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What Happened After I Walked Away From Work Because of Fibromyalgia

December 9, 2016 marked my last day of employ. I stepped out into the cold at 6:31 p.m., walking into the freezing dark evening and leaving behind a career I loved. The decision to leave full-time employment was not easy. Looking back, my world was so dark with depression and physical pain I was not quite aware or sure what I had done.

I was afraid to leave work, worrying about bills, debts, feeding myself and becoming Britain’s favorite word: a “scrounger.”

I researched what my employment rights were and gave three months notice requesting a change of hours. I thought perhaps reducing my hours would help. These changed in August 2015: three days a week with the flexibility to change due to the pain. It was clear with the nature of my work in social care the three days back-to-back were not working. I opted to work every other day; the stress was too much as services changed due to austerity cuts. By the time winter 2016 came, my attendance was so erratic and my pain levels so high, I could barely walk. A decision had to be made.

In the quiet of January 2016, after a quiet Christmas that totally flopped, I was so exhausted I knew I could not do it anymore. I wrote a list of people and spoke to them. My dad simply said, “Make a decision and follow through no matter what happens.” My dad trusted my decision – he just wanted me to go back to Kenya for a while. I had not been home for five years.

Next, I informed people I trusted, Lade, my big sister, and Kendy I was
thinking of leaving work. Lade advised me, “Pray about it and don’t say anything about it to anyone.” The few others I spoke to were agents of doom and realistic gloom. “How are you going to cope?” “How will you pay your bills?” Blah blah and it went on. No one considered my health. Keep your decision to a minimal number of trusted people. I spoke to my mentor and manager Samuel and with great sadness and a reality check he gave me my blessing. I was set to go.

I made the decision a day before the announcement of the results of Brexit. I was leaving. Then panic set in – we are leaving Europe, what am I going to do?! Lord help me. Did I make a mistake? It was bad. Work was scarce. What had I done?! As my mobility deteriorated, reality set in and I stuck to my decision. The challenge now was how to go about it. I mentioned it to my line manager and I told her I would get back to her on a date.

The waiting game began; I wanted to leave on my terms. Thankfully, in July 2016, austerity cuts meant it was very likely my post would be deleted. Presto – there was the opportunity. The fact they were moving the offices further
from home meant traveling would be out of the question. In October 2016 I put my name forward and I went for redundancy.

I really miss the variance and challenge of my role and my colleagues. The year has not been without its challenges. The first thing I did was create distance from the job. I went home to Kenya for three months. The sunshine and being around my family lifted the cloud. Re-arranging your life can seem easy – not so after working from the age of 18. My priority was to get my health back and learning to pace was easier said than done.

Those who struggle with fibromyalgia know the ups and downs of symptoms can throw your day and doing one thing at a time is hard for an active person. My days were very dark sometimes and I lost many days in bed either in pain or numb. I was lost. I went for counseling and understood I was grieving. The tsunamis would be intense and difficult.

I did not even understand what grieving was.

I achieved many things even with the struggle. I was able to concentrate on my book “Wounded: The Journey of the Nameless Woman.” It shares my story – how fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome with a side dish of
depression stole and redirected my life. I hope by next year it will be published.  I rest more and I am more present which helps my nerves and stress. My friendships, which, as you know, you can lose, have been wilted down to about 10 people I like to spend time with on my terms. They
understand. I became an advocate for mental health and fibromyalgia online, sharing my experiences and supporting a UK non-profit organization called the Nous and Kenya.

I was even nominated and rewarded with a Global award for empowering women in mental health. This shocked me. I was shifting and shifting in pain and as a person.

It has not been easy, money has been tight at times, my head space challenging and my day-to-day living has been a nightmare. My disability assessment deemed I was not fit for work for another year which is a blessing in disguise. I want to go back to work but when I look back, my mind is not the same with brain fog, pain and fatigue making it impossible to move around more than two days a week. I don’t know if I will ever be able to work again, but that is another bridge to cross next year.

I visited my office yesterday and wondered, did I make a good decision? Yes, yes, yes. It is one of my few decisions as an adult I am very proud of. Do not be afraid – your health is your wealth.

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Photo via AndreyPopov on Getty Images