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Returning to work


I had surgery in March and have been off work for nearly 5 months. I look fine, like I'm back to normal but I still don't feel like the old 'me'.

I'm having problems with exhaustion. If I go out for only a few hours, I'm drained of all energy for the rest of the day. My concentration isn't good and short-term memory, dreadful. I have to write everything down. The worst things are anxiety (when I'm surrounded by people) and noise. I can't even listen to music because I can't stand it.

I'm due to return to work next month, but I'm dreading it. I work in retail, where the radio is constantly on, and I'll be surrounded by crying babies and noisy children.

The problem is, I have to return for financial reasons. I've been on stat sick pay which is nowhere near enough to live on as I have a lot of outgoings.

I'm due to see a counsellor, who will hopefully help, but there is a 2/3 month waiting list.

My GP advises me to only go back to work for a couple of hours a week to begin with, but I was working full-time before and will not be able to manage on less money.

I'm interested to know what others do when faced with this situation. I'm sure I'm not the only one!

6 Replies

I went back to work 5 months after TBI, I felt ready and phased back. Initially I enjoyed being back and was doing very well, but fatigue was my worst enemy. I'm now a year and two months down the line, I have been off work with stress for 7 weeks now (3 more to go), I have resigned as I realise I took too much on and I wasn't fully ready to return to work.

Call Turn2us and see if there are any grants you can apply for to help with your outgoings. You may also be able to claim income support, Turn2us can help with benefits too, or speak to Citizens Advice.

I don't want to put you off but please only go back if you feel ready to. If and when you do return phase back slowly, you can ask your doc to add this to your last fit for work certificate. Speak to your doc about how you are feeling too. Good luck :)


Hi Jenna,

Must have posted my response just after you ( takes me a while to correct all my mistakes ! ) - great advice : thanks, you have just educated me too : )

I will need to consider benefits myself, if and when my son moves out if my abilities have not improved. Sorry your return to work hasn't worked out for you.

Take care, Angela x


Hi LM,

Although you may 'look' fine, clearly you are not recovered enough to go back to previous duties. I was lucky in that sensitivity to light/sound improved quite quickly but unlucky that the long term effects of my illness left me with some spasticity, which has had an effect on my type of work - cleaner and carer. I too have memory and concentration issues and fatigue, they are common and can be long lasting so changing to a job requiring more cognitive and less physical requirements would also be difficult.

I went back at 6 months, basically as soon as I was my balance/strength etc was sufficient/safe to carry out duties. I went back on 1 1/2 hours, five nights a week and was supposed to increase to my usual 3 hours after a fortnight. This has not been physically possible so I am now transferred to another building on 9 hours a week, plus 3 afternoons self employed, having had to cut back on full days and weekend work.

I am very lucky that I have my adult son living at home who now has a good job and can contribute to the bills. If not for this, I would have to go down the benefits route.

I know zero about benefits but I'm sure that others on here would be able to advise.

It is truly awful to feel pressured to go back to a full schedule , before you are fit enough , for financial reasons and may well result in complete exhaustion. I do feel that at this stage, you have reduced capacity for work, like myself and need to explore financial help.

During my 6 months off, although I got sick pay, it was not enough to cover all the bills, I had no extra income from self employment plus my son had just left Uni and was seeking work on Jobseekers so money was very tight. Sadly, I ended up using most of my savings to get us through. It does seem like sometimes you are being penalised for being ill. I hope you can get some benefit savvy responses to your predicament.

Kind regards, Angelax


Thanks both for your replies.

I have looked at benefit options but this 'the government says you need a certain amount to live on' isn't very hopeful. What they don't realise is that people live by their means. So if they have a full-time job, they can afford mobile phones, broadband, extended warranties, to own pets, to buy things on HP, have credit cards etc. etc.

Then if something happens, as it did to me and they go off sick, by the time the monthly bills have been paid, there's nothing left for food!

I know how you feel Angela. My daughter didn't even finish uni, has no job at the moment so I'm trying to support her as well.

Thanks Jenna, I'll give Turn2us a call on Monday to see if they have any advice.

It's good to know that I'm not expecting miracles thinking that I should be back to normal after only a few months.

Hope things work out for you too.

Best wishes,


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Just a brief reply for now as I'm about to go out but gov agency REMPLOY were fantastic as someone to turn to for advice about returning to work after my bi. I did - still doing - phased return to work - started with 9 hours / week - now doing 29 . That's enough.

But Remploy had to come into work after first few weeks of 9hours as my employers needed educating about the whole BI effects - because I ( most of us ?) " look so well" - they just have NO idea what is hapening behind the eyes ......

Through employ I also got to meet stroke rehab ( though mine not really as stroke) and she was wonderful with LOTs of very good advice / suggestions / general support.

def get some / all the help you can with this issue . It's worth it .

Good luck



Hi LM09,

Thank you for your post and very sorry to hear of this situation. In an ideal world you would be able to remain off work until you feel fully ready to return, and then start gradually building up the hours at a pace that suits, however I do understand that financial and employer pressures can make that very difficult in practice.

Your GPs advice is good though, if you over-stretch too quickly it could potentially lead to further setbacks and if that happens it could take you longer to work back up to full-time. It's a difficult balance to strike - perhaps your GP could refer you to an Occupational Therapist, or the Disability Employment Advisor (self-referral) at your local JobCentre Plus could provide an assessment and advice.

If you have a current employer it could be worth talking through the options with them, perhaps if it's just a week of work-on-trial building up the hours over that time, it could still be more manageable than going straight into a 9-5 routine? If all goes well you'll be back to the previous hours, but if not it'd at least give you chance to catch that with a lower risk of experiencing overwhelming anxiety or fatigue?

There are a number of other services that could be able to help, and our Returning to Work factsheets offer a lot of information and ideas for your return to employment: headway.org.uk/employment-a...

It's worth remembering that an employer should make reasonable adjustments to help you work. The options could be limited depending on the role but there's often a lot that can be done. If you feel things like the music could be a problem then do mention this to them, or if there are any 'back office' jobs you could take on while you get back on track, don't be afraid to talk this through.

Please also give our helpline a call on 0808 800 2244 to discuss further, or send them an email to helpline@headway.org.uk

Best wishes,



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