Working A Job When You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - Mitch's Story, A Nurse In Yorkshire
by Mitch Nix
(Harrogate, North Yorkshire)
My wonderful daughter Caitlin and me
I was diagnosed with ME/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in July 2006. I had a very stressful job working as a night nurse practitioner in the NHS.
On Wednesday 30th June 2006 (I remember it well!) I came home from work one morning, and collapsed at the breakfast table, crying uncontrollably, and saying to my wife that I just couldn't do this any more. Her response was that she had been trying to tell me this for the past six months but that she just could not get through to me.
I went to see my GP. My wife was afraid I wouldn't tell him everything but I did and I'm glad I did. He was very supportive. He referred me to a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome specialist at the hospital in Harrogate. He also offered me a sick note on that first appointment for "a day or a year Mitch - it's up to you". I think that was when it first hit me that I really was ill and that it wasn't all in my mind.
When I saw the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome specialist, she told me that I was lucky and that my condition was relatively mild, but that it still might take me two years before I got back to work! Talk about a shock!
She told me that many sufferers are what is known as 'High achievers'. This does not mean high flying, successful or mega rich, but rather those people for whom less than 100% effort or achievement at any task they set themselves is unacceptable. That was me to a tee.
I was also lucky enough to see a clinical psychologist as part of my treatment. She worked with me on relaxation skills too, but mostly with coming to terms with my illness and accepting that I was really ill.
One of the hardest things to take when I went off sick, was the complete lack of support from the people I worked with. Remember, I work with full time health care professionals. In all the time I was off sick, only two people (both health care assistants from a single ward) made contact with me to find out how I was and what was wrong with me. Some of the staff did not even notice I was gone!
I returned to work after seven and a half months, initially on a phased return, as a staff nurse in the discharge lounge at the hospital. I think it was probably the best they could have done for me. The job meant taking a big salary cut which has been hard, and has meant cutting back at home. But at least I am still able to work and bring some income in, so we just have to make the best of it.
I have now been back at work for 13 months and there are times when, even though the job is very simple and the duties light compared to the previous job, I still feel very tired and unwell.
Although I often do not feel well, and often feel pretty awful to be truthful, I know that I am still one of the lucky ones. There are many ME/CFS sufferers out there with symptoms and stories much worse than mine, and my heart really goes out to them.
As a nurse of 24 years experience, I believe that nobody can truly understand an illness unless they have experienced it. I know that, given my current circumstances, and the need to work to help support my family, I will never be truly well or fully recovered. I have however reached a point where I can manage my illness reasonably well (with the odd hiccup) and can cope with my symptoms, but I still often have difficulty accepting it.