Lessons from Lyme: Getting Back to Work After Chronic Illness

Categories: Lyme Disease, Chronic Illness

Going back to work after chronic illness or during the treatment process can be an emotionally overwhelming experience. 

I remember walking home from the grocery store in the Spring of 2015. At that time my day was filled with daily tasks most people take for granted: groceries, laundry, mail...etc. In the  midst of Lyme disease, I was focused on detoxification, supplement protocols, food elimination diets and combating insomnia.  While I was unable to work a full time job, but certainly had plenty to do.  Days seemed a blur going from one treatment regimen to the next. This particular cold spring day, my body was completely wracked with pain. I was in such a painful depression that I couldn't help but weep the entire walk home.  

My neighbor saw me coming in the building. The look on her face signaled she had seen a ghost.  Her reaction set me off into an uncontrollable, ugly cry that was thoroughly embarrassing.  And the cascade of critical self talk began: I can't even carry groceries to the elevator.  How am I ever going to get back into my life?...Yeah that's probably not going to happen. In that moment I viewed myself as completely and totally pathetic.  

Looking back on that version of me, I have a tremendous amount of empathy.  I can empathize with her pain and suffering.  I can empathize with her feelings of defeat.  I can even empathize with her near daily feeling of just wanting to turn in my batch and check out of life. 

The process of coming out of that level of pain is just that - a process.  Many of us are left with deep feelings of trauma associated with isolation and loneliness, excessive medical procedures, and neurological damage associated with our illness.  Physically recovering is only half the battle when it comes to re joining the workforce.

Have you processed your physical crisis? 

Anyone who has been through a severe medical trauma owes it to themselves to take time to debrief and process their experience.  This is a courtesy we extend to anyone who has been through a physical disaster. Lyme and other chronic conditions can be a physical disaster.  They demand the same level of recovery and care. 

When I looked and felt well enough to return to work I still had unfinished emotional business. This led to falling back into some of the same behaviors and relationships that contributed to me getting sick in the first place such as setting clearer boundaries and limits to prevent burnout.

How has your medical experience impacted your personality?

What new things do you believe you need to feel supported at work? 

Have you developed a plan for managing panic or overwhelm that might arise during the transition back to work? 

Are you feeling comfortable stepping into the same role you had before you were ill?

 The thing that Lyme and other disabling chronic illnesses take away is our ability to have perspective. The more planning we can put into place for our emotional health, the easier the transition.  Having a plan for emotional crisis is as important as a plan for any other type of emergency.  With some attention and support, you can have a successful transition back into the workplace.  

I would love to hear your feedback on this article! Plus if you want a brief intro into feeling more confident at work, sign up for my FREE 10 Day Confidence in the Workplace Mini Course