Making Your Work Environment Work For You 

By Tracy Taback, HA Volunteer

HydrocephalusWhen I was discharged from the hospital after my Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV), I couldn’t wait to get back to work – bizarre, I know!  I also couldn’t wait to start dating again, but that’s a story for another time!  You see, my health had deteriorated for four and a half years from the time of my hydrocephalus diagnosis to when I actually had surgery. I wasn’t able to maintain a job during my deterioration, however, I was lucky that my dad owns his own business, so he took me to his office to give me something to do other than just stay in bed.  I spent most of the day just playing games on the computer or staring off into space.  I would completely mess up any simple task I was asked to do at the office, like making copies or printing something out.

I tell you all of this because I want to paint a picture of just how bad my cognitive ability had become because of the pressure in my brain.  And hopefully, you can understand why I was so eager to get back to work just one week after my ETV surgery.  My brain was finally functioning after all those years and I wanted to put it to use!

Well, I have to admit that I hit many brick walls fairly quickly upon returning to work at my dad’s office.  I share these brick walls with you, along with what I did and continue to do nearly 13 years later, to help me manage my life as well as possible and succeed in my career.

  • I quickly realized that it was more difficult for me to concentrate after my surgery and noises or interruptions that wouldn’t have affected me as much before were now very distracting.  I couldn’t tune out my coworkers’ conversations or lost track of what I was doing if someone came over to my desk to talk to me while I was in the middle of doing something. I decided to ask if I could move into an enclosed office with a door (which I still keep shut when I have to concentrate) so that there would be a barrier between me and the outside noises.  Now, instead of my coworkers being able to come right up to my desk and start talking when I see them at my door, I either wave them in if I can talk to them or tell them I’ll let them know when I can focus on what they need.  I knew what I needed and wasn’t afraid to ask for it.
  • I found myself being easily overwhelmed by the commotion in my office.  Now, I work in a small office with only a handful of other people, so I realize that the commotion really isn’t as much as it could be.  Early on, my reaction to being overwhelmed was to either break down crying or end up in an argument with my coworkers. Neither of which was very professional or any way I could continue operating in a business setting.  Again, I quickly learned that I needed to take a minute to myself before reacting and started taking a short walk outside to calm down and be able to handle interacting with my coworkers, which is a necessary part of my job.  Let’s face it, although I suspect that sometimes we all want to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world, that’s just not realistic.  We have to be able to interact with other people who don’t necessarily know what we deal with because of our hydrocephalus.
  • I have also found that exercise helps me stay calm throughout the day.  I’m a morning person, so I like to work out right when I wake up.  Whether it’s cardio or yoga, I just find that it helps me work through any stress I feel the rest of the day.  I have to believe that if you prefer to work out in the evening, you’d then work off any stress of the day.  I have especially found yoga breathing and mindset helpful during stressful moments, whether with work or anything else.
  • To this day (again, almost 13 years post brain surgery), my memory still is not very good.  I use a few techniques to overcome this that have made things so much easier for me.  Hopefully, some of them will be helpful to you too.
    • I write down everything I need to remember.  I know I can’t count on my brain to do the remembering, so I make notes, whether they’re on paper or on my computer or phone.
    • I ask my boss and coworkers to email me, so I have everything in writing, instead of verbally telling me.  With an email, I have a record of what I need so I don’t have to make the notes myself.
    • I put everything I need to get done in my calendar AND set an alert so that my computer (or phone) actually reminds me that I need to do it.  I have learned the hard way that even if I put something in my calendar if I don’t set the alert, I completely forget to look at my calendar, and therefore, don’t do whatever it is I was supposed to do.  With the technology available in this day and age, we need to use it to our benefit whenever and however we can.

I’d like to be able to say that I don’t hit brick walls anymore or never feel stressed or overwhelmed by work or anything else in life, but that’s just not realistic.  Let’s face it, life can be stressful and sometimes is.  And then we have the factor of our hydrocephalus on top of it.  I am grateful that because of what I’ve been through with my condition, I am more in tune with my health and what I need to keep myself both mentally and physically healthy.  Maybe you can relate to some of what I shared and hopefully, you can put some of the tactics into play in your life to make your work life, and therefore your whole life work for you.