In the last few weeks, I have started my phased return to work. So far things have gone well; I work from home, just a few hours a week as and when I can and I have no targets or goals dictating what I do. As work environments go this is very gentle and I feel extremely lucky to have had such support from my supervisors. In time I will move back to an office and slowly increase my hours and workload.
I have to say in the weeks leading up to starting back at work I was quite apprehensive. Not so much that I would be overwhelmed but more that I would feel useless; like a spare part or a shadow of my former self. Certainly, if I had returned to work six months ago I would have, without a doubt, been very frustrated with myself. Not being able to do routine tasks I had previously found so simple would have weighed heavily on my mind and I would have, inevitably, allowed feelings of hopelessness, jealousy and self-pity dominate my thoughts.
But I feel that my outlook has changed. I never used to have much self-confidence when I was younger and I looked, even clung, to others, particularly those whom I wanted to model my life or career on, yearning for positive feedback. I fell into the trap of believing that if I was better at my job than my peers then that was validation that I was a good person and therefore I would be happy. Or that if I had expensive possessions then that meant others would think I had a good job or was successful and therefore I would be happy because I assumed other people would assume I was happy. If you can follow that, is that not just ridiculous?
And along came ME/CFS, which has been a great leveller. It has taught me that there are far, far more important things in life than a job title or a career or even accumulating possessions. Keeping as healthy as I can, seeing friends and family and appreciating what I have is far more rewarding than pining or striving for something that, ultimately, I have no control over whether I succeed at or not. Today, I face challenges that are far greater than anything I have faced at work and I am beating them, or at least I am not letting them get the better of me. Yes, I get frustrated, yes I have regrets about missed opportunities and yes this illness grinds me down – I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t. But I see things differently now, I have different values and I have different needs than I did prior to becoming ill. I have learned that success and self-worth is entirely a matter of perspective. I control my perspective and you control yours – don’t let anyone tell you different. I choose to be a success because every morning I wake up and I struggle through my day with all the pain, exhaustion, nausea, confusion and isolation that it brings, and when it’s over I go to bed knowing I will do it all again the next day. I shall not be defeated.
This is why I feel so different about my work, at the moment I am doing nothing other than answering emails and some simple online training packages. Before I was ill this would have been torture, but I am loving it. Do you know why? Because in spite of having ME/CFS I am doing it. It may well be all I can do, but I am doing it.
ME/CFS takes so much away from us but it has given me a new perspective on me and my life, and for that, weirdly, I am grateful.