Why the 40 hour work week doesn’t work for me any more

Content warning: Mentions of physical and mental illness and unintentional weight loss

As of next Monday I’m taking my work hours down to 20 hours a week for the foreseeable future.

I’m a 31yo, upbeat, fairly healthy looking woman who works out several times a week, is smart and driven and loves my job.

So why am I cutting down my work hours?

Well, my friend, it’s because I’m chronically ill.

I have an immune deficiency, damaged lungs, a bowel disease, and am recovering from a pretty nasty parasite (all immune-deficiency related).

I also have PTSD, dip my toes in mild depression now and then and delved into a bit of anxiety last year.

In saying all that, I’m actually currently managing all of these things fairly well for the last couple of months, and am in the best health I’ve been in for almost a year.

But this doesn’t mean I’m fine (even if I say I am).

I worked through illness last year till I physically couldn’t do it anymore

In hindsight, I honestly can’t say how I did it. I was literally starving for days on end sometimes (due to my gut issues), and so fatigued I could barely do anything. But I still worked.

I was undiagnosed, terrified, losing weight, having lots of malabsorption issues, and trying to find answers. Going to various doctors, specialists, naturopaths etc. But I still worked.

I tried so hard to do EVERYTHING that I ended up so overwhelmed. I became so anxious about work that every time I thought about it, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I started experiencing mild dissociation and had a full on break down at work, then had to tell my manager that I couldn’t do it anymore. He sent me straight home.

I came back 9 weeks later after the Christmas break and, honestly, I was still not well yet – just mentally stronger to bear it all. And I’ve been bearing it.

Only in the last month have I felt like a proper human again, still recovering, but a thousand times better.

Why work less when I’m feeling so much better now?

I’ve done some deep thinking lately (and talking to a therapist) and have come to several conclusions about why I push through serious illness when I wouldn’t wish that type of physical and mental stress on anyone.

There is the fact that, historically, I have based my life on how helpful I can be for other people. It’s always been very hard for me to feel like I am letting people down, or making someone do my work for me because I was unable to.

I’m also a person who bases my value on how “high functioning” I am, regardless of how sick I get. I’ve realised something way more sinister recently, that really makes me think about why I pride myself on how “high functioning” I am.

I believe that the pride I have about how much I don’t seem like a sick person, when in fact I AM a sick person, is a form of internalised ableism I have.

(Internalised ableism is when non-able-bodied people negatively stereotype themselves or see themselves as “less than” able-bodied people. As a result they might want to be more like able-bodied people, and less like themselves and other non-able-bodied folks.)

I will talk and blog about being a sick person, but I don’t like to seem like a sick person in real life.

I value what I do as a healthy-seeming person over what I need as a chronically ill human who actually needs self-care.

It undermines all of the pain and difficulty there is in my life BECAUSE of my health issues so I can try fit in with the healthy able-bodied people. It reeks of denial and it hurts my mind and my body to push through it all, over and over, year after year.

This coping mechanism of denial and self-hate is just not healthy. And I’m already bloody sick, so why do it?!

I have years of denial to undo and I intend to start undoing that – 20 hours a week, as of next week, for the foreseeable future πŸ˜‰

And also, the working week is arbitrary – there, I said it

I’m realising that we put too much value on everyone working 40 hour weeks (minimum).

This is actually something I was talking to by my manager about. He could tell that I was on the precipice – not knowing if I should stop working altogether, or get a less stressful job. My current life set-up wasn’t working for my health needs, so he reminded me about priorities.

At the end of the day, the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, 40-hour working week is a made-up concept. It’s not a rule, or how everything SHOULD be. We just perceive it as the done thing when really we should make it work for us.

He reminded me that my health is more important than my work, and if my health gives out, my work goes with it. But if I look after my health, I’m more likely to be able to continue to work to get that moolah that I need to look after myself (and help the company I work for I guess).

So I reconsidered the ratio that I have my current work / life / health balance at, allowed for something to go wrong in my health situation, and how long it’ll take to undo years of not looking after myself, and came up with 20 hours! (Also arbitrary, but less arbitrary than 40 hours!).

But what will I do with all that free time?!

Well, honestly, the better question is, what won’t I be doing in work hours anymore?

I am SO EXCITED and incredibly relieved with the idea of compartmentalising my life into personal and work in a way that actually works for me.

I will no longer have to run off from work for my monthly Antibody Replacement Therapy, or gastroenterologist/dietician/GP/immunologist appointments or blood tests, or picking up medicine, or PT sessions.

I feel so much guilt about having to duck out constantly, working late to make up for the hours lost. It doesn’t help the stress levels.

And, don’t tell my manager, but I can’t say my head has truly been in the game at work for quite some time. There is so much worry and stress involved when your health is on the line.

But now, I can worry and stress about my health exclusively on Monday and Tuesday (and Wednesday afternoon)! Problem solved! That’s how life works right?

So, I guess to wrap up this blog post, my main points were; I’ve been very sick, but I’m much better now (thanks for asking). Also, it turns out I low key hate myself for not being healthy so I force myself to try continue to do everything like I think a healthy person would.

But that’s not been working for me at all, so it’s changing next week when I officially start working less and compartmentalise the f*ck out of my life to make it work for me.

And even though I bet no one else will feel it, for me, doing a blog about cutting down my hours feels like I’m “coming out” as sick. It’s weirdly a big deal for me.

I mean, I DO have a chronic illness blog, but somehow I feel like I’ve spent so long trying to convince the people in my life that “anything you can do, I can do too”.

However, most people don’t see me when I’m ACTUALLY at my worst except the people closest to me. As far as most people see, I do seem to function highly.

But I’m coming out. It’s not true – I can’t do everything you can do. It’s official. I’m admitting it.

But it’s ok… I have 20 hours a week to figure out what that means to me 😊

I’ll probably blog more too.

Love,
Charlie x


πŸ“· Featured images by Martin Brosy , Trust “Tru” Katsandeand Fabian IrsaraΒ onΒ Unsplash

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