When I Had to Give Up Full-Time Work Due to Chronic Illness
As a trainee dental nurse (now fully qualified) two years ago, I was working and training, working 50+ hours a week, six days a week. After 18 months it took its toll on me. I was constantly tired and getting run down, and I was finding that because I had taken some sickness time when my regular and frequent endocrinologist appointments came up, I didn’t feel comfortable asking for time off to attend, so I opted to use my holiday allowances for hospital and doctor appointments. I didn’t have to, because I was entitled to attend, but I didn’t want to let my company down. The stress of working so many hours without a day off, and not having any holidays left to actually have a holiday, started taking its toll on me and my anxiety kicked off.
I used to struggle terribly with my anxiety and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, thinking and trying to un-convince myself that I was going to get sacked. Some nights I would just lie in bed on my back in the dark, with a million thoughts running through my head.
“I really don’t feel well and I really don’t think I can go into work tomorrow.” “You will get sacked if you don’t go in, and even if you do go in, everyone will hate you because you’re tired, and you probably will mess something up and get sacked anyway!” And so on.
It was relentless, like a steam engine on speed, these constantly negative thoughts running through my head all night long. I would then eventually get to sleep and wake up feeling thoroughly shit in the morning, like I was going to burst into tears.
No one at work really understood what I was going through. Some genuinely tried to understand, and some really didn’t care. I remember one day in particular when I was at my normal dental practice, and a colleague asked me to watch the reception desk while she nipped to the toilet. I agreed. While she was there I popped onto the internet to check the news and realized she had left her Facebook page open. Including a number of personal Facebook messages to another colleague about me. “I’m so sick of Lucy moaning about her illness. There is probably nothing wrong with her anyway, sounds like she has Munchausen’s syndrome to me!” I wanted to cry and run away, but I didn’t do anything. I carried on about my day in silence, counting down the hours until I could go home. I handed in my notice that day, and didn’t return to that practice.
Since then I’ve been further diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and am still undergoing further tests because I still have flare-ups and bad days and my energy levels are null and void. Due to this, I’ve made the huge decision to go part-time. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly because of the financial implications; however I am very lucky to have a very supportive family. I am also lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work as an agency nurse, so if I am having a good week I can pick up an extra shift for some extra money. I’m also very lucky because the practice I work at now is very understanding.
However, I have found that my story is not the exception but the rule. There are so many others with invisible illnesses like me that have had to reduce their hours or, even worse, leave work altogether. We then face another battle because the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) doesn’t view our illnesses in the same way that they affect us. They think that because we are capable of walking 50 meters, or showering ourselves one day out of seven, then we are clearly able to maintain a nine- or 10-hour working day six days a week and are therefore not entitled to any financial help from the government.
This is not the case!
To anyone reading who may work in that field: Please do not look at us as the case you see before you. Imagine living your life like we do. Yes, we may be able to walk for a few minutes unaided or have a shower. But you have no idea what it feels like living with debilitating fatigue that means that the majority of the time we are too tired – yes tired, not just lazy – to get out of bed. If we do manage to get out of bed, most of us only have enough energy left to lie on our sofas and sleep there for the day.
We don’t always feel like this, but we do the majority of the time – and that’s not including the chronic pain, where even the slightest touch is agony to your skin, and you feel like you might bruise if a feather so much as falls on you. We don’t sleep at night because that’s the time when the majority of our anxiety kicks in.
Have you ever been put in the dark alone, with just your thoughts keeping you company? It’s terrifying. Your mind runs away with the stupidest things. Then just when you feel like you’re dropping off to sleep, your back starts to hurt, or your neck, waking you up all over again. Before you know it, it’s morning, and the cycle starts all over again. This, plus a whole host of other issues, makes it very difficult for many of us to hold down a full-time job.
I would love to hear if anyone else has had problems with their careers and their illness, and how it’s affected them.
Please get in touch with me. The more we get together and talk, the more likely we can look at supporting each other and maybe make a change.
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Thinkstock photo via kieferpix.