use regularly. For FM I have slow release medications so it works fine that I take those before work for the whole day. But we don’t like surprises, so we come prepared.
- Stress reduction: Working with pain is stressful, no two ways about that. So I certainly practice ways to de-stress. I do mindful meditation when I am at home. I relax with some aromatherapy. I do some mild stretching exercises. I do tend to do my exercises after work as well, and this helps me unwind. You definitely want to manage stress. At work you can do desk stretches. Get up and stretch from time to time. Do a walk about. That is for office work.
- Pacing: This is more difficult but more so it means when you are working you have to be careful of pacing other things in the day, so you do not overextend your reserves.
- Brainfog: We have learned ways around brainfog to manage our work. Like sticking to routines. Avoiding multi-tasking. Talking short breaks to clear our head, or switching tasks to do the same thing. Taking notes when needed. Having a binder for ready accessible notes. Have small snacks, like nuts available to snack on.
We have our good days and our bad days. Days we need more rest than others. Working on a bad pain day can require some self-care when we get home and extra sleep. Working with chronic pain is challenging. Any sort of routine you establish that helps you cope with it is a good thing to continue. Especially some routine you do after work to unwind every day to help your body relax from the stress. Perhaps something like an Epsom salt bath? That sounds like a lovely routine to start and would get the ache out of the muscles as well.
When it comes to work the things you have to ask yourself is this:
Is your pain exceeding your limits? Are you just working and then all other things fall to the wayside. Working and then just recovering from working.
Are you having a hard time coping with working itself? Struggling to get to work, not getting to work, or presenteeism where you are there but in too much pain to function well.
If the answer is yes, then it is possible you are always exceed your pain limits and either need better pain management or need to compromise on work or, in fact, both.
Look for more flexible work. Like work from home. More flexible employers with flex-hours.
Change to a less stressful job for a time until they get a handle on pain management.
Go down to a part-time job. Or retire early, and then have a causal or part-time job.
Sometimes people go on a leave of absence for a time while they do work of pain management and then return to work. Which is what I did. I went to the pain clinic on leave, got my botox and all sorts of things done on leave. But it does take time. And insurance companies are impatient and difficult to deal with at the best of times. Nevertheless, if we cannot function but we want to continue to work, this is an option.
Or have to go on disability because they cannot function at their job or any job due to their chronic pain or illness.
Finding the right balance between working and our health isn’t always easy. Nor does it always stay that way through time. It can be difficult for us over time to maintain a career when pain gets worse and we have to try and manage that while still working.