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The 7 Dirty Secrets of a Chronic Illness Warrior-Worker

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I no longer work in a 9-5 or office environment, but I did for many years. Somehow, I managed to hold down a full-time career with chronic fatigue syndrome for a long time and there are things, to this day, that even my closest colleagues never knew. You see, working with a chronic illness is like a magic act. For the sake of our colleagues and bosses we put on a good show throughout the week but behind the scenes we are the masters of deception. So much so that you often won’t know we are ill at all. So, here are my dirty little secrets, the things I did to get by while working with an illness:

1. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a shower.

Showering often left me more exhausted and even less refreshed than when I got
in. The physical exertion required could literally leave me in a hot and bothered mess. Baby wipes were a savior, dry shaving was the only kind of shaving that went on most days and only if it couldn’t be avoided completely. Shaving to the ankle was also a go-to hack when wearing trousers.

2. I went to the hairdressers regularly for a wash and blow dry.

Not because I was fancy (although that might be what I told you) but because
there was nothing less fun than washing your hair when you were exhausted and
dealing with pain. There have been more days I care to admit when I have sat
on the side of the bath and cried, thrown shampoo bottles at the wall in a
tantrum before finally calling my mum and asking her to wash my hair over the
sink like she did when I was a child. Dry shampoo plus my mum basically made
having hair on my head possible for most of my 20s.

3. My weekends were chilled for a reason.

Notice how, when we were sharing our weekend adventures that mine seem to
consist of “nothing much, just chilled really?” Well, that was my code for “I put my pajamas on at 7 p.m. on Friday and didn’t take them off until 7 a.m. on Monday.” Working during the week with an illness can take the whole weekend to recover from, and not in the fun, choosing-to-relax way but in a necessary-to-function way.

4. I didn’t take long holidays.

It was rare that I had any annual leave left to take a full week or two-week holiday somewhere nice because I had used them all up on recuperation time and extending my weekends to be able to function better throughout the year. The thought of traveling to and from a holiday destination could also be stressful: four days of relaxation, three days of panic, followed by a week recovering from the cold my immune-compromised body picked up from spending hours in a plane with other people’s germs.

5. I didn’t always tell the truth.

Yep. I told big fat lies. Lies to keep my job. Because the truth was I was too ill to be working a full-time job but not ill enough to receive benefits. It’s surprising how good you can get at telling porkies when your livelihood depends on it. I lied that I was coping, I lied that I wasn’t as bad as I was, there were times I even lied and said I had the same bug that was going around the office rather than admit it was due to my disclosed illness because that had less backlash and raised less awkward questions.

6. My bed to door routine was seven minutes.

Really, I timed it and would silently congratulate myself if I got it down to six. Every minute spent in bed resting was worth the reduced time to get ready. It’s amazing what you can do in seven minutes with baby wipes, dry shampoo, a
top-knot, mascara and a concealer stick.

7. I mastered my work wardrobe.

Think Mr. Zuckerberg is the only one who owns a bunch of identical tops and trousers? Warrior workers have had that shit down for years. The trick is to find yourself a pair of trousers and a smart top that don’t crease and don’t require ironing, then buy at least three pairs of those same trousers and buy the top in every single color it comes in.

See how difficult it can be to spot a warrior-worker? We can rock-up to work
baby-wipe fresh, top-knotted or freshly blow-dried hair in our crease-free
smart clothes and we lie about how we are feeling to keep up the charade, but I
promise you, behind the organized and sorted act is a woman who is totally
exhausted every day. Have patience and love for your colleagues, they might be
a warrior in disguise.

You can join my free online community on Facebook at the link in my profile. Just click on my name.

Stay classy warrior workers!

Getty Image by michaeljung

Originally published: April 15, 2018
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