When an animal is sick, it knows what to do to heal. It will find somewhere to rest and cease performing its regular activities such as hunting, eating, moving, etc.
When humans are sick, we either can’t or don’t follow these same animal instincts. We don’t stop.
We do our best to continue to perform our everyday activities and look for a bandaid to reduce our symptoms until we are better. This can work in the short term for an acute illness, although your recovery time will most certainly be extended. But when it comes to healing from a chronic condition, not being able to stop can have disastrous consequences.
Unfortunately, our modern day society both perpetuates sickness and does not allow for adequate and complete rest for healing to occur. For many of us, we can’t stop working in order to fully focus on our healing, we must continue in order to pay the rent, feed ourselves and our family and basically, to survive.
Let’s face it, healing from interstitial cystitis takes time. Most of us have to continue to work to some degree throughout our healing process.
Although this blog post was written with an office environment in mind, many of the tips can be applied to other working environments too.
Here are 10 tips for coping with IC in the workplace:
1. Be open about your condition with your boss and co-workers that work closest to you.
If you have been at your workplace long enough to observe that the environment is warm and accepting, you might want to consider letting your boss and close co-workers know that you have IC. You can briefly explain what it is and what it entails, but you don’t need to go into the nitty gritty details.
Either way, they are most likely going to notice over time that something is up with the more frequent restroom trips. If your co-workers know the truth from the get-go, they are less likely to start office gossip and make ridiculous and sometimes hurtful assumptions, like you must have a nervous bowel, or an obsession with fixing your make-up, or a tendency to pee your pants.
If your boss is worried about how IC might affect your performance, you can let them know what steps you are taking to ensure that your work doesn’t suffer. He or she might also be willing to negotiate a setup where you can spend fewer hours in the office and more hours at home working remotely. You never know what might come out of an open and honest discussion about where you are at in your health right now.
Although this type of disclosure might not be possible or safe in all workplaces, I believe that it gives you the best chance possible at a peaceful and supportive work environment.
2. Nip inconsiderate and snarky comments about your “bathroom habits” in the bud as soon as possible.
Address any office gossip or hurtful remarks as soon as you can. Although the comments may be hurtful, try to wait to speak to your boss or co-workers until you are feeling centred, grounded and not coming from a place of reactivity and anger.
Take time to feel your hurt feelings and give yourself compassion . Remind yourself that they just don’t understand and they aren’t necessarily trying to hurt you, but when people don’t understand something, it can be threatening to them and they can respond with indifference and a lack of compassion. Once you feel like you’ve pulled yourself together, approach the individuals that have been making snarky and unhelpful comments and tell them that the comments are hurtful and ask them to stop.
You might need to take a bit of time explaining what’s really going on, or re-explain it to people that you have already confided in, but continue to behave inconsiderately towards you. Most people will be understanding and apologize and stop their hurtful remarks.
If they still don’t get it and continue their behaviour, you can either ignore it and try to limit your time around them, or bring it up with human resources, or the boss, or whoever handles workplace harassment and bullying. If it is those highest up who are giving you grief, you might need to seriously re-consider your job and start to look elsewhere. No one deserves to be in an abusive and hurtful environment at work.
3. Ask to be situated close to the bathroom for easy access.
Whether you are at a desk or teaching in a classroom, there is no harm in asking if it is possible for you to be moved closer the bathroom for easier access. If you have to travel down the hall and up a flight of stairs every time you have to use the bathroom, that is going to take more time away from your work.
Show your boss that it is advantageous for both of you — you are going to be making frequent trips to the bathroom regardless, so they might as well be shorter trips.
4. Keep IC friendly snacks with you.
I remember being shocked at how much food always seemed to be around during my first experience working in an office several years ago. Not only that, but it was full of gluten, dairy and sugar…things that are best avoided when you have IC.
To avoid feeling left out, be sure to always have an IC friendly snack or “treat” with you. That way, you can still participate in the social aspect of these gatherings that involve food, without putting yourself in a situation that will lead to a painful flare.
It may be awkward entering a meeting or lunchtime party with your own food/snack in hand, but eventually people will get used to it. You can simply say that you have a lot of food allergies, so you need to be really careful about what you eat, or you can say that as part of your condition, there are a lot of foods that lead to pain and are therefore off limits.
There will always be those annoying people who pester you and say, “C’mon, a little bit won’t kill you.” Just smile politely and say lightly, “Oh ,I would love to try some, but I would love to stay out of pain even more,” or, “I have an allergy so I’d better not. Thanks though.” If they can’t respect that, that’s their problem.
You have to develop a bit of a backbone in this area because eating differently can lead to some awkward situations at any social gathering, including in the workplace environment. It’s just something that we have to deal with. Try not to let it get under your skin and just stick with your safe food options because you know the consequences are far too great and you don’t want to put yourself through anymore pain.
5. If possible, ask for reduced hours or to work remotely at least part of the time.
I recognize that this is not possible for everyone, but in certain work situations working from home is very possible. All you need is an Internet connection and a laptop and you will be far more comfortable in your own home than in an office.
This way, you can come and go to the bathroom as you please without anyone knowing, you can eat your own food without judgement and you can take breaks when you need to. You can also make your workspace more comfortable and conducive for working with IC.
You don’t necessarily have to work full-time from home, but perhaps you could negotiate to work a certain number of hours or days from home.
If you can afford to move to part-time hours, this might also be something you want to inquire about with your boss.
6. Do whatever you can to sleep at night.
If you are going to be working with IC, you need to make sleep a priority and take steps to learn how to optimize your sleep.
Aim to be in bed between 10 pm and 10:30 pm. The most regenerative and important sleep occurs between 10 pm and 2 am. Without sleep during this window, you will find it hard to concentrate and do anything productive during the day.
Do whatever you need to do to sleep during those regenerative hours. This may include the short-term use of medications for pain and sleep, herbal remedies for sleep, relaxation techniques and hypnosis. As long as you are also doing the dietary, lifestyle and supplements to support healing, these “quick fixes” or “bandaid approaches” are often necessary in the interim if you are still expected to go about your daily life in the same way as before your IC onset.
If you have to work full time to survive, then that’s what you have to do. The social and economic support is just not there right now for people with “invisible” chronic illness like IC. Many of us are in a situation where we are not able to get disability benefits and don’t have a partner or family that can support us financially.
I have clients that are exhausted and desperately need more time to rest, but they simply can’t take time off work, reduce their hours or cease working all together because of rent/house payments, food costs and all other living expenses they are carrying. If you are really struggling right now, you might want to consider working with someone who understands IC and can coach you through the necessary changes that you need to make.
7. Keep baking soda and curcumin at your desk in case of a flare.
You don’t want to be stuck at work in a flare without some tools to cope with it. Keep some baking soda or alkalizing powder at your desk, along with some extra-strength curcumin in case of a flare. These remedies will help you to alkalize your urine and reduce inflammation, which will hopefully provide some relief if a flare hits.
If you have something else that works for you in a flare situation, then use that. Do whatever works for you!
Also be sure to drink adequate water throughout the day and practice deep breathing. Keep up with your regular supplement regime in order to keep symptoms at bay and continue to support your body in its healing process.
8. Add extra cushioning to your office chair or bring in your own chair.
If you are going to be sitting down for most of the day, you want to make sure your chair has adequate cushioning so it is not putting too much pressure on your bladder.
Experiment with adding extra padding to your office chair, or you can even bring in your own. Maybe you are more comfortable on one of those large exercise balls.
Another tip is to alternate between standing and sitting as much as possible and take frequent mini-breaks to walk around for a minute or two, even if you do not have to get up to pee. For some people frequency is not the major complaint, but pain and burning is. Remember, we are all unique!
Movement during the day is important for everyone, not just for people with IC.
9. Take a nap after work.
Working all day can be exhausting for the average person, but we need to take special care with IC so we can give our bodies what they need to heal.
If at all possible, I recommend that you take some time to lie down after work and give yourself an opportunity to nap. A 20-30 minute nap has been shown to provide significant benefit for improved alertness and performance and won’t leave you feeling groggy or interfere with nighttime sleep.
10. Do batch cooking on Sundays to prepare your lunches for the week.
Life can get hectic and with IC, it is not easy to just grab a meal on the go, or eat at your workplace cafeteria. It can also be difficult to find the time to prepare your lunch each morning, or the evening before.
Why not carve out an hour or two on Sunday to prepare your lunches for the week? You can keep them in the freezer and let them de-thaw in the fridge the night before.
Choose 2-3 different dishes to make and alternate eating them for your lunches during the week. Not only will this save you time during the week (and money), but it will ensure that you have an IC friendly, nutrient dense and well-balanced meal to bring with you to work each day.
There’s nothing worse than having to eat something that you know will cause a flare, or having to skip a meal because there’s nothing you can eat. You’ll end up either be in pain or feeling lethargic and unproductive from the lack of fuel to keep you going. So take the time to prepare your lunches in advance!