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20 Things Coworkers Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Chronic Pain

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For those in our chronic pain community who work, you know that your symptoms don’t say “See ya!” when you head out to your job. Flare-ups don’t care that you have a big presentation tomorrow, or that you’re swamped with customers today. And depending on how much sick time you have, there may be times when you’re dealing with a lot of pain, but have to try your best to work through it. As a result, you might find yourself adopting unique “habits” or coping strategies that your coworkers don’t even realize you’re doing because of your pain. Maybe you have to decline a lunch invitation, or schedule meetings for the time of day your pain is lowest. But these techniques might be just what you need to get through the day.

To shed light on the “little things” people with chronic pain are secretly doing just to make it through the work day, we asked our Mighty community to share what they do that their coworkers don’t realize they’re doing because of their pain. If you are reading this because you have coworkers with chronic pain, hopefully this will help illuminate the challenges they’re dealing with and how hard they’re working (on top of their usual work!) to get through. And if you go to work with chronic pain, perhaps you’ve adopted some of these “habits” as well. Let us know in the comments what you would add.

Here’s what our community said:

  1. “Being quiet. If I’m having a bad day, I don’t have the energy to spare on chatting and chances are I’m having to work extra hard to concentrate through the pain and fatigue.” — L.S.
  2. “Taking lots of preventative medications, and when absolutely necessary, opioid pain medication too. I feel like they will never understand why I take so much medication and will be harshly judged for it, which is why I don’t publicly talk about it.” — S.R.
  3. “I work as a gymnastics coach. I stay away from kids who have been sick so I do not catch anything. I put on my sweatshirt in the summer because the air conditioning gives me severe nerve pain. And most of all, I smile and never show I am in pain, because I just want to be normal.” — C.S.
  4. “When I was working, I opted out of certain tasks and had to say no to certain aspects of my job because I was in pain. I ended up having to quit my job because I couldn’t do all my duties.” — L.N.
  5. “I pace myself to make sure I will make it to the end of the day: I try to never have more than two meetings in a day. Answer at the very last minute for lunch-out. Sit in the back of the room during meetings so that when I get up to walk around I don’t bother anyone. Plan my days, and weeks, in a way to get at least one ‘easy’ day before and after every ‘big’ day (lots of meetings or long hours, etc.). Use a cane in public transportation to help with balance and energy. Stay away from most activities with my colleagues because I don’t have the energy.” — M.C.
  6. “Randomly stopping and squatting down in the corner to stretch out my feet and my Achilles and my lower back when I’m in pain from being on my feet for a while. I usually just get shouted at to get back to work and stop being lazy.” — N.W.
  7. “Sitting on the floor when reaching or organizing things on low shelves so my knee doesn’t dislocate. Pausing during movements to prevent a subluxation that I feel is about to occur. Missing pieces of conversation and asking for things to be repeated because my pain demands that I listen to it now.” — S.B.
  8. “Using my non dominant hand for most tasks – taking longer to complete the task. Makes me seem slow.” — B.B.
  9. “In class I’ll just randomly start stretching my neck because I’m fused from c1 to c4. I won’t look at people when they talk to me because I can’t turn my head at all. People just think I’m being rude.” — L.T.
  10. “Timing my breaks around my meds so they don’t see me taking all of them.” — A.S.
  11. “I would constantly work work work, I felt being a workaholic would suppress my issues. And when I finally cracked, everyone was like ‘but you seemed fine?’ You can really tell a lot by someones work behavior. I wasn’t sleeping, eating or taking care of myself. And everyone thought that was the norm. Work was my treatment, when all it really did was make me worse.” — C.S.
  12. “Shuffle my weight from foot to foot because the pain of resting on one foot gets to be too much.” — B.S.
  13. “Leaning on everything and perching where I can. I’m a chef so I’m always on my feet, some days it’s so busy there’s no time for a break so I just have to rest where I can.” — K.B.
  14. “I have boxes under my desk, mostly so I can prop my feet up and straighten my legs.” — T.C.
  15. I wouldn’t sit down because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back up.” — S.S.
  16. “I’m actually a really friendly person but have issues socializing and making friends at work due to me dealing with my many dislocations. It’s literally taking me all I have to even be at work and I just can’t be social while in pain and still perform my job well.” — K.W.
  17. “I’m lucky enough to sit down for my job. Many times, I’ll lean forward and put my head down at my desk to cover up the fact that I’m doubled over in pain, or trying not to faint. If I’m leaning forward and not talking much, then I’m usually quietly fighting my own battle.” — C.B.
  18. “I am always looking down when I walk so I don’t misstep and dislocate something. I clench my fists when the pain is really bad but I have to push through. Sitting whenever and wherever I can, even if it’s only for a few seconds. I put all my energy into working, so much that I can’t do much outside of work. I come home and my body falls apart.” — W.G.
  19. “I’m always having to switch positions while sitting because of my hips or knees hurting. I also have to always stretch out my joints or try to get knots out of my neck or shoulders because it hurts to look at a computer. Also sometimes I can’t write due to my hands cramping after writing or typing for a prolonged period.” — M.A.
  20. “I would stand like a flamingo. One leg straight and the other with the bottom of my foot on the inner thigh of my standing leg. It seemed to take some pressure off of my back.” — Jamie H.

Want to find out what other chronic pain warriors do to make it through the work day? Check out these stories:

12 Tips for Managing Chronic Pain While Working Full-Time

My Tiny Task Tips for Working With a Chronic Illness

23 ‘Hacks’ That Can Make Working Easier With a Chronic Illness

Originally published: August 15, 2018
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