update: I slept through an entire day of work

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer who slept through an entire day of work? (First update; second; third.) Here’s the latest.

In 2018 I wrote to say I slept through a whole day of work in my third month on the job (at my last job). I am still reading AAM pretty much every weekday! My mom thinks it’s hilarious I read work blogs “on break.”

It was only June of this year that I wrote in with the five-year update but things have changed dramatically since then — for the worse, unfortunately.

I took on this new, challenging pseudo-leadership position just before that update. It comes with a workload that no mortal could finish in a given workweek, I was pulling a lot of nights and weekends. A few weeks after I wrote in, I had another severe illness episode. I didn’t sleep through work, it was something else, equally visible and alarming. I realized that I’d been ignoring warning signs for a while (again) and not taking care of myself. Sigh. I do think I’ve learned/grown in the years since I first wrote, but I still really wrestle with concepts like success and productivity and personal identity being tied to work. It’s also so hard when other people can do things like guzzle coffee, skip lunch, work weekends, or multitask, and not have to pay the price for it after. I can’t, and it’s frustrating to not be able to “keep up.”

I am fortunate — again — that my manager in this role is as compassionate as the first one. I have a completely unique work arrangement now. My team worked mostly hybrid and async already, so we just agreed to take it there completely. We are entirely results focused — nobody cares how you do the work, when, or where, just that the agreed result is met. I extend this to the rest of my team — I don’t need them in the office if I’m not there either. They keep me posted on their progress and I call them if/when we need to discuss anything. We have removed maybe 90% of meetings this way — I honestly believe async work, flex work, is the future of work. My team does really cool things with the flex — I’m obviously mostly just using it to rest and see doctors, but they’re making progress in their volunteer work, their family lives, and hobbies. I was told I am “by far” the best manager they’ve had, which is wild considering how badly I think I’m underperforming. I do maybe 30% of the work I used to do (I reallocated parts to other people and dropped some of the lower-priority stuff), but the team’s metrics are excellent and they’re really happy and seem to be thriving, so maybe that’s a silver lining in all this.

This entire experience has really challenged my sense of identity, maybe that’s true for other chronic illness sufferers. I struggle with intense shame about not being able to do as much work as I think I should. My therapist says I need to broaden my definitions of “success” and “productivity” because if I take care of myself I am being productive, and if I can get well again then that is a success. It feels like a small knife in the belly every time I have to say “no” to a new request or miss a goal/deadline. Ambition might be my hamartia. It also feels like my personal life is stuck, because I’m not well enough to do anything.

I’m just really grateful that I have supportive colleagues who give me the benefit of the doubt. So many of the posts at AAM are about horrendous workplaces, and I think I would be 2x out of a job if I worked at one of them.

I did want to make a note … out of ALL the people I work with, by far the least empathetic have been the HR department. I’ve been shades of purple at how frustrating it is. Literally the day I had an episode, witnessed by the entire staff, I had messages from HR people to “just do this one thing before you go out sick.” (Internal screaming.) And it wasn’t, like, sick leave stuff. It was general work stuff. They’re so infuriating that my boss and I just haven’t engaged them at all in the current arrangements. I probably should be documenting this, or using FMLA, or whatever, but since we trust each other we’re just doing it our own way.

I also neglected to mention in previous updates — my original diagnosis was wrong. Super wrong. So it took about three years to actually sort it all out. We still don’t think we have the whole picture — it doesn’t explain what’s happening right now. I’m working with five different specialists; keeping track of my medical life is a job in itself. (By the way, professional patient advocates are a thing. I haven’t hired one, but if anybody else out there is chronically ill, just know there are professionals who can support you.)

It’s preaching to the choir to say this to the AAM readers, but here’s what I’ve learned in the last 5.5 years:

1. Empathy in the workplace will pay dividends. Give people the benefit of the doubt. This is not the same as being a doormat — you can maintain standards while giving grace.

2. Flex when you can, because you can. There will be times you have to be rigid, save your inflexibility for those times.

3. Communication may well be the most important skill at work, maybe in life. If you learn how to have hard conversations, how to tailor your message to your audience, to understand things from another perspective, you can reap benefits you couldn’t imagine before.

4. Don’t suffer a-holes. Go over, around, under, run the other way, whatever you need to do. There is a huge, wide world out there full of well-intentioned, kind, compassionate people and if you’re not a part of that world yet, make it a priority to find an entrypoint. It makes so many other things possible.

Before I took this job, I told myself I wanted to work with “clear hearted” and “full hearted” people. People who show up as humans, and who know what’s truly important. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. That, and continuing to be a regular at AAM ;-)

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    My team is fully flex/async, and it confused the heck out of HR when I was still able to do detailed time and productivity audits. My team members are hourly. They clock in and out, and they work in a tracked system with timestamps on their completed files. It’s not very difficult to match the time system records to the work system records and identify discrepancies or gaps. And I think my record for team meetings is 15 minutes long. Good for you, OP.

  2. Sitting Pretty*

    As a person with Long COVID whose condition has recently progressed to ME/CFS, I can’t tell you how much hope and courage your update have given me, LW. It makes my heart so happy that you’ve found a way to get support and still have a professional life through your health journey.

    You are a hero too, advocating for yourself in ways that creates a healthier work environment for everyone around you too. Thank you so much for coming back to share where you are at. Wishing you many more seasons of pleasant work and competent medical care!

    1. COHikerGirl*

      LC as well. It’s been a rough 3.5+ years (I’m one of the OGs). I have two appointments tomorrow for it…one with my third ENT (recurring cough, second pulmonologist thinks hypersensitive larynx) and my new neurologist (my original one left the practice). Never in my life did I have specialists. Now I have all the specialists (and tests). But hopefully getting an accommodation request finally filled out for my brain fog issues tomorrow!

      Work has been super rough to navigate. This update really speaks to my feelings on things, and also gives me hope as well.

    2. OP*

      I appreciate this. Part of the reason I wrote the update was for the comments like yours on previous posts. A lot of people have invisible disabilities/illnesses and it really does a number on ya. Wishing you good balance – whatever that looks like for you.

    3. Not Jane Austen*

      Long Covid here too. Took 3.5 years off work, was housebound until a few months ago, but now I’m doing much better. I don’t know if this is allowed here, but I can’t recommend the Curable program enough. It has helped me come back from severe to almost-normal-life, and I’m improving steadily. I ignored Curable ads for years because I thought it couldn’t possibly help, but I was wrong about that.

      I also have other diagnoses: Fibromyalgia, Hashimotos, Mast cell issues, IBS, Burning Mouth Syndrome…oh, the list goes on :) Curable helped the whole situation. Great to be back at work – met with boss yesterday about (sustainably) taking on more responsibility. So happy!

      If you Google, you might be able to find a free trial of Curable. (Not sure but think it costs about 5 dollars a month after that.)

      Very best of luck.

      1. Curable fan*

        I agree with the Curable comment! There’s a documentary (This Might Hurt) about how chronic pain/illness can sometimes be caused by stress/trauma and is more common in people pleasers and over achievers. Curable is one of the programs that has been created to help this type of symptom.

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Yes. Stephen Colbert nearly died from a burst appendix because he did two shows through it.

      Don’t be Stephen Colbert.

  3. Jill of All Trades*

    As someone with a disability who has been called names in the workplace as a direct result of the diagnosis being known by a manager, I hope to find workplaces that have empathetic and caring people like you have. Thanks for giving me some hope that places like that exist.

    1. Avery*

      If it helps: not OP, but also invisibly disabled in ways that can wreak havoc when untreated/wrongly treated, and I’ve got a super flexible job with a super understanding boss now–and in a field that’s often known for being quite the opposite, in fact! (The legal field, that is.)
      And no, I’m not self-employed ;)
      Good bosses do exist. There are bosses out there who will appreciate what you can do, rather than dwelling on what you can’t. Keep on trucking and hopefully you’ll find one yourself before too long.

  4. HalJordan*

    I am glad the current setup is working for you and that your immediate boss and team are so supportive! Such great thoughts at the end.

    As much as it may not help–the people you are trying to “keep up with” probably aren’t doing as well as you think they are! Maybe they skip lunch but struggle to get out of bed in the morning; maybe they are haunted by laundry; maybe they work weekends because they couldn’t get to things during the week! And some of them are probably overcommitting themselves, and/or not doing so but feeling bad about turning down work, and/or feeling the same shame you are over deadlines. Dealing with a chronic illness on top of everything I’m sure makes your “paying the price” more obvious than theirs, but just because you aren’t seeing them pay for it doesn’t mean they’ve got everything all worked out either

    1. Kes*

      Also, you may feel you’re failing because you can’t do what they can but you’re actually more successful than they are – you are successfully leading your team in a more efficient way and while having better work life balance than they do, and also are thereby setting your team a better example.
      Overall it feel like you have made a lot of progress but are still struggling here and there with internalized feelings/morals of more work = better. But that’s not necessarily the case, both from what I mentioned above, and in other ways as well – maybe you’re doing 30% of what you used to but it’s allowing you to actually focus on the work that is important which probably lets you do a better job on that. Maybe some of the work you passed off to others is creating growth opportunities for your employees they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. But don’t assume that because you’re doing 30% of what you used to you’re underperforming – look at the objective metrics as you would to evaluate your employees, and realize that you continue to be a high performer but are doing so even more efficiently, which is a success

      1. OP*

        These are all very good points. I do have a reputation for efficiency, that’s true. I will reread this comment many times to try internalizing it.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Efficiency is highly underrated in a society like ours where butt-in-seats is a mentality in too many workplaces. There was a letter awhile back from a very efficient worker who felt bad that they got their work done quickly and then had a lot of time to kill when they ran out of work tasks. I think that as long as you and your team are getting your stuff done no one should care about how long it takes for you to do it nor how much time you’re spending on taking care of yourself so that you can get your stuff done. I wish more places felt the way your workplace does about this. I’m so glad to hear you’re in a workplace that is treating you well and I hope you continue to treat yourself well too.

        2. Minimal Pear*

          Getting really efficient has been SUCH a chronic illness thing for me because I want to use the least amount of energy necessary! I think a lot of us are good at being efficient and keeping track of admin details. Too bad I can’t put my chronic illness experience on my resume!

    2. FricketyFrack*

      Oh absolutely – I’m not chronically ill and I will do most of those things when there’s a real work need for it (though I’ve gotten SO much better about determining when that need is just in my head), but it’s rarely without consequences. Sometimes it’s being so tired I go to bed right after dinner, basically always it’s ignoring the laundry until I literally run out of clothes, or occasionally wishing for the sweet release of death when my alarm goes off.

      I think most of us are just muddling through and trying to appear put together to the outside world. There should be no shame in saying no when things aren’t feasible/reasonable, or doing what you need to do to take care of yourself. Setting limits based on our circumstances should be the new black or whatever.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Yes, thanks — I was coming to say that very few people can actually “do things like guzzle coffee, skip lunch, work weekends, or multitask, and not have to pay the price for it after.”

      1. OP*

        Are we SURE though!?!? It really really looks like it sometimes….. My deprogramming is still in process

        1. GrumpyPenguin*

          Many people do it, but only for a short amount of time before they run out of energy and need to recharge. Nobody can constantly work like that. And some people are very good at pretending to be always busy…

          1. T.N.H.*

            This is it. I’m one of those people. I can go HARD but then I crash and need a couple weeks to recover. I have it down to a science and try to pre-empt, take vacation at the right time etc.

          2. Cat Lady*

            Or alternatively, they really are doing it, but they are ABSOLUTELY paying the price for it. I say this because I work with university students who are in this mode all the time, for years, and it takes a huge toll.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          The people I’ve seen who appear to do it usually either have a completely unbalanced approach to life (one I wouldn’t want to emulate) or they have someone in their life who picks up ALL the slack on 75% of all the “keep my household, life, family functioning, do the emotional, mental labor of our shared lives” stuff.

        3. CG*

          I’m sure I looked like one of those people for several years, until all the permanent invisible disabilities (probably triggered by burning the candle so hard at both ends) popped up! Hello, consequences of my own actions!

        4. Portia*

          There are people who really are natural inexhaustible energy warriors, but they are rare creatures. But a lot of people are good at giving that “I’m up for anything! Anytime!” impression, right up until they burn out and collapse. Appearances count for much more than genuine usefulness in so many offices (and other contexts).

          (As an aside, one of my favorite co-workers is an actual unstoppable bundle of energy who never delays even the smallest thing when she can just do it NOW! And never half-asses anything, ever. And she just got laid off in budget cuts. Sigh.)

        5. Zweisatz*

          I think it’s fair to say that the consequences vary. While running 10 miles will have an impact on anyone, it will certainly be different for a trained runner versus someone who likes to go on a 5 minute stroll around the neighborhood.

          Likewise when your metaphorical batteries are 60 % full a stressful day will have a different impact than with 10 %.

          But I do concur that excessive stress will catch up with everyone eventually.

      2. Dahlia*

        Also, “later” may just not have come yet, to be frank. Maybe they’re doing okay now but living on redbull and vending machine chips means their cholesteral shoots into the sky. Maybe they’re fine now, but they have a breakdown in five years because of the stress. Maybe they have a partner or children who ever see them and it’s ruining their relationships.

    4. SansaStark*

      I also think that as you move up in an organization, you may “do” less and “oversee” more…which can certainly feel like less, but certainly isn’t unimportant!

    5. Amy*

      It’s not just that our paying the price is more obvious than theirs, it’s literally that we pay a higher price. A lot of my chronic illness stuff overlaps with other struggles that mostly-healthy friends have – but they’re not dealing with ALL of it. The problem isn’t that I can’t push myself to skip a meal, or survive on coffee, or get less sleep, or work overtime, or work weekends, or do laundry, or clean under my bed, or etc – it’s that I can’t push myself for any of it. Most healthy-ish people have a few bad habits or tough situations that they can get away with, even though they also have ones that they can’t get away with. And when they slip up, they can more easily catch up with the important pieces later even though there’s other stuff in their life that they’re behind on. Chronically ill people who have these kinds of issues can’t get away with any of it, because every single piece of it is an important part of the puzzle, they can’t catch up on the important stuff without letting other important things go, and any little mistake can mean months (or years) of problems as everything else gets worse too.

      The person with the haunted laundry is probably still making meals and doing dishes and taking out the garbage and seeing family/friends and going to work, while I’m having to cut off each of those things to try to find a new pace to climb back up from.

      And truthfully, this happens while other people are looking in from the outside going “well, it’s not that bad because everyone struggles with this a little” without recognizing that the consequences are different.

      1. GrumpyPenguin*

        Many people don’t see that all these little struggles summed up will turn into a really big struggle in the end.

    1. Jill of All Trades*

      I’m running a tabletop game based in a real, modern US city. I’ve decided – based on this blog and personal experiences – that my players are going to have to deal with an evil HR person. I still need to decide what type of evil, but I’m guessing it’ll be somewhat therapeutic for everyone at the table to vanquish them.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        What about an auditor that finds the nit pickest mistakes, but misses the big problems?

        (Just the opposite of the one who did us today. He’s a good guy, and might make a good hero)

        1. Bruce*

          Thank you for the nice comment about your auditor, I LIKE our internal auditor… she can be exhausting but we do a lot better with the external auditor after we’ve been through her internal audits :-) On the other hand an evil auditor would make a great Boss in a game >:-)

          1. There You Are*

            I am an Internal Auditor and the whole reason I chose this career was to help people do better… with external auditors, their own bosses, the things that frustrate them about their job, etc. [Got a policy that drives you absolutely bonkers because there’s either no way to comply with it, or compliance eats up so much of your time that your actual job is suffering? Tell Internal Audit to look into it.]

            I promise that 99.99% of us do NOT want to concentrate on the needle in the haystack, while ignoring the fact that the whole damned haystack is on fire. (Pro tip: When that happens, ask the auditor to explain/defend the materiality of the nit-picky thing they’re focused on.)

            If nothing else, finding errors, mistakes, outright fraud, incompetence, or negligence just means more work for us. And I seriously do not want more work. :-)

          2. Llama face!*

            I just misread your comment as *eternal* auditor instead of *external* and lol-ed thinking about an immortal being who is always perpetually nitpicking. Definitely a departure from the wise immortal trope!

      2. GrumpyPenguin*

        Lawful Evil HR-Bots? A spell of “Dismiss employee problem”? I wish I could join in and get some tabletop therapy.

  5. BubbleTea*

    Leading a productive, high-morale team that gets the work done and is happy is an amazing success.

    I have had CFS for over a decade and have also had to do a lot of redefining success and productivity (and it never really stops, as your condition and capacity fluctuate). Shifting from being an overscheduled high achiever (gifted child with high academic grades and multiple extracurricular activities) to working part time and spending my leisure time napping or watching mindless TV has been a journey. We are valid and valued whatever we do or don’t do.

    1. Hyruseki*

      Thank you for this. I’ve become chronically ill in recent years and as someone who used to be a high-achieving, active person (and also a gifted kid) my life needed some serious reevaluating. Your answer gave me a lot of heart.

      Also, I found that Toni Bernhard’s “How To Live Well With Chronic Pain and Illness” helped me a lot. Hopefully it can help you too, or others!

  6. Picket line or bread line*

    This is the dream. Neurospicy me loves that there are places out there fully embracing flex work.

    I completely hear your reflections on work and identity. I have really struggled with this too. I’m looking for a new job currently. I need to balance to desire for somewhat fulfilling work, with the reality that my work cannot be my identity any more.

    I’m sorry to hear your HR is a shit show. Here’s hoping your teams ways of working spread to the whole company.

    1. boof*

      yes and
      — yes!
      (maybe that term’s been around but I don’t think I’ve seen it before and I love it)

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I was recently diagnosed with ADHD and was so pleased when I realized that I get to call myself neurospicy instead of just saying it about others!

  7. I Have RBF*

    Congratulations on working for understanding bosses!

    In the last month I’ve gone from an ordinary remote employee to someone who needs a lot of time to accompany my spouse to cancer related medical appointments. My boss has been great about it, and my company is generally supportive.

    IMO, this is how it should be – people with medical issues, either for themselves or their family, should be accommodated as much as possible. A human workplace understands that not all families look alike, and that human beings have medical stuff to deal with.

  8. Budgie Buddy*

    OP as a team manager/leader:
    – cut out a whole bunch of busywork including 90% of meetings
    – is trusted and valued by the team
    – the team is performing excellently
    – the team also has a good work life balance
    – OP prioritized and delegates to reduce their own workload

    I wish I could underperform to this standard. I would love to have OP as a manager.


    1. so very tired*

      OP needs to write a book and every boss in the world needs to read it and follow it to the letter

      1. OP*

        Maybe I will one day! Who knows. Not about my management but I think there’s a lot to be learned from “little moments” if you deconstruct them

    2. HalJordan*

      Exactly! OP, it may feel like you’re not meeting a(n artificial grinding) Standard of Holy Productivity, but maybe that just means that the Standard is wrong.

      If you’re getting better results from doing something*, don’t be hard on yourself for not doing things worse.

      *(traditional caveats being, the ‘something’ is legal/ethical/sustainable)

    3. All het up about it*

      When the OP said things had gotten much worse, this is not where I was expecting this update to go! I understand their physical health has suffered some, and I wish them healing, but this update – oh my! It feels much more positive than I was prepared for.

    4. OP*

      This made me laugh and then blush and then cry a little bit. What a wild ride. I understand now why my boss tells me “I have problems, you’re not one of them”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Having a great boss makes such a huge difference! I LOVE my boss. I keep thinking about leaving my job but my boss is so great that I don’t want to. I’m happy for you that you’re in the same position. And I’m sure the employees that you manage absolutely love that you don’t micromanage them, schedule unnecessary meetings, and let them manage their own schedules too. Honestly, I never understand micromanagers; who the heck has time for that??? (I know, it’s the people who don’t have enough to do so to make themselves feel important they involve themselves in every aspect of their employees’ jobs too.) (But also jerks.)

      2. CG*

        You’re doing great! I think we get so programmed to think that being the busiest and doing the most means doing the best, but it really doesn’t. Your boss sees you!

  9. thelettermegan*

    it might help to re-assert that the people who skip lunch and work weekends are not setting a pace – they’re giving the company free work, and they need to stop. This is not a model to look up to, it’s a behavior to stamp out.

    1. RaginMiner*

      We have got to squash the culture of pandering to our Corporate Overlords and overworking ourselves to the bone for nothing and no dividend. protect your peace, y’all!

  10. Green great dragon*

    I’ve been the manager in a similar situation, with a direct report who probably thought like you. So thank you for the insights here – I wish I’d had them last year, but better now than never and maybe I’ll need them again one day. We flexed, but not to fully async.

    I so very much preferred having her, doing great work for 60% of the time with all her skills and knowledge, to someone who did adequate work, more or less, with support, for 100% of the time. She’s still one of the best people I’ve managed.

  11. ACM*

    “1. Empathy in the workplace will pay dividends. Give people the benefit of the doubt. This is not the same as being a doormat — you can maintain standards while giving grace.” Second letter this week which has had that theme. I love it.

  12. Middle Name Danger*

    You feel bad about doing only 30% of the work you used to do, but your team thinks you’re a great manager. I think that’s not in spite of the work decrease but because of it. It’s opening your schedule to allow for people managing instead of just workload managing.

  13. C*

    I have lots of feelings about this post, but mostly, as a fellow spooner, OP, I am so happy for you you have the support and help you need at work. Productivity culture sucks, and days where you don’t “get anything done” are still good days. You made it through. You passed another sunset, and another sunrise. Sometimes, that’s enough. Wishing you the best.

  14. OP*

    OP here 2 hours later – had a whole bunch of meetings and couldn’t check in. Thank you Alison for posting my update and bringing together this community. THANK YOU, community, for caring enough to read and comment. I have grown so much because of what I have learned from you all here over the years.

  15. Mmm.*

    I’m so glad you had such understanding managers!! I was in a very similar situation but didn’t have that. I got sicker and sicker.

    I finally got an understanding boss and started seeing so many specialists. We found out purely by accident that I was slowly dying and likely had been for over the years. I don’t know what I would’ve had left, but because of an understanding boss, I’m now dying at the same rate as everyone else!

    Bosses seriously need to chill out and remember employees are people, not machines.

  16. Chronically Awesome*

    oh my goodness being chronically ill is a full time job in itself.

    I’m commenting from my bed, sick with pneumonia.

    I completely identify at the overachieving immune system in chronic illness.

    I’ve been chronically ill most of my life but only in the last 3 years have I been open about being disabled.

    Therapy helps me too because my version of success was very career driven and that’s been kicked by employers who don’t want to have a disabled employee on staff.

    You’re worthy of taking care of yourself. yes, it’s jealousy inducing to see people doing things with time your body needs to rest, but eventually you stop comparing yourself to them.

    If you use Twitter, I highly recommend looking for the disability Twitter community – sometimes called “spoonies”. It’s been huge to have friends that just get it and know things like being disabled costs $$$ – and other things the ables just don’t understand.

    Glad to hear you’re doing ok.
    Thanks for keeping us updated!

  17. Dom*

    This seems like the very epitome of working smarter not harder, and letting your team do the same. As a manager that’s not underperforming, it’s killing it.

  18. GrumpyPenguin*

    So glad for you, OP, that everything worked out for the better! Trying to figure out how to live with a chronical illness is a hard challenge, especially when it’s not visible and/ or something not widely known. People will easily dismiss your problems and tell you that you’re lazy, overstating, a hypochondriac, a slacker… And then you get diagnosed and think: I knew there was something wrong.
    But it’s wonderful to hear that your workplace supports you and gives you the right setting to find your own flow – and giving this opportunity to your team too is what makes you a good manager.
    I’d like to add another point to your excellent list. It might fall under “Communication”, but I feel it’s worth being an extra point: Know your limits, learn to establish your boundaries, learn to say “No”. Exhausting yourself won’t pay out.
    Best of luck to you, OP!

  19. H.Regalis*

    It’s also so hard when other people can do things like guzzle coffee, skip lunch, work weekends, or multitask, and not have to pay the price for it after. I can’t, and it’s frustrating to not be able to “keep up.”

    I feel you on this. I have some chronic health problems, and there are things I just can’t do anymore; for example, my partner can pull an all-nighter and then go into work the next day. It’s probably not their greatest workday, but they can do it. I can’t do that anymore. I’m never going to be able to do that again, ever.

  20. Amy*

    OP, you’re doing great. You really are.

    I do think I’ve learned/grown in the years since I first wrote, but I still really wrestle with concepts like success and productivity and personal identity being tied to work.

    Of course you wrestle with this! It’s hard! It’s how our society is set up! It’s a much easier metric to pay attention to, and other people all around us enforce it too.

    I’ve been dealing with symptoms of my chronic illness for most of my life, but it really only started getting in my way when I was nearing the end of my degree 20 years ago. I never finished. I do still work full time, but my life is radically different than I ever expected, wanted, or fought for. I’ve figured out a balance and a pace that works for me and I’m happy with what I’ve managed to dig out for myself. But it has never stopped being hard, and I still mourn the life I can’t have. It’s okay that you feel that weight; put it down when you can so you have strength for other things too. But it gets easier, even when it also gets harder, just like it has been for you.

    Also: depressing solidarity with you over HR. I’d rather have a good boss than good HR, but there’s something particularly draining about fighting with an HR that actively makes accommodations harder.

  21. MM*

    The part about the frustration of not being able to do what you used to speaks to me a lot. I got Long COVID a bit over a year ago, and spent that year going to doctors and doing various types of rehab. I’m grateful to say I’m much, much better now, but this means transitioning back into working and navigating how to do that with much tighter limits on my capacity than I used to have. I used to be the rockstar who blew everybody out of the water with how much I was doing at any given time, and it’s very hard to let go of that.

    It helps a bit to remind myself how much more I’m doing now than I was even six months ago, let alone this time last year. Focusing on how things used to be means conveniently skipping over the abject period of total illness, which leads me to underestimate the progress I’m continuing to make now after that period. And on that note, I should really do something about this pile of grading.

  22. Michelle Smith*

    I always love reading your updates, whatever they are. I am also a person with disabilities and it is always interesting to read your perspective and advice. I wish you continued luck with figuring everything out and continuing to work on separating your identity from your productivity – something I also struggle with. Big hugs and I look forward to reading your next update, whenever it feels right for you to share again!

  23. Ancient Greek nerd*

    Offered for your consideration, OP:

    As my Greek drama professor pointed out when we were reading Oidipous Tyrranos & Aristotle’s Poetics, the original meaning of hamartia isn’t “tragic flaw” (as it’s so often translated) or “sin” (as New Testament Greek has it). It’s a term from archery that just means “to miss the mark,” later extended to “to err, to take the wrong road, to fail.” Aristotle explicitly says that he’s not talking about someone showing an inherent moral defect when there’s hamartia involved, but merely making a serious error of some kind.

    So I’d invite you to consider the possibility that maybe ambition isn’t some kind of inherent “tragic flaw” for you, but rather something that can be a simple mistake on your part in some circumstances (and sometimes, in some circumstances, is not a mistake at all!). Tragic flaws are hard to change, after all, but getting better at hitting the mark just takes learning from the outcome of taking a shot and making adjustments to your aim for the next one.

    I’m glad that you’ve landed in a place that values you as a human and that you’ve got support from your manager and your team!

  24. GermanGirl*

    Congratulations OP for figuring out how to actually do agile management in real life!

    It’s been known for a while that agile work processes are good for productivity and employee satisfaction, but it’s sooo hard to actually implement this in real life. There have been truckloads of books written about agile management and agile processes like scrum, and how it improves both productivity and employee satisfaction by leaving it up to the employee (and the coaching with their agile coach) to figure out how they’re going to be the most productive.

    But a lot of companies don’t get that they need to give their employees the freedoms they need in order to get the benefits for the company, so they try agile while still clinging to their micromanaging tendencies and then declare it failed and return to being miserable and inflexible in a top-down structure.

    So I’m super impressed with what you did!

    If you have the time and spoons I’d encourage you and your boss to read up on agile management so that if you ever get pressured from above to change this “just because” (as opposed to “here’s a problem I need you to fix”) then you can say “We’re doing agile management, it’s scientifically proven to lead to better outcomes both in productivity and employee satisfaction. Now tell me what the actual problem is so I can leverage my agile management tools to fix it.”

    Good luck with all of this!

    Oh, and by the way, one of the key principles of agile is to say NO to unimportant tasks. So you’re doing the right thing by not doing everything people ask you to do!

  25. Quill*

    I would (gently) challenge the idea that people don’t pay the price for putting in extra time at work – certainly people without chronic illnesses don’t pay as much, in the currency of their health, but the models of success we see of somebody pulling extra long work weeks are supported, somewhere along the lines, by someone ELSE making sure the trains of laundry, dishes, and groceries run on time.

    (Which is a real thing to think about at the intersection of chronically ill and work ethic, especially if you’re a woman and / or were raised to have an entertainment ready household…)

  26. Raia*

    Saving your 4 points to my interview prep folder to make sure I progress to only more empathetic and “full-hearted” jobs from here!

  27. Kristobel*

    My therapist really helped me get through the shame of ADHD paralysis/burnout by telling me that if you only have 40% of your energy, and you show up, then you gave 100%. So your therapist is right – what is successful and productive for you is a different yardstick than what is successful/productive for someone else. You’re doing great, and I know your employer and colleagues appreciate someone who cares so much.

  28. Anya the Demon*

    As a fellow overachiever and chronic-illness sufferer, I relate to you so much! It was 14 years ago now that I was diagnosed for the first time (like you, my diagnoses have changed/been added to over the years), and I still do the same thing to myself every once in awhile: take on too much and then crash. Because I LOVE taking on a lot, and I’m fine as I take it on… until I’m not. It’s so hard to learn limits, when you can’t really notice them until it’s too late. So, don’t be too hard on yourself for overdoing it or for “under doing” it. It sounds like you’ve found a way to be a really helpful, productive, and valuable employee, while protecting your health. Try not to worry that you aren’t doing enough. Even IF you weren’t doing enough, the reality is that if you did more, you’d end up unable to do anything. So just remind yourself that protecting your own health actually protects your company and the people that you work with and manage. Sometimes seeing it that way helps me, so I feel like it’s not just about me being “selfish,” even though of course I logically know it’s not selfish to take care of myself so I don’t fall apart!

    You’ve got this. You’re amazing!

  29. TTUGeek*

    My team has recently read a book (Software Engineering at Google) and it makes a great point about moving from an individual contributor to a manager – if you spent years counting the number of apples you picked each day and changed jobs to growing bananas…if you say “I didnt pick any apples today” you’re missing out on the flourishing banana trees next to you” (semi-paraphrased). Keep trying to shift your perspective to see the success you have even if it doesn’t look like you want it to (or doesn’t look like everyone else’s)

  30. Anonymous For Now*

    A long time ago when I was young and felt that I should have been able to do more, I told a doctor I knew about my boss. My boss was only several years older than I was and in addition to working a full time demanding job he was also teaching a class, taking a class, and playing a sport. I could barely manage to work full time and take one class and even then I would get sick more often during the times I would take a class. (I had tried working long part time hours and taking a few classes and that ended when I got so sick I could do neither for 3 or 4 months.)

    The doctor simply said that everyone is different. I don’t think he said much more than that but it made me realize I had to stop comparing myself to others. I was in my 20s so it was a good time to learn that lesson.

  31. Random Dice*

    I’m a high achiever with chronic illness (pain and fatigue).

    I’ve had to do a lot of work in therapy to learn to decouple my identity from my job.

    Before, if someone asked how I was, my work came first. Now it’s my garden.

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