Coping with an Invisible Illness

It isn’t something I particularly talk about…mostly because I don’t see the point but after thinking about it; it is important to talk about it. I have a type of arthritis in my lower back called ankylosing spondylitis. It essentially means I’m in a lot of pain…pretty much all of the time. Eventually, my spine will fuse together which may well mean I am immobile or wheelchair bound…hence why I don’t tend to talk about it! Having said that, I am yet to meet any other teachers in a similar position.


If you are in a similar position, I would love to hear from you! For now though, I’ve put together a list of things that I have found useful through my very limited experience…


Read up on Spoon Theory

Spoon Theory is a great way to think about managing your energy throughout the day or week. The important thing to remember is that everyone differs on the amount of ‘spoons’ they use for each activity. For example, going to work would cost me 6 spoons which doesn’t leave me much for the rest of the day. However, it is a useful little tool to keep in mind!

occupational health

Talk to Occupational Health

Occupational health are there to help…nobody is going to shout at you for asking for help! In your school, it may be called something a little different. For example, I talked to our Health and Safety officer as well as the site team. I reached out to occupational health and got a new desk chair. It may seem quite a small adjustment but it has made such a difference to my pain levels throughout the day.


Ask Your Students for Help

OK. This might not work with your ‘nightmare’ groups and requires your own judgement but if you’re having a bad day…tell them! I had an almighty pain flare up one day and couldn’t stand for long periods of time. I told my gorgeous Year 7 group and they were so thoughtful and well behaved for the rest of the lesson. Following that afternoon, I would have 2 or 3 of them come up to me, without fail, each lesson and ask how I was feeling or if I needed any help with anything. Even if it just means carrying a box of books or something up/down the stairs, it’s help! Take it! It doesn’t make you weak.


Use your Weekends Wisely

I gave myself Saturdays as my designated ‘Self-Care Saturday’…mostly because I liked to use Sundays to prep myself for Monday. It is, of course, up to you and what works best with your routine. Now, I am aware that there are a number of different factors that might prevent people from doing this. For example, having children or other responsibilities. Yet, I would encourage everyone to designate some time at least for their own self care.

I would treat myself to a LUSH bath bomb (this one is my favourite), read a few chapters of my book, turn off my phone and have one of my favourite meals. It makes a big difference to the rest of your week.


Keep the Conversation Going

This is one of the things that I’ve found most difficult over the last year. Keep talking about how you’re finding things. Whether that is to a counsellor, a medical professional, your partner, your friends, your line manager…keep the conversation going. It is so important to talk but not just about work or your illness. It is important to talk about menial things, trashy TV, the latest book you’ve read or the news (scrap that, it’s rather depressing at the moment).


Important Numbers/Contacts

If you are struggling, go and speak to your GP/Nurse as a first point of call. However, I hope some of these websites/numbers are helpful too.

NHS Choices

Mind: the Mental Health Charity

Education Support Partnership

A Way with Pain: Chronic Pain Support Charity

Pain UK

Facebook can also be a bit hit and miss with support groups – I’ve found them to be incredibly depressing and offer people a place to moan rather than lift each other up but they can still be a source of support. The best thing to do is search!