If only I received a pound every time someone said to me “but you’re an Occupational Therapist, can you not OT yourself?”
The answer to that question: it’s harder than you think.
As mentioned in my previous post, ‘My Story’, I am so passionate about occupational therapy but why was it so difficult to practice what I preach when I was off sick from work with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Pernicious Anaemia?
A core skill of my profession is the ability to grade (modify the demands of an activity) and adapt (changing an aspect of an activity or the environment to allow increased participation). In my job, I attempt to advise and enable others to complete their meaningful activities (otherwise called occupations e.g. hobbies, roles and responsibilities, self-care tasks etc.), in a way that meets their needs to improve health and well-being. Despite this, when it came to applying this to myself, it seemed impossible!!
Like many people with my conditions, I really struggled to pace myself in order to manage and sustain my energy levels. As discussed in “The start of things to come…”, I attended weekly group sessions held by my local Persistent Physical Symptoms Team. This was a weird experience for me. I felt as if I was sat listening to myself. The same script I use at work daily was being said to me. Suddenly, I had a whole new appreciation of how difficult it can be to follow the advice of health professionals, even when I really wanted to. I was also able to reflect on my experiences of giving similar advice and I feel I have gained a new level of empathy. I now have a better understanding of what it is like to be on the other side of that advice. To feel as though everything in life has changed due to your health and I now have an appreciation of how frustrating it can be to no longer be able to complete meaningful activities (occupations) as I once did.
Pacing is hard. Grading and adapting my activities is a struggle. As I have improved during my journey, I have been on a rollercoaster both physically and emotionally. I have boomed and busted and achieved and failed. I have often felt like a hypocrite for not doing as “Amy the OT” would advise but do you know what, I am also “Amy the person”. A person who didn’t ask to be ill and a person who doesn’t want to be defined by chronic illness. Living with CFS/ME, Fibromyalgia and Pernicious Anaemia isn’t a straightforward journey, it’s up and down. Accepting that is difficult as at every glimpse of improvement, you find yourself wanting to do everything straight away and pacing simply goes out of the window.
I do hope however, that from this experience I have become a better OT and I will remember how I felt when I was at my worst, when I am giving support to my patients. I want to allow this new level of empathy to guide my practice.
And guess what… I have now made it back into work. I have just started a period of phased return which I will build up over the next two months. 1-0 to “Amy the OT”. “Amy the OT” is back.