Patient Blogs | Ankylosing Spondylitis
Managing the Workplace When You Have AS
photo of businesswoman sitting on desk

I used to work in the financial services industry for over 10 years. My days were busy supporting very successful investment and financial advisors who were managing very large stock portfolios for high net worth clients. I’m talking millions and millions of dollars’ worth.

I was under constant pressure to perform my best all day whether I was on the phone with a client or preparing documentation for new accounts. The advisors I supported were high achievers, accomplished and wanted things DONE.  I believe part of the reason I stayed in this industry for the time I did was that I’m also a high achiever. 

I hustled. I stayed late and I was one of the first ones in the office each morning with a hot cup of green tea or matcha latte to start my workday. Days as an associate were long ones. Client meetings, preparing forms, on the phone with accountants -- the list goes on and on. I was very tired when I got home because of my never-ending workload and I was working in chronic pain. 

My mind had the energy just like the Energizer bunny to do what was required, but my body only had enough juice to support me until the workday was done. Unfortunately, this story of my life was constantly on repeat every. single. day.

When I worked at my desk, it was pretty easy because I was sitting down. But when I needed to get up and go to the photocopier, I felt self-conscious. I had thoughts running through my head, such as “is anyone watching right now?” or “is my knee going to feel stiff and sore when I get up?” I was extremely embarrassed about hobbling in pain and how I moved around in the office.

I was also upset with my body. It felt like it was letting me down because there was a time it didn't. Everyone else at work was walking fine, so why couldn’t I? This was one of my thoughts playing on my brain’s feedback loop as I worked.

But I soldiered on. Heaven forbid that the advisors I supported really knew the depth of what I was going through daily. As far as I was concerned, if I revealed too much, I was afraid it would backfire on me.

There was a wonderful person I worked with closely at one of my positions. He was a very supportive and sweet colleague. I shared my history with dealing with pain and my hip surgeries with him. He was so understanding and empathic.

If you work in chronic pain (most likely you do because you’re reading this) and there’s a colleague you can trust to share your story with, tell them. Everyone could do with a colleague like this when working in pain. My work friend and I shared a lot of laughs, and the days were a little easier knowing he was there.

Here’s the thing. You push yourself at work, hustling, hoping you'll get noticed and possibly get that promotion you have your heart set on. You put on a brave face despite your pain because you’re afraid of letting anyone see what’s really going on inside of you. You feel scared. You feel shame. You feel guilt.

My Advice to You

Are you working in so much pain that when you need to head to the washroom, you take a few extra minutes in the stall to cry? (But you make sure to wipe your tears and put on your smiley face when you get back to your desk.)

Do you count down the minutes until your lunch break so you can get away from your computer because it’s hard to focus because due to your pain? Do you help out a colleague at the last minute with their request because you don’t want to look like a bad person or a party pooper when all you really want is to catch your train to go home and put up your feet? Can you relate to any this?

If you do, I’ve got some advice to share if you’re ready for it.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned along my healing journey when it comes to working with a chronic disease: 

It’s not worth it to push yourself to the point of exhaustion. I worked hard and went to work on Saturdays spending the time at the office instead of with my family. I thought I had to prove that I was a good worker. But you know what? You don’t need to prove yourself to your boss or even to yourself.

It really doesn’t matter what other people think of you. I thought people would look at me and think negative thoughts because of the way I walked. But did they? I believe the most important thing is how you feel about yourself and if the way you work is keeping you in integrity with your values or not.

Life is too short to be in a job that sucks your energy and soul. Do you want to leave your current role but are too afraid to do so? Take the necessary time to discover what lights you up. Work at a job you love that fulfills you and makes you feel good right down to your tippy toes AND pays you what you’re worth. You deserve it!

When you take one small courageous step forward, your heart, body, and soul will love you for it.



Photo Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc. / DigitalVision via Getty Images

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Lovaine Cohen

Lovaine Cohen

Diagnosed since 2001

Lovaine Cohen has lived with ankylosing spondylitis for over 20 years. A chronic pain coach, Lovaine helps women reduce pain with her Holistic Healing Method program and shares pain management and anxiety tips on her blog and on Instagram. Her loves include her two children in their early 20s, a rescue husky named Stella, and her husband of 28 years. Connect with Lovaine on Instagram.

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