Part 2 in Jennifer Kilgore's Q&A series:
When you have a chronic back pain condition, sitting for extended periods of time or even standing can be draining. If you work in an office environment, you might also notice that sitting at your desk all day can make your chronic back pain symptoms worse. We spoke with attorney and Wear, Tear, & Care's Jennifer Kain Kilgore to get her 411 on how she transitioned from the corporate world into her home office after her back pain symptoms got worse. If you missed the first part of this series, click here to read.
For all of our 9-to-5ers, this one's for you.
Q: First things first. What type of work do you do?
A: I’m an attorney editor for two clients. I write blogs for another client. I am a ghostwriter for books. I just incorporated my law office, so I’m also an actual attorney. I do real estate, personal injury — a lot of little things all over the map. And of course, I'm a blogger.
Q: As a previous attorney working in the 9-to-5 world, how did your chronic back pain impact your financial health and ability to work in an office environment?
A: I literally cannot work in an office environment. I would have to do yoga or meditate in my office. My bosses were really understanding, though. I worked in this tiny estate planning firm. They were super cool. I liked them a lot, but I just couldn’t do the traditional office setting because you have to be there 9-to-5. And, in my case, we were there 8-to-6.
It was also a tax firm and during tax season, we had to be there 24/7 — I'm not even joking. My job was supposed to take the pressure off of my bosses when they were doing tax preparations for these crazy corporations. They were tax attorneys among doing the real estate side of things, so during tax season, they would do these crazy tax returns for the crazy entities. So my role was to take the pressure off of them so they could still function as an office. And I couldn’t handle that type pressure living in chronic pain.
My schedule at the office usually consisted of working a bit then I needed to rest — work and rest and work and rest. They even bought me a recliner for my office. They would let me take extended breaks. They would let me go for walks around the office complex but my body still couldn't handle it despite their support.
Q: Why do you think it's so different working from home than working in an office environment —especially as a chronic back pain patient?
A: I really don’t know what the difference is between working at home and working there. I think it’s the pressure and just knowing they were always watching. I think I just put all of these expectations on myself even though they were so understanding. I personally wasn’t understanding of myself or my pain in that situation.
So, I needed to make a change. At the end, the traditional office environment just didn’t gel with me. I couldn’t reliably meet with clients. It got to the point where I couldn’t sit for a 30-minute client meeting. As soon as that happened, I said, “I'm done.”
Q: Before you left, did you ever feel stigmatized being a chronic back pain patient?
A: Not really. I think I was lucky because I know a lot of chronic back pain patients whose management have no time for “excuses.” One of my bosses had a lot of health issues and [he] would go and get steroid injections in his hip.
I was constantly wearing devices to the office. I would wear my TENS unit (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, a back pain treatment that uses low voltage electric current to relieve pain in a small battery-operated device). I would wear my Quell (a drug-free pain relieving device) on my leg. They would see these contraptions and me limping around, so it was always a topic of discussion. I mean, they would joke about it sometimes, which I secretly didn't like but never in a mean way.
So they were awesome. I loved them. They were really good people. I actually still visit them for lunch sometimes.
Q: Can you explain the transition from leaving the 9-to-5 world and beginning your telecommute experience? (i.e. was it hard, do you miss it, feel free to name some pros and cons)
A: I definitely do miss the ability to wander into someone’s office and gossip with them. That is the part I do miss a lot. I also miss dressing up and going somewhere. Making myself get ready to get out of the house is a lot harder now. My therapist says that I have to. "You have to go do something." Especially right now in the summer when it’s 90 degrees and humid, I’m always like, “It’s so gross out. I really don’t want to.”
In the winter when it’s really cold, there’s always a reason not to go. My house is comfortable and I get lazy. I know I shouldn’t be lazy and I should be getting out. I know I should be socializing more as well. My friends do come over, but it’s more of them coming to me and not me going to them. They do know how hard it is for me to get out a lot of the time, but I feel like I should make more of an effort.
On the other hand, I get to take breaks when I need one and love the flexibility of it all.
Q: As an attorney, blogger and talented author, how do you balance your life and career goals with your self-care and health maintenance?
A: I rest when I need to. I listen to my body. I let my body dictate. I work in the morning because that’s my best time of day. Once the afternoon rolls around and I feel myself getting stiff and sore, I start doing yoga and I take my walk. I’ll try to work in the afternoon but generally, I’ll start winding down and planning my next day.
Q: Is there a specific organizational trick you can share with us to keep up the workflow? Living with chronic back pain, we need all the help, we can get (as you know).
A: Yes. I pick my three most important things every day and I put everything else to the side. I have this big white board and I use this Kanban system. It’s for productivity where you have three buckets — to do, doing and done. It’s very visual with post-it notes, which I like. Each post-it note is a different task and you move them around as you do them. It feels really good to move them instead of crossing them off a list. I use that so I only have three things in the 'doing' bucket at one time. Plus, it keeps it all under control.
I say, “Yeah!” and slap it into the next bucket. I always think, “Yes. I did it!”
What do you guys think? Do any of you back pain warriors want to make the same switch? What are your reservations? Does your job offer remote options? At the end of the day, your comfort and pain come first but there are options if you want to work from home. Check out, 5 Work-At-Home Businesses That Can Work Around Pain, written by Kilgore herself.
If we have don't have our health, then what do we have? Nothing. If fear of the unknown is holding you back, remember that there's one thing stronger than fear — and that's hope.