“Disability is not Inability”
I was recently sent an email from a woman frustrated (putting it mildly) with finding a job while managing chronic pain. Managing chronic pain naturally and accepting the invisible illness is a job within itself. I follow the same routine daily in order to manage pain and live with it without it controlling my life. It is a lot of work but after a long time it becomes habit and your lifestyle, which I now love. No one would have thought Jessica would be waking up at five am each day to exercise, meditate, practice yoga, eat healthy, practice mindfulness, and actually truly love all of the tools I use to manage chronic pain. 15 years ago I was drinking with friends constantly, eating terribly, and giving up on life. The last thing I cared about was finding the right job or career, all I wanted was to find a cure and when during my non-search hours numb the pain. Pain was my life: finding a cure was my life. I had no life. Then, I did. Post Mayo Clinic/Pain Rehab Center I learned the tools I needed to use each day to manage pain naturally and come to a point of acceptance. I probably took a good year of working on managing chronic pain naturally. I never wanted to go back to doctors, pain medicine, surgeons, or numbing my pain with drinking etc. I never wanted to die again. I had just began living and had worked too damn hard to go back. It took time but chronic pain no longer controlled my life and it was time to use my degree and find the right job that would not lead me astray from my number one priority: my health: managing chronic pain. This was a difficult task. I was petrified. There are at least ten different components/tools I use on a daily basis to manage pain naturally. How the hell was I going to be able to fit all of those aspects into the work place: especially social work. I ended up finding the greatest fit where I could merge my career into chronic pain management.
Here are my top ten tips on working while managing chronic pain:
1. Do not take the first job that is offered to you just because looking for a job I (in my opinion) more work than a paying job. You really have to put your health first or your management of chronic pain will backfire like you do not even know. Think: health then job. Nothing is worth sacrificing your health for. Nothing.
2. You do not need to work forty/fifty hours a week, this is ludicrous and I promise you will bite you in the ass. I only know this to be true because I made a very bad choice and left the job I loved because was offered more money and status with a different company. I went from working 32 hours a week which, once you have your management down pat is a very great number to forty five/fifty hours a week which in a job that I truly despised. I was miserable and pain began controlling my life again. Always follow your intuition: yes money is important but what is more important than being healthy and happy especially when managing chronic pain naturally.
3. Take breaks. I do not mean thirty minute breaks during your work day but just five minutes to stretch or do a five minute meditation. I was fortunate enough in my field to create a meditation class for some of my patients: they loved it and I was able to de-stress and practice a guided meditation while at work. Where there is a will, there is a way. Physical therapy and Occupational therapy are so important because work tends to create stress and stress leads to increased pain and we totally forget how we are sitting, walking, standing, typing etc.
4. Find a job you love. I never thought my favorite “job’ would be working with the elderly or people with disabilities. I never thought some of the most brilliant, amazing people I have yet to meet would have been my patients with Alzheimer’s disease. I was/am helping people and both in my social work days and now am helping people with pain. Even if you do not love your job, find the things about your job you truly enjoy and focus on those aspects.
5. Be honest with your boss. My best decision in my first job following the Mayo Clinic. My boss knew about my bike accident, knew I had chronic pain, knew I managed it naturally and worked with my schedule. I did not tell him this on my first interview. Once I was called back for a second interview I told him and he was surprisingly impressed and more motivated to hire me due to my story.
6. Never take a job (or do anything for that matter) to please others or try and make people “proud.” You have chronic pain, I know it sucks. It changes things and one day you will see that the quote: “Sometimes the things we cannot change end up changing us” is quite true and oddly for the better. I’ll never forget being offered that job that paid a lot more than where I was working. My intuition knew it was not the right choice but my ego was so excited to tell my loved ones and friends that me, yes Jessica will be making this amount of money and will be the Director of a facility. It was all ego.
7. It is okay to say no. If something does not feel right or you feel yourself slipping into old behaviors and pain is becoming the focus of your life, you need to re-evaluate your job and what you can and cannot change. Trust me, if you put your health and your well-being first, the rest will fall into place.
8. Reach out to people who have chronic pain or any invisible illness, even if it is just emailing me. You must vent at times. You cannot hold in your frustrations, anger, or tears. Let it out. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
9. You have to make a choice if you are managing pain naturally and want to stop looking for a cure. Dig deep down inside of yourself: do you want a high paying job where you have no time to focus on your management of pain and health? Sure, you will be able to afford more clothes, electronics, homes, cars, etc. but if pain is controlling your life you will not be able to enjoy any of those “luxuries.” Or do you want a job where you may not make a ton of money but make enough to live a simple life and can focus on your health and not allow pain to rule your life.
10. Nothing is ever set in stone. If you are not happy, you have the right and power to change the course of your life. Job included. You are so much stronger than you believe. Things are going to take their natural course and sometimes you just gotta roll with it. However, you must keep the belief that everything will work out: not as you planned but they just do. I know that because I am here. Nothing I planned ever turned out the way I expected and yet my dreams are coming true. You have the power to say this is not how my story is going to end. A job/career takes up a huge majority of your time and life. If any job is too much for your health/chronic pain: do something about it. The Universe will always be on your side and have your back if you are making changes that align yourself with your highest truth.