Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Identity: Don’t Confuse Your Career with Your Life

Dear Friends,

I know this is a rather puzzling statement with which to start this letter. But it is a topic which all of us will encounter at some point in our lives. In our cases, probably sooner rather than later, thanks to this DD (d*** disease). We spend much of our adult lives preparing for a profession or occupation, and continue as part of the work force. Many of us love what we do. We are the lucky ones. Others tolerate their jobs because they need to have an income. In either case, many of us learn to see ourselves as the job. We identify as nurses, teachers, secretaries, engineers, lawyers: whatever type of endeavor we have chosen. We spend so much of our time being that person, we forget who we are as individuals.

We learn to value ourselves as the product of the work we perform. It is when we must adjust our appraisal that it becomes difficult. If we are laid off, we know it was because of the economy, and not our job performance. Yet we feel less worthy. When we reach retirement age, somehow we don’t feel as if we are contributing any more. If we must leave our position or decrease our hours due to our health, we also fault ourselves. We try to figure out what we did to make ourselves sick. While the types of jobs we had, or the amount of stress in our lives may have contributed, it was not our choosing to become ill.

To maintain our mental health, and enhance our well-being, we need to find the self that we are aside from our careers. We must find merit in the other roles we enjoy, such as spouses, parents, gardeners, writers, or survivors. In fact, finding other significance in our lives may be what allows us to persevere.

We all know that depression often goes hand in hand with this DD. Most of us have seen doctors who tell us we are “just depressed”. Depression does not cause our symptoms, but we can certainly become depressed because of them. For myself, much of the depression, some of which was expressed as anger, was generated when I realized I could no longer function in the career that I loved. I no longer had the energy, and felt as if I could no longer safely function as a nurse because of the brain fog. I was angry that this was taken away from me. Until I had to stop working, I didn’t realize how much I defined myself as a nurse.

I have had to find other ways to characterize who I am. Unfortunately, I also had to give up one of my favorite hobbies. I owned two knitting machines, and loved the creative process of designing and knitting special sweaters and afghans. Although I had not had the energy to knit very much in the last several years I was working, I always knew it was there for me to enjoy. When I finally had to go on disability, I found that I still did not have the energy for this loved hobby. In addition, it now caused me pain. So, I finally sold the machines, and most of the yarn. I didn’t cry. I probably should have because now, two large pieces of me were gone.

Out of the depression, I began to look for the many fragments of me that I had left at the side of the road to becoming and being a nurse. One of them I had maintained at a low level throughout my life. I love to read. In the last few years of working, I was so exhausted, I fell asleep in front of the TV, so my reading was limited to how long I could hold the book before I dozed off and it fell in my face. I’m now reading again, but with glasses. I have learned that FM has affected my eyes as well. When my vision starts to blur, I put the book down.

I had talked for years about wanting to write, but it was always about my experiences as a nurse. I never found the time or energy, in great part, because I was never convinced that I could write something others would want to read. I thank for having the confidence in me to give me the opportunity to try my skills. I am now confident enough to try writing other things as well.

I have also taught myself to take the time to really appreciate a good sunset, or listen to the surf pounding on the rocks. I enjoy the scent of the roses and jasmine in my yard (and am thankful for my gardener!). I can just sit and listen to music without always feeling I have to be doing something. I let myself enjoy the world and people around me.

I have also found myself more expressive of the love I feel. My cats spend more time on my lap being petted. I thank my spouse for all that is done for me, and stop frequently for a kiss, a hug or a pat on the shoulder. I reach out via the internet, to others who are having difficulty, with this disease or other things.

Perhaps, most importantly, I have used my nursing skills to learn how to listen to my body. When it says rest, I rest. When it says I can be up doing things, I do. By learning to take care of myself, I have given myself more “feeling good” time to find and enjoy who I am now.

Because I was part of my profession for 36 years (including college), being a nurse, and the knowledge from it, will always be with me. I do still miss the contact with patients. But I find seeking out friends, and finding a local support group replaces much of my need for social interaction.

I am trying to find my life, and to live it with and around the demands of this disease. I think I am succeeding. I rarely have periods of depression anymore. I do get frustrated, but only briefly. I am able to let myself just be, without the negative self talk of being lazy or unmotivated. I am working on eliminating calling myself names when I do something stupid because of the fibro fog.

I have found my spirit. In fact, I have been heard singing of late. Yes, I am a nurse. But I am many different things as well. If I take care of myself, I hope I will have the opportunity to encounter new facets of my life that I can enjoy and value. I aspire to enjoy a positive life despite this disease. Are you your career or your life?
Take care and be well.

Yours in health,


I welcome your comments and questions at: My
articles and email responses are not being offered as those of a health care
provider. The information and opinions included are intended to give you
some information about your disease. It is very important that you empower
yourself with knowledge and participate in your own search for care. Any
advice given is not intended to take the place of advice of your physician
or mental health care provider. Always follow your physician's advice, even
if contradicted by something written here. You and your physician know your
situation far better than I do. Thank you and be well.

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