Does a debilitating chronic health condition overwhelm you to the point that dealing with other people feels like a burden that you just can’t carry?
People tell me that they’re stuck and can’t get what they need from others so they can keep working. It’s like they’re stuck in ‘checkmate’ with no moves left to play.
“I’m exhausted but how can I take the break that I need? My supervisor is breathing down my neck waiting for work that was due two days ago.” Sam (name & details have been changed) asked me this when we were discussing his challenges in staying on top of his responsibilities at work.
In our first call, Sam told me that he believed that his work is so good that his supervisor needs him too much to fire him. But his supervisor, who used to leave him completely alone, now ‘lurks’ over him and drops hints that Sam’s work is too slow. This was driving him crazy but he didn’t know what to do about it.
“Doesn’t he understand that I’m doing the best I can?” he wondered.
Sam told me that he’d never had problems in this job until one year ago when he developed chronic fatigue syndrome (cfs). Sam felt confident that he done the right thing when he had told his boss about the cfs shortly after he got the diagnosis. He had explained that he wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace he’d maintained. He had always gotten stellar performance reviews because he was often ahead of schedule. Now, he told his supervisor, cfs left him feeling frequently tired and needing short naps.
Sam told me that he thought this should have been enough. He never spoke directly with his boss about his health again. Why should he?
But over the next few sessions, Sam grew more worried about losing his job. A co-worker had told him that people were starting to complain that he was missing deadlines.
Sam recognizes his job is on the line. He had to do something different but he didn’t know what to do. He needed a different move but he wasn’t sure what it was.
In this case, it was not about what he said, it was about what he had not said. His conversation with his supervisor hadn’t gone far enough. He had made statement without any clear requests.
As we explored what would help him work more efficiently and what he might ask for that would allow him to meet the deadlines more reliably, Sam had many ideas. Sam knew what he needed. He just hadn’t thought that it was his responsibility to ask for it.
I suggested that when he makes clear requests and create reasonable expectations that he can meet, he would be taking care of himself, rather than hoping others might do it. I also suggested a useful book, You Are What You Say, by Matthew Budd and Larry Rothstein (my copy is so worn it’s falling apart). I particularly like their “10 Linguistic Viruses”. (For more on this, read my post, Talking about Chronic Illness)
When it feels like you’re in checkmate, ask yourself: what have I failed to say or what requests have I not made?