Tag Archives: return to work

Working with chronic illness: My experience

14 Jun 16
Megan
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Back in December of last year, I answered a reader’s question about pacing and working. In this post I talked about some of the issues we face when we’re attempting to work with a chronic illness. We talked about our inability to be consistent and some simple tips and tricks for trying to avoid crashes as a result of working.

It’s been about 6 months since I wrote this post and in that time I’ve been gradually increasing the amount of work I’m doing myself. I’ve been very fortunate that, although I was unable to keep the job I was in prior to my first major crash, I’ve been able to use the connections I’d made when I was working full time to get establish a very flexible working environment for myself since then.

Back in 2013, I was working full time, studying full time and exercising every day (daily walks and gym at least 3 times a week). That all stopped suddenly when I woke up with pelvic pain so bad that I ended up in the emergency department all day while they tried (and failed) to work out what was causing it. I took a few days off on sick leave and then attempted to return to work even though the pain hadn’t gone and the fatigue was getting worse by the day. Obviously, that wasn’t working so I was yet again on leave.

At the time I thought it’d just be a few weeks and I’d feel better and be back at work. I had test after test to try and work out what was wrong with no clear results. As the weeks dragged into months I began to despair that I would never be able to get back to work.

Overall, I had almost 2 years without working at all before I got to a point where I felt confident with my ability to maintain some semblance of consistency and began to look at returning to some form of part time work.

Initially, I attempted to return to my previous role in a part time capacity, however my employers weren’t keen to take on the liability of having me there if I was to get worse again once starting back at work so I began to look into other options.

I have always wanted to work for myself and both E and I saw this as an opportunity to see how I would go with self employment, however I still wanted to have some form of ‘regular’ income coming in.

While looking at self employment opportunities, I approached an old boss to see if he had any casual work available for me to do as a means of seeing how I go with adding work back in. He did and he’s been great ever since then. Originally I thought I’d be able to build up to 8 hours a week of work for him within a few months but I quickly learnt that this wasn’t realistic. To this day, I sometimes manage that level of work for him but most weeks I only manage an hour or two a week (and some weeks none at all).

Having a boss who has been aware of my limitations from the start and willing to be flexible about how much work I take on has been great. I take on the jobs that don’t necessarily have a fixed deadline as they’ve been waiting for so long for clients to provide their data and so it’s not a big concern if I’m unable to complete them as quickly as I’d like. I’m also able to work from home which is a huge benefit as the few times I’ve attempted to head into the office to work, I’ve ended up paying for it after.

Although I like the fact that this work is paid by the hour, I’m able to work from home, and my boss is extremely flexible, it’s not the type of work I’m really interested in doing long term. This is where self-employment has come into play.

I’ve got two distinct areas that I’m working in from a self-employment perspective, both of which I’ve joined together under the LiveKen banner.

The first, and at the moment the largest (bringing in the most income), side of the business is environment and sustainability consulting work. I reached out to my contacts at the local councils to see if anyone had small manageable projects they needed a consultant helping on. I made it clear that my biggest interest was in developing and delivering workshops for the community around living simple, sustainable and meaningful lives but that I would also consider research based projects that fit within my skill and knowledge base. From this initial call out I got two projects:

  • Developing a 3 year Environmental Management Plan for the City of Prospect. This has been a large and ongoing project and we’re about half way through the process now a year on from when we initially started. It’s been a great project with lots of community and staff engagement.
  • Developing a series of Biodiversity Trails for local schools within the Campbelltown City Council. This was also a large project for me and took me much longer than I expected to complete thanks to the ups and downs of my health.

From doing these two projects I’ve learnt a lot about my current capabilities and about the processes and people I need to have in place if I’m going to be successful at working for myself and delivering projects on time and within budget for my clients while maintaining (and if possible improving) my health.

I’ve learnt that when proposing timelines for larger projects like this, I need to schedule in additional time than I think it will take me to allow for crashes and other health related delays. It’s also good to have someone lined up as a backup person (a subcontractor) to complete the work if my health gets to a point that I’m unable to do it.

These two large projects have also led to a few workshops with schools and the Council libraries on topics such as revegetation and up-cycling materials. These have been great for me because, although they don’t pay as well, they have a clearly defined timeframe and allow me to connect with a large group of people within a short space of time. I do need to make sure I schedule time to rest both before and after these workshops but because there’s no ongoing ‘stress’ related to completing them, I seem to recover quite quickly afterwards.

The second branch of the business is invisible illness advocacy. This actually started before I’d established LiveKen, with the idea of a picture book about invisible illnesses and chronic pain. The successful Kickstarter campaign we ran for the Foggy Frog and the Pain Gang picture book, has allowed me to focus on finishing the pictures with the knowledge that I will be able to publish and over 100 copies of the book will be going out into the hands of people who live with an invisible illness to share with their friends.

This is another project that has taken me MUCH longer than I expected it to. We are finally at the point where I’ll be getting quotes for printing within the next few weeks so keep your eye out for more information about this in the next month or so. The plan is for the picture book to be the first step in a larger awareness raising campaign.

This post is getting quite long, so I might stop there today and do a detailed hints and tips post later.

What tips or tricks do you have for working with a chronic illnesses?


Physical Friday – Exercising with a Chronic Illness

17 Jan 14
Megan
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(c) Megan S, December 2013

(c) Megan S, December 2013

Last week I shared a video of my daily yoga practice to show what exercise I do to reduce my pain levels. Today I want to share the other part of my daily routine, the “real exercise” as my GP likes to call it.

To maintain muscle condition, or at least reduce the levels of deconditioning that can and will occur from lower activity levels, I aim to do at least 3 sessions of cardio based exercise that uses my biggest muscles (my legs). At the moment this exercise is either walking or riding my bike (inside or outside depending on the weather).

My bike set up for me to ride inside.

My bike set up for me to ride inside.

Obviously I don’t want to push myself too hard, so these 3 sessions of exercise don’t last very long. I have built up from as low as 1 minute of riding, or 2 minutes walking, to 3 minutes riding or 6 minutes walking per session. Between sessions I take at least an hours rest.

Because of the extreme heat here at the moment this has only been inside riding (so I can stay in the air-conditioned house). Usually I aim for 2 sessions in the morning and one session in the afternoon, but today I had my mum visit this morning so I only did one morning ride and now have to aim for 2 rides this afternoon. This will be a struggle for my because afternoons are my worst time of day for any activity, but I’m going to do my best as I promised my GP on Wednesday that I would do 3 sessions a day.

As I’ve mentioned on Twitter and Facebook, I have now got a confirmed diagnosis of ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia. I will do a separate post soon to update you on what this means for me in the near future, but returning to work does not look to be happening anytime soon. My GP has said I need to build up to being able to be on my feet and active for at least 4 hours at a time (with no rest breaks) before we consider returning to work, at the moment I’m at about 1 to 2 hours between my rest breaks, so it’s still a bigger job than I’m capable at the moment.

What physical activity do you do daily?

Are you working to slowly build up your capabilities?