Working Full-Time with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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Published on

June 05, 2024

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Updated on

June 05, 2024

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens

Chronic Fatigue

Navigating the challenges of full-time work while managing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is a journey fraught with complexities. For those living with CFS, the symptoms—extreme exhaustion, cognitive limitations, and persistent muscle pain—can make the daily grind feel insurmountable. However, working with CFS isn't only possible; it can also be a source of personal fulfillment and improvement in quality of life.

This blog post delves into the practicalities and potential benefits of maintaining a career despite the limitations imposed by CFS. From leveraging reasonable accommodations and pacing strategies to understanding your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we explore how individuals with CFS can create a work environment conducive to their health needs. Additionally, we discuss the significance of pacing and brain retraining techniques, which are crucial for managing symptoms and enhancing work endurance.

Is it possible to work with chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis  (ME) can have many impacts on daily living. With symptoms including extreme exhaustion and post-exertional malaise, cognitive limitations, decreased mental health, dizziness, chronic sore throat or swollen lymph nodes, and muscle or joint pain,1 it is clear why you may question your ability to work full-time. 

Working full-time with CFS is actually possible. In fact, it can often help reduce the intensity of symptoms and improve overall mental health.

At re-origin, we can help you return to work with CFS using our science-backed brain retraining program. By helping you shift how you respond to your fatigue, you can focus on what’s most important: getting back to life! If you are interested in hearing more about our program, sign up for a free info call.

What are the benefits of working while you have chronic fatigue syndrome?

While working with ME/CFS may not initially be easy, it can significantly contribute to improvements in overall mood, provide opportunities for social interaction, and help distract from ruminating on your impairment. With milder cases of ME/CFS, working full time is possible with the help of reasonable accommodations, Pacing, and re-origin brain retraining techniques. In some cases, if work is not an option, it may be beneficial to apply for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration while you focus on healing.2 Nonetheless, no matter your current medical situation, there are ways to address the condition to optimize your endurance, improve cognitive and emotional functioning, and improve your aches and pains. In other words, there is hope in working with ME/CFS and improving overall quality of life!

Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (for short ADA), most employers must make reasonable workplace accommodations for those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Allow flexible working hours and/or work-from-home opportunities.
  • Provide time off work (or even paid sick leave) for counseling appointments.
  • Provide written instructions or to-do lists.
  • Allow for small work breaks to rest and regroup.
  • Create an ergonomic workspace in order to decrease aches and pains.
  • Provide sensitivity training to co-workers.
  • Education on stress management techniques.3

How do people with chronic fatigue get work done?

Along with that, there are ways you can modify your work in order to better meet your needs. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Take full advantage of sick leave and paid time off (PTO).
  • Be mindful of how you feel each day, and adjust your workload accordingly.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help or delegate tasks.
  • Pace yourself! Learn your “sweet spot” and operate within that as often as possible.
  • Engage in re-origin brain retraining.

What are some ways to manage chronic fatigue? 

Two of the most powerful ways to manage your ME/CFS while working include Pacing and brain retraining.

Pacing

Pacing was first identified by Ellen Goudsmit in 1989 as a strategy for ME/CFS and other chronic illnesses. Since then, according to Goudsmit, it has been used to help CFS patients “do as much as [they] can within [their limits].”4 In order to start the process of Pacing, you must identify your “sweet spot.” Essentially, work to define your current limits of exertion: How much can you do in a day without causing symptoms? Once you have identified that, do your best to adjust your lifestyle to help you stay within those limits. Don’t worry; this adjustment isn’t forever! Lastly, with consistent Pacing, you will eventually be able to expand your limits of activity. This process will take time in addition to trial and error; thus, give yourself patience and compassion if you accidentally push too far.4

Brain Retraining

Through re-origin’s science-backed brain retraining program, you can slowly integrate a normal work pattern back into your life. Our focus is to help you change the way your nervous system responds to experiences with your health problems. For example, when you begin your Pacing practice, you may notice feelings of fatigue, malaise, and aches and pains begin to increase. This is a sign that your limbic system is hyperactive and needs some help calming down. When you identify that your condition is not psychological but neurological, you can choose to remind your limbic system that it is safe and that what you are doing will be beneficial in the long run—you are capable of healing! Follow that up with a nervous system calming activity or a positive visualization of you feeling good at work, and your body will start to relax, thus soothing those feelings of tiredness, malaise, or aches and pains. As with Pacing, this is a process that takes time, trial and error, and lots of patience and compassion.

Healing from CFS with re-origin

Even if your ME/CFS is severe or has you bedbound with other comorbidities, you can still use both practices listed above to improve your endurance and someday return to work. Once you do so, it is important to advocate for yourself, both by asking for support and requesting reasonable accommodations established by the ADA. You have a life beyond your condition, and you are capable of living it! Go slowly, give yourself compassion, and trust in your body’s innate ability to heal.

At re-origin, we’ve helped hundreds of people better manage their symptoms of CFS with our science-backed brain retraining program. If you are interested in hearing more, sign up for a free info call.

References

  1. Chronic fatigue syndrome - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. (2023, January 21). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360490
  1. Work and Disability – American ME and CFS Society. (n.d.). https://ammes.org/work-and-disability/
  2. Pacing - MEpedia. (n.d.). https://me-pedia.org/wiki/Pacing
  3. Pacing Tutorial | ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia Self-Help. (n.d.). http://www.cfsselfhelp.org/pacing-tutorial

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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