According to an article on Healthy Women, an estimated 100 million people in the Unites States are affected by chronic pain—and an estimated 50 million or more women are affected by chronic pain than men. Women are also more likely than men to have more than one condition at a time.
One of the chronic pain conditions I have lived with for 20 years is migraine. Now while I won’t detail my story of how I’ve attempted to treat my migraines over the years, you might imagine that it’s been a long, exhausting and frustrating journey. For almost two months since the beginning of 2021, I’ve experienced a migraine—both mild and severe—every day and had one trip to the emergency room. While I’d been in prayer and sought prayer for relief in the past, this most recent experience in the ER left me feeling shaken and completely powerless.
Like many chronic pain conditions, migraine currently has no cure. Knowing this, how do we battle through our pain as leaders and not let it affect our work? Do we share our pain story with our colleagues or suffer in silence? While there is no perfect formula, here are some things I’ve tried when dealing with chronic pain in the workplace:
1. Stop Apologizing
How many of us have apologized for our chronic pain? I sure have. You might feel like you’re letting your co-workers down by not attending a meeting, removing yourself as the lead on a project or missing a deadline. Rather than apologizing, I suggest a response such as, “Thank you for helping me finish that project.” Then you’re not blaming your chronic pain and instead are expressing gratitude to your team for pitching in to help you while you managed your pain. Do not apologize for the pain you’re in or the fact that you have a chronic pain condition. Whether you admit it or not, this pain is a part of you and you never asked for it or invited the pain into your life, so no apology is necessary.
2. Ask for Prayer
I am someone who doesn’t ask for prayer for myself very often. In fact, when my team at work or life group asks if I have any prayer requests, I will ask for prayer for people in my life who I believe need it more than me. However, my team at work does know about my migraines, and they’ve prayed for me. Recently, I was trying to lead a meeting and I had such a bad migraine that my words weren’t forming sentences well. I shared what was happening, and my two colleagues took over the meeting. Because they know I suffer from migraines, they didn’t need to ask any questions; they swiftly took the lead and knew I would provide input if I was feeling up to it.
Now I understand that not all of us are comfortable sharing about our chronic pain. In addition to migraine, I have another chronic pain condition that is too personal for me to share; however, I have still asked for prayer for this pain that I haven’t named or described, and no one has asked me for more detail. By asking for prayer from your work colleagues, you may lead others to open up, be vulnerable and seek prayer for themselves.
3. Listen to Your Body & Take a Sick Day
Chronic pain is a condition many of us experience on an everyday basis and while none of us wants to use all our sick days or tell ourselves we shouldn’t take one because we’re leading a very important meeting, if you don’t take the time to rest, you’ll likely regret it. Depending on your chronic pain condition, not listening to your body may result in your body reaching its breaking point. When you honor your body, you can lead better by taking time to heal—and you set the example of the importance of taking care of yourself.
4. Get Creative About Managing Your Pain
Good news is there are tools and resources out there for managing your pain during the workday that only require you make some small tweaks—just ask Google. For example, my home office faces the south and while I’m not one to usually complain about sunshine in the winter (especially in Michigan!), the afternoon light triggers a migraine in me. When my window shades don’t do the trick, I’ll sport my sunglasses while I work. Neck pain from poor posture also triggers a migraine in me, so I researched online a good lumbar support pillow and purchased yoga blocks to rest my feet on so that my knees are level with my hips.
5. Find Your Support Community
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). This verse reminds me of the power of community. By sharing about my chronic pain with people at work, I’ve learned that a couple of them also suffer from migraines. We’ve traded stories, discussed what has and hasn’t worked for managing our pain and asked for prayer when we have an attack. One of the advantages of social media is that there are support groups with people who are going through exactly what you are and want to support you, pray for you and give you advice. I’m in two different ones for migraine sufferers, and I’ve witnessed so much encouragement from people in the groups and learned new ideas to try for reducing pain. I’ve also read success stories that have lifted me up and given me hope. While God wants us to turn to him for support too, he desires that we seek community and build up one another.
Lastly, in addition to asking for prayer from others, take charge of your prayer life by praying for yourself. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Accept that while this journey you’re on as a Christian leader may include chronic pain, it will not defeat you. Not when God is on your side and you have Christian colleagues who are willing to pray for you.