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Coping when unable to work (Part one). Wednesday January 8, 2014

When you have lost something as precious as your health it's natural to mourn. But if the loss of good health means that holding down a job has become impossible, this can give way to a grief and sadness that's hard to get the upper hand of.

If we were to look permanently in the rear view mirror whilst driving, ultimately, we'd crash. So too, if we keep dwelling on the life we had before poor health hit us, we'll find it hard to move forward. Like the driver, we must focus primarily on what's in front of us.

I grapple daily with an overwhelming sense of failure and frustration at now being unable to work. So, I've written three posts primarily for those unable to work due to poor health and it's my hope that in doing so it will help me to overcome my own personal sense of shame and embarrassment.

1) There is a proverb that says: With knowledge a man increases his power.

Reading up on our condition (whatever it may be) can have a two-fold, positive effect. Firstly it validates everything we feel. It's a relief to see in black and white that it's neither laziness nor lack of motivation that's the cause of your plight but very real symptoms. Secondly, gathering information helps to keep you abreast of available treatments and coping techniques. It helps you see that your life may have changed but it is not over. But oh how slickly this slips from the tongue! Acceptance, just like the loss of a loved one is so hard. Yet, whereas a diagnosis closed doors, acceptance can open new ones.

2) It's not the illness that tests us but our attitude to the illness. Undoubtedly, our biggest battle takes place in the mind. (This maybe obvious if dealing with depression or anxiety but less so if diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a sleeping disorder or multiple sclerosis, to use just a few examples.) The illness may dictate big changes in our circumstances but we are in charge of our response to the illness. Succumbing to despair is to perhaps insist on looking through the rear view mirror instead of what's ahead.

3) Remember what cannot be changed. In all probability, our illness has had little impact on the qualities peculiar to us. For example, your empathy, your warm smile, kindness, the ability to be a good friend or appreciate beauty. What's more, our own poor health can sharpen our empathic skills, perhaps enabling us to become more sensitive to the struggles and pain of others.

To accept, adjust and act on what we can do is far healthier way forward.

Tomorrow in part 2, I will list some practical dos and don'ts that can help elevate our self-esteem and keep our mood buoyant if currently unable to work due to ongoing health challenges.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment on our Blogspot:

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Anonymous Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 8:21am

This is beautiful thank you for sharing it....

Anonymous Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 9:23am

Hi Suzy - your message really resonated with me. Following treatment for breast cancer during most of 2012 I've had to cut back my working hours from 30 to just 12 per week. I've been doing these reduced hours for 9 months now. I know that I haven't got the stamina to do more but that does not stop me feeling ridiculously guilty. I have had some counselling which was really useful in helping do exactly what you said today - look forward not back. I've got accept that this is my life now and be extremely grateful - after all the outcome could have been a lot worse.

PurpleSuzi Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 9:28am

Much appreciated I had a hysterectomy when I was 34.
The operation went badly wrong.
I lost my teaching career as a result.
20 years has passed, with pudendal neuralgia as the constant "thorn in my side".

However, it is not my womb that I grieve for.
It is my lovely, vibrant classroom.

Em H Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 9:36am

Thank you for this very well-timed post...I became ill at the beginning of December with fibromyalgia, and now I'm having to look at my capacity to work and if I may have to give up working. All the things you talked about are very true, but you're right about focussing on the things that still make you, you. Thank you :)

Anonymous Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 9:49am

Thank you for this perceptive and helpful post Suzy - I have been in this backward looking place and I like the analogy with driving. I've been spending too much time looking in the rear view mirror, not recognising that new things are coming towards me all the time that I must look out for! Yes, some may be frightening, but others will be welcome - a wonderful view, for example! What a positive way to look at life.Thank you!

lindylou Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 9:51am

Thankyou for sharing!!

Les Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 10:04am

Great stuff.............
Driving metaphor great.
The key in energy terms is:-
What are you going to 'move towards' (+ve) and not spend energy attempting to 'move away' (-ve) from.
1 will help
1 will hinder
"The important thing is this: to be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become."

randomangel Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 11:23am

Our society appears to place a great value on our work and "what we do" and so this post does indeed hit at the heart of this.
I had to resign from my teaching post two years ago due to regular pole axing from debilitating headaches and disequilibrium. I spent a great deal of time looking in the rear view mirror and trying (oh so hard) to reverse and "make it all better"
I also miss the vibrancy of a full classroom PurpleSuzi.
I now teach online so that I can manage my condition as well as enjoy some teaching. I look forward to whatever the future has to bring and wish all of you the same.

The Nutty Knitter Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 11:29am

Thanks for this blog post.
I recently decided that my personal motto is "adapt and overcome" and I think my motto fits this blog post very well. Although we may not be able to do things the same way as we once did, there's almost always another way to do something (adapt) or to use a grisly phrase "more than one way to skin a cat" ( I love cats by the way). Even if we can not find an alternative way to achieve a goal, adaption still applies! We must adapt our expectations and come up with new ones! In these ways we overcome our perceived disabilities and enhance another ability, the ability to adapt! We also make ourselves more determined and formidable in the face of adversity. Sometimes when we feel weak we are capable of great strength, more than we know or give ourselves credit for. We are almost always stronger than we think and like the post says, the biggest battle is in our heads. We can benefit from help and support and often need it, but ultimately no one can help us unless we are mentally prepared to face our problems and fight for the best possible life we can lead. This is easy to forget when you are feeling low and Moodscope e-mails/blog posts provide daily reminders of things we often lose sight of. Thank you again for your post.

Anonymous Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 12:14pm

When I first became incapacitated with trigeminal neuralgia, I was desperate for any information I could find. As the pain became more and more pronounced, resulting in repeated trips to the ER for opiates which just don't work, I became chronically depressed. Four partial hospitalizations followed (you go to group, etc but don't spend the night). GET ME OUTTA HERE! I discovered that if I can deal with PHP (partial hospitalization program) I could deal, hopefully, with school. My first two semesters I just don't remember. If I didn't have the books I'd swear someone had used my name. Totally flunked out. One of the medications I was on at the time, Ativan, helped with no memory. For reasons to onerous for anyone to care, I became uninsured for two months in 2011. I didn't have the visiting nurse to pour my pills (I couldn't do it if I tried, I'm on so many!) and simply couldn't afford the Ativan on my income. I went cold-turkey off the medication. Boy, did life open up quite a bit. After two years, I applied for "fresh start" which wiped my slate clean and as long as I keep my academic score above 2.75, I can continue.

I TRY to remember that I can become a librarian (and don't think there aren't jobs out there for them!). I TRY to remember that my career as a paralegal of almost 30 years is behind me (cold sweats here, off the subject FAST). I, too, appreciate the driving analogy. Especially in this time of year, when cold can cut me down faster than a speeding bullet, I need to remember these things. I will print this out and put over my computer . . . because I slipped badly last semester. I know exactly what happened: one of my professors was everything I used to be. I lost all I had worked for because I so desperately needed to be what she is again. This intercession has me worried: what if I do this again. Instead, I will tell myself: that's in the past, I got over the ONE bad semester I will allow myself, and I'll continue as if it never happened. Thank you for this three-parter (which I am eagerly awaiting #2 and #3) which will allow me to realize I'm not perfect, never will be, and looking in the rear view window all the time means I hit the garage door front on.

Deragonflyz Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 12:40pm

When I read this email I was thinking, "who have you been talking to?" I'm going through exactly this right at this moment. How can I pay the rent next month. I'm on a disability pension but it's just not enough without working as well. I've been running through job ads for the last few weeks wondering what I could possibly do. So many things I'm qualified for, but know I couldn't maintain. It's beyond frustrating. Family and friends say to me, accept it. It's ok. It's not...I can't pay rent next month. There has to be a solution. I'm a solutions kind of person. THAT is something about me that HASN'T changed. I may fall apart. Part of my illness is that it does make me a little emotionally hyper sensitive at times. But I'm aware of that. I know it's just a response to my physical body. I let it happen if I need to...then put myself back together and work out what I'm going to do. So's all about looking forward!

moonstonebright Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 2:38pm

Like others who have commented today's post really resonates with me. I am very poorly and miss my job in maternity so very much especially after Christmas holidays when my family returned to work/college etc and I feel like what do I have? Thankyou

Julia Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 5:44pm

It is a very difficult transition to make but in the long run, if giving up one's job brings us better health,despite a huge drop in income, then it has to be done. I found the process leading up to stopping working far more stressful than actually not working. In fact it was such a relief to be my own boss instead of having to work for unkind and unscrupulous people and in a very unhealthy environment

Frank Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 8:24pm

The past is a distant kingdom.
Every day, millions of people's lives change for whatever reason. For 'good' or' bad' is just an illusion, since we came here to learn and not just to achieve. I no longer command any of the economic advantages that I once enjoyed but I have learned a lot on the journey. And I see things from another point of view. I also lost the fair-weather travellers en route but have been blessed by the love and continuing support of those who really were there for me when the darkness came.

Anonymous Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 9:20pm

..this one really clicked - Thank You. I'm like you in that I'm always having to grapple with how I've somehow failed and become unable to keep in the work that I'm experienced / skilled in. I'm concerned that despite making sacrifices as a family & putting massive efforts in to stay in some kind of work, the basic facts mean sooner or later we'll have to give up our family home.
I feel what you have described puts you at the foot of the stairs looking up and wondering "how can I?" - I'm at the foot of those stairs too and it's good to know I'm not the only one.
Again, Thank You.

Mart Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 10:30pm

Very well written and positive blog Suzy. Thank you!

Suzy Wed, Jan 8th 2014 @ 11:41pm

Dear folks, I just want to say how much all of your comments have helped me today. I woke up this morning feeling woeful. Your comments and honesty with them, have helped me more than I can put into words. A hearty thank YOU!

Ida Thu, Jan 9th 2014 @ 4:27am

Thank you for this post. I was not at my best yesterday and all I did was just sit there & feeling sorry for myself. I have been unemployed for a year now & seeking employment has not been easy as employers are looking for younger, cheaper & good resources, while yours truly is in her 40’s and was told as being too expensive. (while from my perspective, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys and I am not expensive compared to other people I know who gets paid more than me and still can get a new job with more money than I do!)

So yesterday, it got me really depressed just thinking about how in a few months, I may not be able to support myself & the household financially. Taking it off my mind was almost impossible. However, after reading your post, I realized that it is not the end of the world or yourself. The way I see it, this illness that I have made me more grateful for my existence, what I have & the supportive friends and family around me. I was also holding on to a job that made me miserable between 2011 and 2012. I had a lot of anger and god knows how many times I cried each time I talk about my job. If you ask me, I think I was unhappy like 99% of the time when I had a job & a regular income. Now, I feel the reverse. I am happy 95% of the time and the occasional 5% of the time when I have to deal with the financials – I usually get it over and done with and deal with issues when it comes. No point worrying. Sometimes, things have a habit of resolving themselves. The right time will come. I just don’t know when. I recalled what I said to a colleague before, “Sometimes, things will have to get worse before it gets better.”

I look forward to your post today. ?

Anonymous Fri, Jan 10th 2014 @ 9:07am


Anonymous Fri, Jan 10th 2014 @ 9:13am

hi - sorry about that i was just testing out how to get a post on here!! and now i know!!
i wanted to say that this post is fab, as are all three of the return to work ones...i am now not working for 16 months, slowly exiting from the NHS. everything you have listed, the do's and dont's are totally spot on. Pampering feels a bit wrong cos you are supposed to be stressed from work in order to pamper...but i see now that actually there is no requirement to be allowed to pamper. Pamoer is vital...and it can be as small as watching the birds feed, popping out to buy bird food if possible, or sitting with the cat listening to the purr....and thats what the basics of pampering and survival are all about. Thank you for this writing Suzy - well timed and beautifully written. :)

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