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How to keep a career going if you have fibromyalgia or a similar condition

Friday 18 June 2010

I’ve just read an oldish but very useful (and encouraging) article*, outlining the hard-learnt perspective of Professor Michael Hyland on working with chronic fatigue syndrome.

* by Elisabeth Pain, Contributing Editor of Sciences Science Careers Blog

CFS and FM are like enough, in being both non-specific illnesses, that his points apply to either equally – also, I suppose to other chronic conditions with which you have to learn to pace yourself. I found I agreed with everything he (according to this article) promotes.

Some of it is obvious, some less so. And none is easy to put into place – even when it may be simple.

  1. Rest sooner rather than later. In other words don’t plough on ‘holding the fort’ until you keel over (as he did, and as I did) – beyond making it worse, Prof Hyland believes this can cause CFS, and I have thought for a while that it caused my FM.
  2. Rest more than you think. Don’t just take a week or so off to sleep, spending it catching up with jobs around the house. Don’t just indulge the extravagance of hiring a cleaner, using the couple of hours to fit more in, rather than doing the same amount and taking that extra time off.
  3. Tell only your line managers and people you interact with directly. This is because conditions like FM and CFS have had some bad press and you don’t need unhelpful reactions and/or comments from people who don’t need to know. (For me, ‘line managers and people you interact with’ has meant family, and people I’ve had to talk to about getting a job. Had to, not chose to.)
  4. When you tell, present it as a problem-solving situation. The article in Science doesn’t explain why but in my experience people react better when given a challenge they can get their teeth into than when faced with someone they depend on starkly saying, ‘No can do.’
  5. Do work that you like, because work that bores you will sap you. In Prof Hyland’s words: ‘I got ill because I was doing the wrong kind of research.’ Yes, if you choose you can take this as permission to do what you sodding like and idle your life away. If you choose. (I haven’t.)
  6. Hard work does not, in itself, cause CFS (or in my opinion, FM), but it’s not as simple as saying overwork doesn’t do it. Failing to rest is (can be) the culprit. Woo, this makes sense to me.

Prof Michael Hyland (used with permission)Googling Prof Hyland a little, methinx he’s a man I’d like to meet for a long conversation over lunch. In a comfy, low-pain dining chair, of course.

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