As some regular readers may know, I have recently returned to work following a period of extended sick leave, due to multiple sclerosis. I was off for 3 1/2 months because of problems associated with fatigue (concentration difficulties, word-finding problems and extreme tiredness) and mobility. I’d love to say that my return to work means that I am no longer suffering from those symptoms but, unfortunately, I can’t. I still struggle with my mobility and, as this is something that has been creeping on me for the past 6 years or so (and I have recently had it confirmed that I am now Secondary Progressive MS) this is not something that I anticipate will change and improve for the better. No, this return to work has been supported by Occupational Health and the Access To Work scheme, who have made recommendations for adaptations of my work area and working days that they hope will help me to stay in work a bit longer:
• Having a desk and computer in my therapy room so that I do not have to move back and forth between offices through the day
• A height adjustable desk and new supportive chair – the idea is to use my scooter if needed and to make it a more comfortable place to spend long periods of work
• Use of ‘Dragon software’ – which allows voice activated typing, meaning that if my left hand is getting numb, I do not have to use it to type with
• A phased return to work and a change of working days from Tues/Thurs/Fr to Mon/Wed/Fri, allowing for no working on consecutive days
Unfortunately, I do not have the option of reducing the number of working days (say, from 3 to 2) within my current job. This is due to the level I am at and the expectation that everyone at that level will work a minimum of 3 days per week and also the effect that it would have on my pension.
So, how’s it going, six weeks into my return? I have definitely noticed some improvements, but also some old problems returning:
1. The phased return has been great. I have used some of my annual leave to ensure that I had a number of weeks doing only two days per week. To be honest, I just really wish that I could stick to that level of work. It allows me the time I need to rest in between working days and give me a good mix of working but also the time to prioritise my health needs and my family
2. I really like the feeling of ‘I have tomorrow off’ every day that I am in work. It hasn’t reduced my tiredness doing the new pattern but psychologically it has helped
3. Not having to move from room to room has really been a big support. The fact that I have a quiet space in which to concentrate whilst at work (as opposed to a big open-plan office with hot-desks) has helped with my fatigue levels somewhat. Not having to drag my heavy leg around as much is also better, as too much walking about really takes it out of me and contributes massively to my fatigue.
4. The Dragon software is useful; I’m still getting to grips with it and have 3 more training sessions arranged, but I can see how talking is easier that having to constantly type when my hands are uncoordinated and numb. However, it doesn’t work the same across all programmes on the computer and I have found that talking through my notes and reports still takes a lot of time, as I am constantly revising what I want to say to make sure that I am using the right terminology.
5. My new chair is brilliant, really comfy and definitely somewhere that I don’t mind sitting in for potentially long periods. It has lumber support and I also have a foot rest. The adjustable desk in theory is very useful but over the past couple of months I have found it really difficult to get my scooter in and out of the car by myself. This means that the chances of taking it to work, where I won’t have someone like my husband on the other side to help me get it out, are slim. Add to the fact that there are no disabled access doors with push buttons at work and it seems pretty hopeless… I can’t sit and wait for someone to come by to open the door for me in the day without wasting a lot of time when I should be working.
6. The biggest thing that is impacting negatively on my return to work is the early starts that I need to make in order to get to work on time. They are difficult for me and really impact on my fatigue levels over the course of the day. Unfortunately, it would be hard for me to start later and end later as it would then be nigh on impossible to obtain a disabled parking space – these go within a blink of an eye first thing in the morning. Having to be constantly “on” all day is tiring too – at least at home I could have five minutes to myself when things got tough, but at work my priority needs to be on the children that I’m seeing.
So, there are positives and negatives about my return to work. I fear that the negatives i.e. me struggling in regards to fatigue, is something that can’t be helped and I would have regardless whether I was at work or not; indeed even whilst I was off work I relied upon my daily nap in order to see me through to the end of the day. Now that I’m back at work, I’m no longer getting my daily nap, which means that on my days off I am spending a good couple of hours sleeping in the day in order to make up for using up all my “spoons” the previous day. In fact, a working day takes up a full day’s worth of “spoons” and then some from the following day as well.
Despite this doom and gloom, I am really enjoying being back at work, I absolutely love to see the children that I’m working with and my colleagues are brilliant too. I also like the fact that I am feeling more like “myself” – I feel like I have something useful about me, I’m a good therapist and I feel like I’m good at my job. Regardless of whether I stay in this current post or not, I know that I will need to find something that fills that void when I leave this employment.
I thought it would be useful to end with some tips on how I have been managing my return to work and the preparations that I go through to make my work days run as smoothly as possible:
- I organise my lunch the night before work so that all I have to do is pop to the fridge and then put it in my bag
- I do the same with my breakfast – overnight oats are my friend!
- I try to have my shower the night before so that I am not rushing in the morning, especially because I always feel like I need to rest for at least 10 minutes after my shower
- I like to look out my clothes the night before so I’m not hunting for things in the morning
- I have got into a habit of having a hot milk before going to bed to make sure that I sleep peacefully – I’ve especially been loving ‘golden milk’, made with almond milk, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and honey. It is meant to be a good anti-inflammatory drink and I find it very relaxing.
• If, for some reason, I manage to wake early, I will try and get out of bed and do a few stretches or a short yoga video on YouTube. It helps me to feel more awake and also means that my stretches are done for the day before the day has even fully started
• When I get to work, I try and do my least favourite tasks first, to ensure that I do not have them hanging over my head as something “to do”
• I make sure that I take my lunch break, no matter how busy I am, to ensure that I have a proper rest away from the computer screen for 20 minutes
• I’m using essential oils over the day, more specifically pulse point oil that is meant to increase energy. I don’t necessarily feel that I have lots more energy, but it does help me to feel more awake and to take time to focus on the lovely smell
• I have been making sure not to overbook myself with children to see – it is very tempting to fit in as many as I can, especially due to government targets et cetera, but I need to think about and prioritise my health
• I have booked meetings with my manager in order to discuss how the return to work is going to monitor my symptoms and make adjustments as needed
• Finally, I have been keeping a task diary to record any tasks that are difficult, again to take to my line manager
I hope this has been useful, I know quite a few people who have recently returned to work after a period of sick leave or starting a new post and I would love to hear their tips and recommendations on how to adapt back into the workplace at a time when you might not be feeling 100% health-wise.
Wishing everybody happy and healthy weekend 🙂