Let’s be honest life does get much more difficult with Fibromyalgia and it’s hard for people to understand how it feels to have this condition. I’ve had spinal issues for ten years and had chronic intermittent pain for 6 of those and permanently for the rest. But I never ever imagined that I could feel so ill all of the time.
It is only since I started mindfulness meditation that I realised that the pain is not constant, it changes and there are brief moments that I don’t feel any pain. I do also believe that because our brains and bodies have increased pain sensitivity that we are used to feeling it therefore our brains and nervous systems continue to ramp up the pain. When I meditate I focus on the areas that hurt the most, which is mostly where I have my fusion. I slow down my breathing and focus on the area of pain and the area around it and I realise it’s not constant but changeable and I focus on what colours it reminds me of and what shape and contour the areas are. We are often told by our doctors to ignore the pain and try to keep busy, I find this just stresses me out as I end up only focusing on the pain. I find by using meditation to focus on the area and acknowledge the pain, making friends with it, realising it’s not constant I feel so relaxed, you can read more here.
Anyway let’s discuss working, some days I often wonder why the hell I put myself through the stress but I’d rather have a reason to get up than be at home depressed and worrying about my body hurting. My job is very stressful, working with extremely challenging stakeholders and trying to manage my time to work within my limits. I have had to toughen up and learn to pushback and say no, people constantly try to book long meetings, want me to travel to London (5 hour round trip) for something that could be done over the phone/screen share. There’s an expectation to always be online and work long days constantly attached to your desk, work through lunches and attend lots of meetings,which dramatically reduces productive time to do any actual work. Meetings are also booked back to back so you end up running from one place to the next and always being late.
Do not be afraid to speak up about changing your work environment and ways of working. Here are some of the changes I’ve made to my working week:-
- Don’t work excessive hours, listen to your body, my fatigue generally takes 48 hours to kick in.
- Block out lunch breaks, what’s your contracted minimum lunch break?
- Set your calendar so people know what hours you work.
- Eat lunch away from your desk, unless you go for a walk at lunch!
- Don’t be afraid to say no, not everyone’s priority is your priority, negotiate on deadlines.
- Block out time in your diary to do actual work with a no meetings clause.
- Switch off your phone and email when working on something to reduce distraction.
- Book out meeting rooms or ask to work from home when you need quiet time to get stuff done.
- Make action lists so you don’t miss any deadlines.
- Don’t stress about things you can’t control, speak to a friendly face and share your concerns, you’d be surprised how helpful someone else can be when they look in from the outside.
- Book meetings for 25 or 55 minutes giving you time to get to the next meeting and grab a drink or nip to the loo.
- Make sure you take a healthy lunch and water with you as you need to eat to stay focused.
- Make sure people factor in breaks to long meetings and especially lunch breaks as you need to rest and eat.
- Keep weekend work to a minimum don’t let it become the norm.
- Don’t just say yes to travel, always challenge the need for a face to face meeting, can’t it be done by phone/video conference or a screen share?
- Have a rule of no meetings till X time, to give yourself time to prepare in a morning.
- Have a rule of no meetings after X time to allow yourself a reasonable finish time.
- Work from different positions, could you get a hydraulic desk, I have one and it really does help my back.
- Block out time before and after meetings to prep or write them up to ensure you stay on top of things.
These are just some of the things I have put in place and I always find that if you’re honest with people and explain why you do the things the way you do, most people are reasonable and understanding. The ones that aren’t you may have to enlist the help of your colleagues or just stick to your guns.
You are no good to anyone if you end up going off sick. Many times in the past I’ve pushed myself too much and caused a flare up, now I have learnt the warning signs and I’ve even cancelled meetings as I haven’t felt well, explaining that if I don’t I’ll be off work.
If you feel you aren’t getting the support you need maybe it’s time to have an honest chat with your boss about your condition or maybe look for another job. I recently moved out of my old role which I loved as I couldn’t do it anymore, the expectation of being out on the road constantly was impossible.
Put yourself first always even if at first it feels uncomfortable, which it probably will as I know I did. 😉. You can read more about working with Fibromyalgia here