Well, I've returned to work! After 5 months off sick due to a severe flare up of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as M.E), I've been able to ease back to teaching. How has this been? Hard! It has been fab to see all the lovely people at work and a joy to be around children who just show you so much unconditional love, because, lets face it, you are a huge part of their lives. It's been wonderful to see how much they've grown and to have a bit more of a purpose again. But has it been plain sailing? No.
On many occasions, if you've been signed off sick, you usually return well. This isn't the case for me. I was teaching full time in reception. Now, that's tough at the best of times, but add a dash of fibro and a pinch of CFS and my god, it is tough. I am not downplaying anyone who teaches who doesn't have an illness, because heck, so much effort and emotion goes into the job. I'm also not looking for sympathy. I just want to raise more awareness of what these conditions are like. Before I was diagnosed, I hadn't really heard of fibromyalgia, except I knew it was something Lady Gaga had. I didn't know M.E and CFS were the same thing and had assumed if you had CFS you were just tired all the time. Which is true. But I hadn't realised the myriad of symptoms that come with it.
At 24 years old, with no children, I never expected myself to work part time. You're often asked how work is going, and see friends getting promotions and climbing the ladder. Not going backwards. But then I realised, I'm not going backwards. Yes, I made the tough financial decision to go part time. That means a lot less money and a lot less control. I'm naturally someone who likes to just get on and do their own thing, so it was a big thing for me to give up two days of my class. But, health is more important than money and work. Hands down. Going part time has so many benefits for me.
So, I'm now working 3 days a week and this is a permanent contract change. Working 3 days instead of 5 will hopefully mean I'm able to pace myself better and have less flare ups. But I'm not cured and I won't be. Fibro and CFS don't just go. You don't rest and get better. They come in boom and busts. Some days you will feel okay. When I say okay, I mean okay for CFS and Fibro, not "normal" okay. I might be able to walk around the city and do some shopping, and hurt a lot and feel fatigued and a bit dizzy, but I can do it relatively well. Other days I can't move from bed, or can't get my sentences out. I'm trying to learn ways to cope best. I'm learning about my body and finding out what makes my symptoms worse. Stress is a huge factor, so I'm working hard on that. It's important to recognise when I need a break. When I say break, I don't mean sitting in the staffroom with a cuppa having chat with a friend (which would be lovely) or watching TV on the sofa; I mean sitting in a quiet room by myself, doing nothing (not even on my phone). Time for my body to recharge. I have to do this multiple times a day and that can feel unnatural to someone who naturally wants to do as much as they can.
So, I'm back at work, but I'm not better. Yes, a doctor has cleared me as well enough to work now, so there's no worries about me not being able to carry out my job properly. I'm much better than I was, but I'm not better. I managed to do lots of things in the Easter holidays, which was amazing. And going back to work after the holidays has been easier than before Easter. A month or two ago I was laying in bed thinking that bed was my life now. It could be a dark place. But I'm feeling so lucky to be able to enjoy trips out now and being able to socialise a bit more. To be honest, it's not even that. I'm just enjoying being able to clean the house or cook a proper dinner!
But the thing about CFS and fibro is, they're invisible illnesses. People often say to me "you're looking well". But I don't feel well. I'm fantastic at covering up how I'm feeling because I've been living with it. So I can guarantee you, if you've ever spoken to me, there will have been many times that I appear like I'm chatting to you fine, but inside I am feeling dizzy. You will be a blur to me and I will struggle to focus on anything you're saying. If I am standing, my legs will be buckling underneath me. If I'm walking with you, it will feel like I'm walking through concrete. Sometimes when I walk, I have to put all my focus into moving my legs, particularly my left, as it won't automatically move by itself all the time. If you are giving me instructions, I am struggling to remember and recall them. I am finding the lights and the noise way too overstimulating. I might be feeling nauseous and overwhelmed. I may be so fatigued, all I can concentrate on is staying awake and getting through. I say that, but having CFS doesn't mean I nap a lot. In fact, napping often makes things worse and I don't just instantly fall asleep. Ironically I often struggle to get to sleep. But I digress. I havn't even told you half of my symptoms. Mood swings. Headaches. Immense pain. Body aches like the flu. Persistent sore throats. I could go on and on.
My point is, these are invisible illnesses. Even at my best, when I am well enough to work, I am struggling. You won't always see it, but I am. I can do it, but it's hard.
This is not a pity post. I almost don't want to post it because I don't want to seem like I'm moaning about what I have and think I'm worse off than everyone else. I don't. I feel so grateful for the life I have. Yes, I wish I didn't have my conditions, and yes, it scares me about the future. But on the whole, I have a happy life. I have a wonderful home, the best family, a job that keeps me on my toes and keeps me going, and fab friends. I'm making the most of what I've been given. This post is just to help people understand a bit more, because I didn't know about these conditions before, so why would you. Hope it's helped a bit.