The Ultimate Guide to Working with Chronic Pain

The Ultimate Guide to Working with Chronic Pain

The Ultimate Guide to Working with Chronic Pain


We had to make a tough decision this week.
It’s going to be even more tough to share it with you all now.

This week we decided to reduce my work days.

Hang on that doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Let me reword it. We had to change my work schedule from just two days a week to a measly one day in the office seeing clients.

I don’t have a newborn (does a toddler count!?), we do need the extra income and I don’t look sick so this decision was based completely on my struggle with invisible illness and chronic pain. Those colleagues who have caught me sneaking a heat pack or vomit bag between clients or typing like a T-rex due to wrist pain will no doubt understand our decision better than others.

Building a career is probably one of the hardest parts of living with illness and pain.

Heck, for chronic pain sufferers just getting to our office chair or a meeting is difficult most days. We read so much about stress setting off the pain cycle and over commitment and exhaustion causing flare ups of illness and pain but sometimes we don’t have a choice, it is either our health or our career. 

There are a number of ways a chronic pain sufferer can tackle the workforce. Like you or your partner with pain, we are dictated mostly by current treatment programs and how well medication is masking symptoms. Sorry boss.

The Chronic Pain Couple have tried it all when it comes to finding the r Chronic pain job guide ight balance working with pain. Not working, pushing through work as if pain wasn’t there, flexible work arrangements, maternity leave, working part time, fulltime, quitting without notice, working from home and working for ourselves. There is going to be a different solution for your individual situation, and that solution is probably going to change over months or years (for some days even). For this reason it is always good to consider all of your options, be open to change and put aside time for regular, serious reviews of your work life and how your ability to cope at work is impacting on your relationships at home.

Here are 5 ways of approaching work with chronic pain. What approach do you take, should you take or want to take?

1. The Pusher

Most of us can’t afford not to work. The Pusher continues working like their pain doesn’t exist. They usually give all their energy to their role and work colleagues and when they arrive home will crumble from exhaustion and pain. The pusher struggles to have a social life on weekends and week nights as  those times are for recovery and they often seem inattentive and absent at home. I was a Pusher once, I would schedule physio appointments to have my hip and ribs manipulated during my lunch breaks and was sick before and after clients. Sometimes, there isn’t another option. The pusher can feel as though their disconnection from family and friends is justified as they are going above and beyond what they are capable of every day at work. This can be an area of conflict for chronic pain couples.

Pros: financial stability, good withstanding with work colleagues, career advancement, social interactions, more scheduled days at work. Cons: Fast track to burn out, more health issues, social isolation outside work, relationship issues, sudden leave for painful flare ups

2. The Quitter

Don’t get this wrong, a chronic pain sufferer who quits their work 99% of the time would give anything to keep working, they just can’t. 

Quitters often have coexisting physical disability or find themselves very unreliable due to pain. It is never an easy decision to quit a job, especially if it is one you love. I pushed myself for months before deciding to quit a job I loved. As hard as it is, there are times when your health needs to come before a career, money and other people’s happiness.

How amazing would it be to stay at home all day, every day to watch tv, read and surf the web! It isn’t actually. Purpose and the opportunity to work or contribute to a team offers definite emotional and psychological benefits. It is important for chronic pain sufferers who cannot work, to find ways to continue seeking purpose outside of a career.

Pros: body can rest, no boss or team to let down, more energy for relationships, more treatment and therapy time, energy for weekend and evening activities. Cons: no income, possible loss of purpose, lack of understand from colleagues or family and friends, no career advancement, change in life plans, possible resentment from a working spouse

3. The Balancer

The Balancer plans a little rest and a little work each week. This arrangement can work very well for a chronically ill person. It does however come with a few issues. A common issue is that nobody is going to tap a Balancer on the shoulder and tell them when they have worked enough or when the pain is bad enough to schedule rest. This can cause a lot of anxiety as a Balancer continually assesses if they can justify the decision to rest. Balancers must ensure they are not designing their work life solely out of guilt or fear of how others will view them. They benefit from speaking often with a trusted spouse, friend or family member to navigate work and rest decisions. Just having a partner say they agree with a decision to work or rest can provide a lot of comfort and assurance. Having a set schedule is also really important, we would suggest a monthly or fortnightly schedule so you are not using valuable energy planning each day as it arrives.

4. The Recoverer

Your health is priority. Your finances are in order (for now) and your diary is filled with therapy and rest. Good on you for putting your health first and how blessed are you that your circumstances allow you to take time to heal and be a true Recoverer! We know it is not all good though, the Recoverer is often recovering from significant health issues, has had surgery or is taking life a bit slower before a chronic illness is expected to worsen. They often worry about the future and unfortunately, the Recoverer has extra time to worry. It may be a good idea for a Recoverer to stay in touch with previous employers for opportunities for possible work in the future or nurture a talent during recovery time that may in the future, generate income with flexibility.

Pros: Time to heal, time for pain clinics and extensive treatments, maximise energy for partner a work chronic pain illness nd family, time for hobbies.  Cons: Often very unwell, change in life plans and direction, Finances can be tight, possible resentment from a working partner

5. The Creative

It is all about flexibility when you suffer from chronic pain. Of course, this can mean flexible hours and working location but what about changing your idea of work altogether? The Creative person with chronic pain uses their talents, technology or their resources to earn an income. Have a knack for sewing? Knowledge that people need? A spare room to rent or a car you hardly use? Maybe it’s time you became a Creative chronic pain person who makes money from home and can rest when you need.

10 creative ways to make money while at home with chronic pain:

  1. Become an online consultant
  2. Create an item to sell online
  3. Start a successful website
  4. Rent out a room
  5. Rent out your car
  6. become a virtual receptionist
  7. Deliver pamphlets
  8. Become a graphic designer
  9. Decorate cakes
  10. Care for other’s pets

Mystery shopper is not on our list. I signed up for mystery shopping when we lived in the UK and I made £8 in three days. I could have found more money on the sidewalk in three days.

So are you or your partner with chronic pain a Pusher, Quitter, Balancer, Recoverer or Creative? Perhaps you have taken a few of these approaches? We would love to hear in the comment section how you are managing your pain and work.

Working with chronic pain is not easy. We have weekly meetings to discuss how to plan our week. Below you can download for free the checklist we use to ensure we plan the right amount of work, social time and rest.

Every few months grab your partner or a friend and revaluate your budget, hours of work, your relationships, family life, therapies and medication. You do not need to feel stuck in your work situation, we are already stuck enough in this crazy world of pain. Looking for more tips? Sign up now for free to The Chronic Pain Couple Community, we love meeting new people!

With love and pain,

The Chronic Pain Couple

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1 Comments

  1. Janice T:

    I am a pusher. I've always been a pusher, because my late husband had a number of acute medical issues whereas I had chronic pain. I thank God for the rheumatologist I found finally after 20 years of having my condition who mercifully let me try methadone. It allows me to think and work (I have a very good career) and takes away about half of the pain. I don't know now how I made it those other years with no medical help - back then, they thought the condition was psychological - , other than I needed to live and eat. Some days, I can get into the zone of work and meeting deadlines and forget my pain. I also think it might be worse not to work - it keeps my mind off of the pain. Also, I can pay for a massage every 2 weeks, which helps tremendously, and I have good health insurance . I do pay by being really tired on the weekends and some days, the pain is so bad, it's really hard to work.

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