Suffering from endometriosis left me feeling depressed, sad and just really sorry for myself. Most days I would suffer from chronic pelvic pain, lower back pain and excruciating painful periods that would make it difficult for me to work or focus and concentrate on tasks effectively. The cause of my debilitating pain was diagnosed to be related to endometriosis. Every month I would have anxiety because I would once again have to let my manager know that I am unable to work because I am having bad pain management days. Often times I would need to take several days off around the time of my period. I love my job and I needed to find a way to better manage my symptoms and get my life back. What's more, the physical pain was impacting my mental health, self-esteem and ability to manage my full-time job effectively.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic illness. A health condition that affects about one in every 10 women. And in women who experience very painful periods, endometriosis could affect as many as six out of 10. It is a chronic illness where cells from the lining of the uterus grow elsewhere in the body. As with menstruation, the cells break down and bleed each month, except that they cannot escape. This can cause debilitating pain, heavy periods and infertility. Endometriosis usually disappears after menopause.
An endometriosis flare-up can be debilitating to people with endometriosis, worsening pain, heavy bleeding and interrupting their sleep. Flares intensify symptoms of endometriosis and eventually subside after a while. Sometimes the changes in the intensity of symptoms are predictable and other times they can come without warning.
There is no known cause of endometriosis, nor is there a cure. Surgery, hormone treatments such as the contraceptive pill and pain-relieving medication help to reduce or relieve the symptoms.
Impacts of Dealing With Endometriosis At Work
Everyone's endometriosis symptoms are different and managing symptoms of endometriosis in the workplace for everyone is different. From my experience working through an endo-flare can be incredibly distressing. As a consequence, women in the workplace are often forced to take sick days, ask for flexible working arrangements, or just endure their pain as best they can. In other words, managing endometriosis and managing a full-time job is extremely challenging - emotionally, mentally and physically.
We need to explore the best ways in which we can make the impact of endometriosis more manageable. As well as look at small things we can start doing to make work life that much easier.
Some of the impacts of dealing with endometriosis:
Frequently calling in sick
Dealing with brain fog
Fatigue and depleting energy levels
Having to push through the pain to get work done
Wishing your period would start on the weekend to avoid working in pain
Trouble sitting for long periods of time, because of leg or back pain
Taking pain medication to get through the day
Less productive and feel slow
Leaving work early to go home due to intense pain
Immediately crash when home because of exhaustion
Tips For Managing The Symptoms
If you like myself have received an endometriosis diagnosis you will need to learn how best to manage and cope with endometriosis at work. Endometriosis can be a debilitating condition that can leave you feeling depressed. However, there are things you can do. There are three key areas to consider. By following these three tips, you can take back control of your life and work.
1. Proactive planning:
Identifying what you can do to prepare for an endo-flare and by doing so potentially avoiding pain and symptoms.
Think about how you can prepare in advance, so if you do get a flare-up during working or at the office, you will have all the essentials at hand to manage as best you can. For example, have a drawer in the office, or take with you, your essential endo-flare kit items. I like to have supplements such as vitamin D and magnesium and turmeric supplements. Stick-on heat pads, a hot water bottle, pain-relief medication, and sanitary pads. Herbal teas and some essential oils to help keep me calm and relaxed.
Additionally, I make sure my desk area is as comfortable as possible when working from the office. I have a good chair and a rest for my feet. Having these make a big difference. When I didn’t have them and the pain kicked in, the lack of support on my back worsened the aching and stiffness. At home, I invested in an electric heating pad. I use it most days to keep my pelvic area warm and it helps me relax.
Identifying what will assist you to stay well whilst managing a chronic condition.
Once you can identify and recognize what sort of things or circumstances could trigger a flare, you can start thinking about how to create a plan you can put in place to assist you in staying well. There are many things you can do to support your pain day-to-day, so you will be less likely to experience a flare-up.
One of the most essential aspects of living with endometriosis is to maintain an appropriate diet. I make sure to avoid certain foods that are overly processed and have a lot of sugar. I try to eat plenty of vegetables, as well as drink plenty of water.
Managing stress levels is also key for me. When my stress levels increase, my symptoms worsen, so I need to make sure that I do things that help me relax. This includes reading, gentle stretches and aromatherapy.
Lastly, I make it a point of getting regular exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk. Exercise releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers, and it helps to reduce stress levels.
3. Endo-Flare management:
Think about putting systems in place so that you know what to do when you have an endo-flare.
Learning how to cope when a flare-up does happen. When you start developing worsening pain, it is vital to have a plan in place. This way you can minimize the impact on your work and life as much as possible.
The first thing I do when I have a flare-up is to take some time for myself. This might mean calling in sick or working from home. If possible, I try to rest and recuperate. I might take longer breaks or take a couple of hours off work at the end of the day. This might not always be possible, but if I can, I find it makes a big difference.
During a flare-up, I also make sure to up my self-care routine. For me this means taking regular vitamins and supplements, drinking herbal tea, using my heating pad and taking warm showers. I also make sure to get plenty of rest and sleep.
When possible, I try to stagger challenging tasks. This means breaking harder tasks down into smaller chunks and spreading them out over a period of time. This can help to prevent me from getting overwhelmed and stressed with long a to-do list, which can trigger a flare-up. It is important that you are still able to perform your job effectively.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and do what you need to do to manage your symptoms. This might mean taking a step back from work or making some changes to your routine. By doing so, you can prevent a flare-up from happening or minimize its impact.
Talk to Someone
If you’re struggling to cope, it’s important to talk to someone, a trusted person. This might be a friend, family member or perhaps a therapist. Speak to a doctor about your symptoms and about potential treatment plans. Talking to someone can help you to offload some of the stress and anxiety you’re feeling. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing endometriosis. However, there are things you can do to ease your symptoms and prevent a flare-up.
It’s important to have an employer that is understanding and accommodating of your chronic condition. This might mean having a conversation with your boss about your endometriosis. It can also involve making some adjustments to your working environment, such as working from home, taking regular breaks or flexible working arrangements. Work with your employer to find an arrangement that suits you both. Having an endometriosis friendly employer that is willing to work with you can relieve some of the associated stress.
Lastly, most employers have employee assistance programmes (EAP) in place for their employees. These are confidential programmes that offer support and advice on a range of issues, including mental health. If you’re struggling to cope, it’s worth speaking to someone about what support is available. Ask your employer, if your company provides this EAP service as a benefit for their employees.
Living with a chronic pain condition can be difficult and can leave you feeling depressed, but by taking proactive steps and putting systems in place, you can manage your symptoms and flares. In this article, we’ve shared three tips for managing endo-flares at work. These include preparing in advance, maintaining an appropriate diet and exercise regime, and having a plan in place for when a flare-up does happen. This might mean making some lifestyle changes. As well as working with your employer to find an arrangement that suits you both. By following these tips, you can minimize the impact of your endometriosis on your work and life.
I hope these tips have helped you if you’re struggling to cope with endometriosis in the workplace. I hope to bring greater awareness to the working environment and help to start a conversation about endometriosis at work. Educating more people about endometriosis will help to bring about greater understanding and a positive dialogue for those of us living with endometriosis.
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If you or someone you know is struggling with endometriosis, here are a few website suggestions you can visit for information and resources. There are many online resources and support groups available, so be sure to take advantage of them.
I hope you find this information helpful! Stay strong, Endo warriors!