When Work Takes It All Out of You
Coping with chronic illness when your job demands too much.
Today was a strenuous day. I work for a bookkeeping and tax firm. The end of the year is all about cleaning out files and making room for the coming tax season.
Performing this task meant spending most of the day on my feet, moving hundreds of files, and filling seven dumpsters for the shredding company to pick up. It would have been a great day, if I didn’t have a chronic illness.
After my long day, I had an hour commute home. I needed one thing from the store, which short story, I didn’t end up getting.
Before I knew it, I was standing at the end of an aisle, my buggy (grocery cart for those not living in the south) was mindlessly blocking the path of the dozens of other shoppers scurrying to get what they needed so they could go home.
One woman waited patiently. I don’t know how long. When it finally clicked that someone was waiting for me to move, I apologized.
“I think my brain has shut off,” I told her.
“It’s okay,” she laughed. “This time of year will do that.”
I didn’t realize how tired I was until that moment. My brain and body both said, “No more!”
Yet, the store was only a third of the way home. I still had 40 minutes of driving to do. On the highway. Going through the mountains. That doesn’t sound like the safest plan.
I’m happy to say I made it home without incident. I found something to microwave for dinner and collapsed into my favorite chair.
Not what I planned
I had plans for tonight. There was an article I wanted to write, one that spun in my head most of the day. Somehow, it’s gone now. I had emails I wanted to return, and I try to check all my social media accounts at least once a day.
My mind and body had other plans.
I turned the TV on for a few minutes, but unable to concentrate, I turned it back off. When I’m tired, words lose all meaning. TV shows become nothing more than a random litany of words being expelled into the universe.
Tomorrow will be worse
Perhaps the thing most frustrating to me is that I already know tomorrow will be worse. I did too much today, and like an overzealous loan shark, chronic illness demands payment.
If you’re familiar with Spoon Theory, I used more spoons than I had available.
Spoon Theory is the idea that you start each day with a limited number of spoons. Every action requires you pay with one of those spoons.
It’s also where the term “spoonies” comes from. “Spoonie” is often used to identify someone coping with a chronic illness.
Spending too many spoons means starting with less than the usual amount tomorrow. Yet, there’s even more physical work waiting for me as we continue to purge the old files.
An alternative to Spoon Theory
To me, it’s easier to refer to money rather than spoons. It’s probably the bookkeeper in me, but money makes sense, especially since all tasks have a different value.
Suppose every day you receive $10 for the day. That $10 represents all the energy and strength you’ll have for the day.
Some things are cheap. Getting dressed may be $0.05, although taking a shower can be $0.50 to $5.00 or more depending on the day.
Strenuous physical activity, such as hauling hundreds of tax files from 2013, is probably in the neighborhood of $300. Well, maybe not that much, but you get the picture.
The deficit will come from somewhere.
Tomorrow I’ll start with a $290 debt. Chronic illness will take my $10, and I’ll have nothing left for the day. Work calls, though, so I’ll push myself harder and incur even more debt.
Loan sharks have cronies to do the dirty work for them. You get behind on your payments, and someone comes along to teach you a lesson.
Chronic illness does the same thing. You can only live on deficit spending for so long before both mind and body shut down.
I’ve planned carefully. I don’t work Wednesday and have no plans.
A whole day in bed, while frustrating, will give my master some of what I owe. The remainder will have to wait until the weekend, or likely, the next few weekends.
Who needs a social life, right?
If you’re still with me, thank you. I know I am wandering a bit, but that’s a consequence of fatigue.
This is what chronic illness looks like, a middle-aged man with a cat asleep against his leg, using his last ounces of strength to pound out a confusing story.
I know my enemy, though, and although I’m pushing too much, I know the fastest way to recover. For me, working is not an optional, so I have to do whatever it takes to keep my employer happy.
Tomorrow will be rough, but I know I will prevail. I might even write about it.
Scott Ninneman is a bookkeeper by day and a writer by night. He’s the voice of the blog, Speaking Bipolar, and writes about living with bipolar disorder and chronic illness. He also enjoys writing short stories, poetry, and inspiration for personal development. His interests include reading, cooking, and entirely too much TV.