Talking about being chronically ill can be extremely difficult because even though you are ill, quite often you don’t look like you are and what makes gynae-illnesses all the more difficult to speak about openly is quite simply where they are. I’m sorry but explaining to someone that I may need to work from home or leave early because my uterus hurts or my hormones are attacking me is not a conversation I want playing in my mind when I’m lying in bed with hormonal insomnia and every embarrassing thing flashes into my head.
Of course, it is insane that these things are embarrassing anyway but unfortunately the generation before us didn’t set us up to not be crippled with fear of mentioning anything period related to our management. It’s so much easier for me to write about it, rather than look someone in the eyes and tell them something like ‘my contraceptive pill side effects feel like they are going to kill me.’ That’s why I’m glad I get to come to this blog whenever I need to. It makes it easier to get all my thoughts out when I need to, so here is everything I wish I could say to my managements faces… but will probably never come out of my mouth. I’m sure many of you can relate to some of these:
1. I may not look like I’m in pain or sick, but I’m trying hard not to be.
Most of us had been battling our illnesses for a very long time – in my case since I was old enough to start bleeding. I was 14. I’m now 22 and that’s a long time to be aboard the chronic illness train so take it from I say we are trained in the art of hiding just how ill we really are. I could have pains like I’m being stabbed in the abdomen and still show up to work like nothing is wrong and quite often I am able to do that but just like everything else – it has a limit. So if I need time off, I’ve probably hit the point where I believe that I’m dying.
2. I work extra hard some weeks to make up for the time I have to take away when I am ill because I feel guilty – but you didn’t make me feel that way.
I can speak for myself here when I say this – I adore my job and when I’m at my best I can be pretty good at it but when I get sick I do get slower and I do fall behind. I don’t mean to of course and I do try and push through it but I do feel guilty when I’m having a rough time of it. It means when I am well enough, I push harder than ever to get stuff done and sometimes that leaves me with a long list of story codes in the newsroom and I have to send them out repeatedly to get people to look at them but it makes me feel better having that when I’m stuck on a week where I barely get one or two. (Sorry for the news room chatter but I’m sure there are tasks you do in your job where you go hard at it to prove you’re still worth your place there).
3. My bag is packed with emergency pain relief – if I ever ask for any of it it’s usually because I’ve ran out.
Usually every other Monday morning, I pop into a shop on the way to work and grab two boxes of Ibuprofen and two boxes of paracetamol so that I’m prepared for any pain that may come my way. Whether it’s a sudden migraine coming on, to abdominal pain – ya girl has to be prepared. I’ll also have several packs of sanitary products just to be sure (I never know when I’m going to start with my irregular cycle so I need to avoid surprises with that too.) Although, sometimes you can be as prepared as you want with these things and you never know what storm is brewing. That’s why, despite all my efforts I’ve still had to ask someone else for pain relief – not fun and even if it’s just a painkiller, I still get super embarrassed about it.
4. If someone else emails or calls on my behalf to say I can’t come in – I’m in too much pain to pick up the phone myself and will get to it as soon as I can.
There have been times where I have had to get someone else contact work or a friend to cancel plans or inform someone that I can’t go in because I have been in too much of a bad state. It’s usually when I’ve tried to sleep off a migraine that has remained persistent and I can’t look at a phone screen or if I’m so much pain that it’s spreading through my whole body that I have to do it. I’m not avoiding a conversation, I just physically can’t have it.
5. I don’t want to always take time off. In fact, I actively dislike feeling that weak that I can’t go in but sometimes I’ve pushed hard for days and I just can’t push anymore.
Taking time off makes me feel weak. I’m constantly trying to ensure that it doesn’t beat me but sometimes you do have to lose a battle to win the war and pushing through it isn’t worth the pain especially if you’ve tried that for a few days and all it’s succeeded in doing is making more pain.
6. Chronic illnesses cripple us mentally sometimes.
It’s exhausting. Constantly trying hard to just feel well enough to function and then dealing with the guilty feeling that you give to yourself when you can’t function. It’s really like that diagram that says you had 15 spoons a day to do things – but what happens when some mornings, you wake up and you don’t have any spoons?
7. I’ve taken too many painkillers at my desk a few times in desperation to power through, and that just makes me want to puke by the end of the day.
Ahhhhhh, the feeling that you may have accidently OD’d on painkillers at your desk. This is something I’m no stranger to. Some days I’ll be in so much pain and generic over-the-counter pain relief just isn’t cutting it. Only, if you’re anything like me then you’re unable to be prescribed any stronger pain relief for no reason other than your GP just doesn’t believe you about the pain you’re in (I’ll refer you to PCOS doesn’t hurt, if you haven’t read it already.)
8. I have a paralysing fear of losing my job over it.
Losing my job, especially in one I actually love, scares me so bad, and the guilt I carry with me when I need time off makes it even harder for me to just let someone know that I’m in pain. It’s a genuine fear and it really does force me to stay silent. Sometimes I open up to people about the pain I’m in while I’m at work and they look at me like I’m crazy for even coming in but this is an illness I live with and will for my whole life. I can’t let it win and keep making me take time off.
9. I don’t talk about it because it’s embarrassing and I don’t always know who to go to who will understand.
Some managers are more sympathetic to these things than others, and at my work place having a female manager has made it a whole load easier because I couldn’t imaging having to email a male manager and be like ‘I’m having very severe menstrual cramps so can’t come in’ but it doesn’t mean the problem is solved because not all women understand gynae problems. There are plenty of women out there who will just tell you to ‘grit your teeth and get on with it’ because it’s ‘just a heavy period.’ And that’s what I’m scared of getting back half the time… it hasn’t happened to me yet but it’s an embarrassing subject and I will just skate around it if I can.
10. MOST IMPORTANTLY – When it’s bad, it’s incredibly bad.
I never exaggerate my pain because I don’t need to. When I tell you I’m in agony it usually means that I physically can’t move. If I’m having a bad bleed, it usually involves pain that travels across my pelvis, down both of my thighs and up my spine to the arch of my back. It can make sitting up or walking very difficult and I never really cry about it, but when I do cry, I have something to cry about. At it’s worst, I’ve been in hospital for it and been given doses of morphine because nothing else has killed the pain and sometimes even that doesn’t take it away completely.
So, I know they probably won’t read this but I know that there are a lot of people out there who are facing this same fear who may read this and think… THAT IS ME… and know that you’re not alone with it. I feel it too.