9 Tips for Working with Chronic Illness

A friend recently asked me for tips on working with chronic illness, since she knows I deal with Hashimoto’s and Fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, I don’t have easy answers because brain fog, pain, fatigue and other symptoms are REAL and it’s just hard. However, over several years I’ve somewhat found my rhythm.

Note: I’m not going to give nutrition or physical advice, because I’m not qualified to do so. However, you might experiment with different gentle exercise (I’m not too good at being consistent with that), diets and supplements. For me, a gluten and dairy free diet helps and is sustainable. My rheumatologist has fibromyalgia and tells me what supplements are helpful. We’re all so different, it’s a lot of trial and error to find what works best for you.

  • Plan more time for tasks than I think it will take. I’ve noticed that since I got diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and have gotten older, things take longer because some days my issues are harder to “push through.” I’ve started to schedule twenty percent more time for goals, tasks, prep for meetings, writing assignments, etc. 
  • Say “no” more often than I used to. I just have different limits with speaking, writing, church involvement and socializing now. Family, a close circle of friends, one volunteer commitment, one writing project at a time, and my job (25-30 hours a week) duties are all I can juggle.
  • Work with my body’s clock: get more done in the “best” part of the day. I’m toast after a full day of work, so I schedule my writing time on weekends, in small bursts. For my day job, I do the hardest tasks in the afternoon because mornings are typically my slowest time and I “wake up” very gradually. So, I plan simple correspondence, scheduling, etc. during that time and leave more creative things until after lunch.
  • Tell people (editors, boss, friends and family) about what’s going on. Now this one is difficult—I’m very independent and want to appear “strong.” God is working on me! But I’ve found that sharing when I’m having a bad day almost always results in understanding and grace. People are willing to work with me on deadlines and rescheduling because I’ve shared that although I mostly function well, some days my body just needs to rest and so I have to listen to it. I used to pride myself on never missing deadlines. Guess what? Not any more.
  • Keep a consistent routine. As much as I can, I try to go to bed at a decent hour and get good sleep (that’s 8-9 hours for me) and give myself an hour and half to have coffee, eat and take meds, pray, read, etc. in the morning. If I don’t have that time, I’m “off” for the rest of the day. It just sets me up better. (Are there days I need to give in to pain and go back to bed? Absolutely! But see above–on telling people how I’m doing–for why that is okay.)
  • Do more when I feel better. I don’t take this to extremes, or else I “pay” for it with more pain and fatigue. It’s a tough balance. BUT if I have a good day or days, I try to do things that take more mental/physical energy like creating spreadsheets, filming videos, in-depth study, meetings, etc. Batching is my friend!
  • Do something joyful each day. My therapist encouraged me to start doing this last year when I lost a job, pet, dad and father-in-law in a matter of months. I began to plan something small daily that brings me joy—watch a British show, call a friend, read a decorating magazine, take a walk, visit a thrift shop, etc.—and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. This fun habit gives me more energy overall, since I both look forward to and give myself the little treat of something joyful.
  • Hire out (or barter) for things that take too much out of me. I recently hired a housekeeper and–WOW, does it take a mental and physical load off my shoulders. I’m so grateful we had the funds available and my hubby was agreeable. She only comes once a month, but she takes care of all the “big” chores like dusting, mopping, sweeping, vacuuming, and bathroom cleaning. I didn’t realize how much brain space it was taking up to constantly see the things around me that needed to be done, but weren’t getting done. So–if you can hire jobs out (like your social media or accounting) or barter for them, do it!

What are your tips for working from home when dealing with chronic illness? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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