5 Hacks to Help You Get Through the Workday When You Have Endometriosis
While the typical workday might only last eight hours, when you are dealing with a flare-up of symptoms from endometriosis, eight hours can feel like an eternity. Nausea, diarrhea, cramps, heavy bleeding… the list of symptoms and the degree to which they are debilitating go on and on. Some days going to work just isn’t feasible, and the last thing I want to do here is to shame anyone for needing to take a day off when you are experiencing a flare-up. But if the symptoms are within the range of potentially tolerable and you need to get to the office, here are a few hacks to help you manage endometriosis at work.
1. Have an emergency stash of meds to treat symptoms of endometriosis at work.
I always had anti-nausea pills and some kind of anti-gas medication with me to deal with the extreme bloating I would get, which would distend my stomach and make it uncomfortable to sit at a desk for extended periods of time. I also made sure to carry some anti-diarrheal aid, particularly the week prior to my menstrual cycle when I’d inevitably experience a severe bout of diarrhea which would make leaving the bathroom precarious. And it goes without saying that I never ran out of pain medicine, particularly during my cycle when my cramps could land me in the emergency room if untreated.
2. Always have a heating pad on hand to combat pain from endometriosis at work.
Sometimes the only thing that would help abate my endometriosis pain even a tiny bit was a heating pad on my abdomen. Carrying one with you or keeping one at your place of employment for emergency use is crucial.
3. Bring backups to work: menstrual products and an extra pair of bottoms, particularly underwear.
My periods used to be so heavy that I’d bleed through the thickest pad that existed in under an hour, often soiling my underwear and my pants or skirt. I always made sure I brought enough backup pads that I could change frequently. I also carried a sweater for emergencies, to wrap around my waist just in case of a leak if a meeting ran long or if I happened to get distracted and bled through my clothes.
4. Take advantage of remote work options. If your hours can be flexible, don’t be afraid to request a schedule change.
Obviously, this doesn’t work for every workplace, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that many jobs that didn’t seem possible to do remotely can actually be easily done from home. Having the option to work from home where you can wear loose-fitting clothes, take frequent breaks, or draw yourself a soothing Epsom salt bath to soak in during your lunch break can be life-altering. And if you don’t have an urgent deadline, asking to switch days off or work longer hours on another day to make up for time off could help you get through the worst part of an endometriosis flare without having to call in sick or use up vacation days.
5. Be honest with your employer about your endometriosis.
I understand that it can feel really uncomfortable to discuss things like periods and diarrhea with your boss. But I know from personal experience that doing so can be a game-changer. Discussing my endometriosis enabled me to keep an open dialog going with them so that I could adjust my schedule and get the accommodations I needed to continue being a productive and valued employee without fear of being disciplined for calling in or spending a lot of time in the bathroom on any given day. It can help to write out your situation with a note from your medical practitioner to hand to them to get the conversation started.
One of the most frustrating aspects of endometriosis is the lack of knowledge the layperson (and the medical community) has about the condition. It’s not considered a chronic illness by many, which creates a stigma surrounding the degree to which it impacts an individual affected by it. It’s also frustrating that it presents so differently in each person. This causes a lot of “comparative suffering” which can do everyone a disservice in terms of getting the help and understanding they deserve. The bottom line: You know your body best and it’s your right to advocate for yourself, especially in the context of making your work environment hospitable and conducive to your quality of life, which will increase your productivity. That’s a win for both employees and employers.
Getty image by Eclipse Images.