Grieving the Workplace Skills I’ve Lost Due to IPF

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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Most of society thinks of grief in the context of a loved one’s death. However, people with chronic illness grieve other things as well, such as personal losses inflicted by disease. Since my 2016 idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) diagnosis, I have become increasingly aware of the things I’ve lost mentally, physically, and even socially due to my life-threatening lung disease.

I had a particularly tough time at work a few weeks ago, and I’m still uncertain about what caused such difficulty. When asked how I was doing, I was happy to report that things outside of the office are going quite well. I like the person I am outside of work, but I despise the person I’ve become during work hours. I need to find out why that is. A friend graciously said that people my age are often still working to establish themselves in their career and are constantly changing, evolving, and learning. She encouraged me to be a little more kind to myself, especially considering my mix includes chronic illness. I suppose I am my worst critic because this is very difficult for me.

I have been working hard to reflect on what exactly bothers me most at work, and why I am unhappy. Things got so bad that I wrote a resignation letter, though I recognized this was a reactive move that I hadn’t thought through well enough. However, that action certainly prompted me to dig deeper into what it is that I need at work, why I am in a constant “fight or flight” mode, and if continuing to work is wise. I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m starting to think I am grieving the employee I was before IPF hit me.

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It’s difficult and embarrassing to admit, but I struggle with many elements of my job now and don’t feel I am capable of being the desirable employee I was before my illness. I fear being reprimanded if I disclose my struggles with any employee.

How can I feel comfortable at work when I am no longer confident in my ability to achieve peak performance? How can I increase my confidence when I know my disease isn’t going to get better and that I will continue declining? I think the confusion, unsettled feelings, and general discomfort at my workplace right now is produced by my own actions and behaviors. This is unintentional, and I don’t know how to stop it. I am trying to give myself a little grace as I figure it all out.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was blissfully unaware of the cognitive, social, and emotional impact of this disease, and so I couldn’t have known how it would affect my work life. Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to figure this out by living it, and I simply don’t like how that feels. I don’t like working below my peak, and I don’t like feeling like a ticking time bomb with my emotions and tolerance of different tasks at work. I don’t like my constant state of “fight or flight” because it feels like trauma symptoms and I don’t have the energy for it. There are so many feelings, fears, and struggles I face at work. Is continuing to work even worth it anymore?

Those of us with a life-threatening illness know firsthand that life is too short to be engaged in things that make us miserable, and right now, work is doing that for me. My only sustaining factor right now is the hope that things could get better as some internal changes become a little more concrete.

Patients with pulmonary fibrosis: When and how did you decide to stop working?


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Terri Goodman avatar

Terri Goodman

While I was no longer working, following my Bilateral lung transplant, I have found it difficult to put life together following TX. Life must start from scratch again. Two years later, it is starting to come together but with many bumps in the road to normalcy.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Terri,

Thanks so much for reading my columns and for getting in touch regarding this topic. It was a hard one for me to write about, as I was actually verbalizing to others just how much I was struggling with things I've lost in the workplace. As always, this wonderful online community brings me a lot of comfort and can relate to my experiences. I can imagine how tough it is to put together life following transplant too...everything you must have once known is likely different post-transplant? Have you connected with other patients who have gone through the process and how they 're-built' their lives following their surgery? I actually just talked about this with two friends who are post-transplant and both had very different approaches. Not sure if hearing from others would be helpful for you? I am really glad things are starting to come together and wish your road to normalcy continues on a positive path. Thanks again for sharing!



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