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Now that I have a chronic illness, what’s changed?

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Reprinted with the kind permission of Sarah Borien and A Life Less Physical
Who doesn’t love self-reflecting and analysing human behaviour?! Seriously, it’s one of my favourite things to do. I like to know what makes each of us respond so differently to the situations we’re faced with and, in particular, what we need to change in order to improve the way we cope when faced with challenges.
Chronic illness is one of the greatest challenges you can face. Over a period of years (and yet, before you know it), parts of your personality change to help manage your health as part of your daily life. You prioritise different things, there’s a shift in your natural behaviours, and whilst you’re still very much the same person, you have a different way of living. The what is still the same, but the how is completely different.
Have you ever done psychometric testing? If you’ve worked in a corporate environment with a solid HR team, you’re likely to have come across profiling tools like Belbin, MBTI, Insights or something similar. They’re a way of understanding your personality type and psychological preferences based on short questionnaires. As a result of the tests, you find out what motivates you at work, what comes naturally to you and what you have to work on, how you interact with others, and how to get the best out of your efforts. For some people this kind of personality profiling sounds like a nightmare, but I love absolutely every element of it. Corporate psychology 101? Sign me up!
Recently I took part in something called i3 profiling, which recognises that no two people are the same and looks to create a personalised profile which identifies your strengths, your approach to challenges, and how you work with others. As part of the profile, there’s a section on your preferred working environment.
I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty flexible worker. I travel a lot for work so I’m used to working from multiple office locations: from home, on trains, and in spare moments in the car – and none of it bothers me. In fact, I enjoy the variety. I love nothing more than change. But my profile didn’t come out that way… it suggested I was most comfortable when I was in control of my surroundings and that I was most effective when in the same office environment on a regular basis.
I was a bit offended at first. Me?! Not open to change?! But I love change! And I do, I really do. That said, it got me thinking. My chronic pain has meant that although I’m still very happy and able to travel and work out of various locations, I’m far more relaxed and comfortable when I can control my work environment.
My pain gets worse if I’m too hot or too cold, I work best in natural light as opposed to bright artificial lighting, and I’m most comfortable when I can use my ergonomic keyboard and mouse rather than working off a laptop. I don’t know when this shifted, but feeling like I can control my health and knowing how my body will react to my surroundings is the most important thing to me now. That doesn’t mean I can’t be somewhere new or different, but I like to know as much as I can about where I’m going and what kind of support will be in place when I get there.
I recently attended a meeting in a country park. I had to travel on three trains to get there, then got picked up by car, and then walked through the country park to the site location. It was a hot day and trying to manage physical exertion, food and temperature meant the entire day felt like so much more of a challenge than it should have been. A sunny day in a country park should be the dream day for an office worker, but I found myself pining for my desk and all its comforts.
Does this sound familiar? How has your chronic illness changed you?

Sarah Borien lives in a country cottage in Oxfordshire with her husband and their two cats. She has had fibromyalgia since 2009 and is passionate about finding and sharing new coping strategies. Sarah authors her blog, A Life Less Physical, and has written for New Life Outlook (Fibromyalgia).

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