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10 Things I Want My Coworkers to Know About the Reality of Chronic Pain

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Dealing with debilitating chronic pain is something relatively new to me. It is something I never thought could happen to someone as young and unstoppable as me. In just one day I went from running around the office in the highest of heels to needing help getting dressed. Although I’ve improved some and have learned a lot since that day in April that my pain started, some of my frustrations, insecurities and challenges still remain… many of those at work. Here are a few things chronic pain sufferers want you to know.

1. This is real. Even if you can’t see it. Especially when you can’t see it. Believe those who say they have pain.

2. When I don’t join you for coffee, lunch or happy hour, it may not be because I don’t want to. Having a chronic condition is a lot to handle. A lot goes into the appointments, treatments, and surgeries… I spend many lunch breaks doing things like paying medical bills, arranging appointments and logistically planning how everything will work out. On top of all of that, chronic conditions are expensive.  Medical bills, prescription drugs, childcare, mileage and time off work doesn’t come cheap.

3. Taking the day off or working from home isn’t a “perk.” Comments such as, “It must be nice to be able to get your laundry done, work out, etc.” can be really frustrating. Usually if I need to work from home, there are some pretty big reasons behind it — I just may not want to share the details with those I work with. If I take a full day off unexpectedly, be assured I’m not at Disney World.

4. Being a part of challenging and rewarding projects and the possibility to advance may be what gets us out of bed each day. Dealing with chronic pain is draining  — emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. Knowing I can continue to have a prosperous career can be highly motivating.

5. Making comments about our condition in front of others, even when well-intended or in a joking manner, can be humiliating. We already know that we are different — you don’t to point it out. Asking questions, however, about how we are feeling, is showing kindness.

6. No. I haven’t yet tried medical marijuana. Or copper bands. I have, however, consulted with some of the top medical professionals we can find.

7. If I ask you for help, I am not trying to be a burden. I have to work up a lot of courage to ask you to bring my lunch from the break room. For those of you who help without being asked, thank you! That water bottle you brought after I threw up in the garbage can was appreciated.

8.  We might talk a lot about our issues. If we confide in you about what is going on with us medically, it is an indication that we trust you and value the relationship. If we talk too much about what is going on, it might be because we don’t have much else to talk about. Oftentimes our evenings and weekends are filled with rest, Netflix and WebMD. If, on the other hand, we don’t talk much about our issues, it may be because we’ve felt our former comments were listened to but not really heard.

9. Sending a “good luck today” text before or a quick email after a surgery, procedure or appointment is appreciated more than you realize. Friends and even family members can become distant when medical issues arise, so receiving a reminder that someone cares can help make a tough day much more manageable.

10. For many of us, those we work with are almost like our families. Thank you for your support, encouragement, friendship, and patience. Knowing you have a team rallying behind you when dealing with pain each day, is simply irreplaceable!

Chronic pain is life-changing and career-altering. We sufferers are continuously learning how to deal with the pain while also relentlessly trying to maintain or advance our careers. The conversation has started — let’s continue talking about chronic pain and illness in the workplace!

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Originally published: April 15, 2016
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