I’ve been trying to put my experience with attempting to return to part-time work into some sort of perspective. I can’t exactly say I’m sorry I did it, because I learned a few valuable things about what might suit me for work in the future and what certainly doesn’t. I also enjoyed my time driving, made a little extra money and got more comfortable with leaving the house and socializing again. It’s difficult not to harbor some small amount of regret about the experience knowing that it set my health back as it did, but having finally come out on the other side, I can honestly say that I don’t think I caused myself any permanent damage. On the contrary, I seem to be right back on track, though it took me three months to get there.
It seems astounding that working 7-15 hours a week could so thoroughly wreck me that it took three months to recover. Of course any healthy person would find such a schedule to be ridiculously easy, even if they had a house full of kids and other commitments. Having EDS and being a POTSie though, I only have so much energy and most of it should be taken up by caring for myself. When I began working, much of that care got lost to the drive for dollars and before I knew it, I began convincing myself that I could get by without cooking everything from scratch and that working was a replacement for my physical therapy and exercise.
POTS, a form of dysautonomia, also makes me highly susceptible to the effects of stress. I may not have realized it, but driving for Uber was creating a massive amount of stress for me, from constantly worrying about knowing where I was going and whether or not my car was clean to safety. I was constantly worried about having an accident. I even dreamed about it and anytime I came close to having an accident, the scenario would just replay in my mind at the most inopportune times (like when I was about to fall asleep), flooding my system with adrenaline and epinephrine.
The only thing I didn’t cheat while working was the amount of rest I needed, and yet my rest wasn’t very restful, because I was too stressed out to be calm or reach REM stage sleep because I was constantly stuck in fight or flight mode. I couldn’t manage my blood pressure or heart rate. I had hypotensive headaches and migraines. I was fatigued and anxious. My GI tract began shutting down, both from dysautonomia and constant FODMAP and allergen exposure.
Since I wasn’t keeping up with my fasciablasting, PT, cardio and strengthening, my progress was heading in the wrong direction fast. My joints were subluxing and dislocating with alarming frequency, requiring a much more frequent use of braces. My muscles were becoming sore and atrophied, and my fascia were reverting back to their painfully bunched state. I was no longer reaping the small energy payoff I was seeing from the bit of cardio I had managed previously, either. On top of that, sitting in one position in my car was causing my back to ache almost constantly, which was causing sciatica, traveling down my left hip and thigh.
When I finally threw in the towel, it took me six weeks of rest, strict nutrition and somatics just to get my autonomic system back to its usual state of not quite normal, but stable enough to achieve semi-regular REM stage sleep and regular function of the major organs. Only then could I begin addressing the ongoing problems I was still facing with a rigorous PT program, return to a regular schedule of cardio and strengthening and begin to put my life back together again.
Now that I’m three months out, I feel pretty good again, for me. So good I almost think I’m slightly ahead of where I was before I started driving for Uber, and that may well be the case, though it has a lot more to do with all I’ve accomplished in that time than the experience itself. I’ve gotten lucky with finding some great doctors and with some medication changes, a new physical therapist and other changes, I’m finally finding some relief and real change.
The question is whether that change will ever be enough to send me off to work again. At this point, I have to say no, at least not in the traditional sense. I’m just not built for traditional work. I’ll have to keep trying to find my perfect niche; one that’s flexible, low stress and somehow fits with what my body needs to keep it in this relative state of health. If that means I can never work again, so be it. For me, there appears to be a very fine line between decent health and total collapse. However, I do hope that this might change, as I do seem to keep finding things that help and maybe, just maybe, with a little luck and a lot of work, I just might get there someday.
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