Working with Endo: What to Wear

CW: maternity, weight gain, gendered language

I’ve written before about the difficulties of holding down a job whilst living with endo. Re-reading that post is an interesting experience. I was still in litigation, and specifically said that my health might force a move into policy – an area that, at the time, I had no interest in. Well, that prediction sadly came true, in part. My health did force me to leave litigation, but it turns out policy is actually pretty fun.

I’ve also written before about clothes that are comfy yet not terrible for when you have endo. I want to revisit that topic today, but with a work focus. I’m concentrating on offices here, partly because that is what I know and partly because many non-office careers either come with uniforms, dress codes or special requirements (steel-toe boots, for example).

If you want to look at some more adventurous office ideas, I highly recommend Miss Louie’s various lookbooks (see here and here ). She has so many great ideas on professional yet interesting outfits. If you need to travel for work, head over to this post by Vintage Barbie. I’d also recommend her post on maintaining your own style in a corporate world.

So, without further ado, here are my five office staples for the office worker with endo belly:

1) The well-fitted knickers

Ok, so this applies to literally any outfit, officey or otherwise, but it is so important. Whether you have endo or not, you generally want to avoid the dreaded Visible Panty Line (not terribly professional). It’s not always easy in a world that seems to sell an inordinate amount of cheeky-cut undies that have their leg at that annoying mid-point that just cuts your buttock right in half. If you have been even slightly blessed in the booty, this tends to cause a slight dimple and becomes very obvious under even moderately tight clothing. I also find that they cause me to be making adjustments all day. If you really love a halfway-up-the-butt cut, go for seamless ones that just lie on the buttock rather than gripping and digging in. Cuts that simply won’t cause those lines are G-string, or my personal fave, the granny pants, that cover the entire buttock. In theory, boyleg undies shouldn’t do it either, but boyleg appears to mean different things to different brands and for many, still somehow results in a cheeky cut.  If someone has a recommendation for boyleg undies, with, you know, actual legs, please let me know in the comments.  I just want boxer briefs for people with nothing between the legs.  They look so comfy!

In terms of fitting for endo, you want something that is gentle on the tum. For some, this means a very low cut that lands below the tummy. For others (like me), this means a high cut with a gentle waistband. I highly recommend keeping at least one pair of maternity knickers on hand for the really bad days. I’ve started wearing some maternity things and seriously, the comfort level is out of this world.  Overall, my favourite brand has to be Bonds and their offshoot, Jockey, because they have a style for almost everyone.

Whatever style you choose, make sure you are getting the right size. Too big and you’ll be hoisting them up all day. Too small, and you’ll not only get VPL on both the legs and waistband, you’ll also be in a great deal of discomfort. Compression is the enemy of endo (another good reason to get fantastic knickers, as shapewear is not our friend). It is worth getting a few sizes if you often suffer endo-belly. A 12 is good for me most days, but on a flare day a 14 is just a bit more comfortable and accomodates that rapid expansion much better. Endo can also cause rapid weight changes – I’ve gained nearly two sizes in the past few months – so having bigger or smaller sizes on hand is an annoying necessity. If you gain weight, please don’t keep stuffing yourself into knickers that are too small. You’ll be horribly uncomfortable. It might be upsetting to have to accept that you have gained weight, but making yourself uncomfortable won’t help.

2) Elastic-waisted black trousers

Back trousers are a corporate essential. You can dress them down for casual Friday, but you can’t be caught short being insufficiently formal for a meeting or presentation. When I was in litigation I always had a pair of black trousers in my desk drawer just in case, after getting sent to court with very little warning wearing a skirt that was fine for a client-free day in the office but absolutely not ok for court.

I have multiple pairs of black trousers in a variety of styles – wide leg, boot cut, straight leg, high-waisted, etc – but the most important one in an endo-gal’s arsenal is a pair with an elastic waistband. They are so good on those days where a static waistband looks like Satan and you just want really just want comfort and a super easy outfit.  I recently purchased this pair from Target, which don’t look superb in the website picture but look perfectly acceptable on and are very comfy.  The only downside is that you can’t really tuck things into it, because the waistline does look a little cheap and, well, very obviously elasticised.  That being said, I want another pair.  One comment says that they are great for shorties, but they fit my 5’10” frame just fine as an ankle-grazing style.  For $15, they are well worth it.

3) A stretch black pencil skirt

A black pencil skirt is, just like the black trousers, an office necessity.  You can make it casual with a simple t-shirt and flats, or dressed up with a buttoned shirt or silky blouse.  A pencil skirt is the most formal style of skirt, much as I love my flared midi-skirts.  Thing is, of course, you don’t want just an elastic waist with such a clingy style – you want stretch EVERYWHERE.  You don’t want it to be tight or compressing, either – you want one that just skims everything and sits comfortably.  I recently got this one, also from Target, that fits the bill perfectly.  It looks very smart, and doesn’t dig in at all.  I wore it on a work trip to Melbourne that included flights, taxi rides, a seminar, walking all over the place, and Lord of the Fries.  It doesn’t look terribly cheap, and it doesn’t look immediately like its a stretch fabric as opposed to an ordinary suit skirt.  It’s a good length for me but would also be fine on a slightly shorter or taller person too.

4) Good tights

The holy grail of workwear for a skirt-wearing type.  They hide a multitude of issues – dry patches or those little bits I miss when shaving – and just add a level of polish and sophistication.  They also put a barrier between your foot and your shoe, which helps prolong the life of your shoes.  They are required in many more conservative law firms if you wear a skirt, particularly if you appear in court.

They are a nuisance, though.  Despite my extremely extensive wardrobe, I sometimes feel like I’ve spent more on tights than any other type of clothing.  Thick ones are too warm in summer, but sheer ones rip at the drop of a hat.  So many have built-in slimming, which is fun if you don’t have endo, I’m sure.  I find those very painful.

However, there are tights out there that are both comfortable and not prone to laddering.  I always look for tights that, when damaged, get holes rather than ladders.  A hole just sits there.  It doesn’t look great, but, unlike a ladder, it won’t start at your thigh and have ruined your entire leg by lunch time.

I also look for those with words like “comfort brief”, “wide waist-band” or “no dig”.  If those fail me, maternity tights are always an option.  I got a bunch of these Kayser tights on sale a few weeks ago, and they are saving my life (or at least my tum) at the moment.  Very comfy, and they hole rather than ladder.

5) A slouchy blazer

I love a structured blazer.  I feel amazing in a properly fitted suit jacket.  Sometimes, though, everything hurts and you need to be able to flop in your chair and not feel constrained.  For that, I love a looser, less structured blazer like Review’s Aries jacket, or a completely jersey blazer.  I got one from Kmart that looks surprisingly professional when not covered in cat hair, but I can’t find it anywhere on their website.

This is less of a “must have” than the other things, but a jacket really does finish off an office outfit and is great for turning a casual outfit into an office-appropriate casual Friday outfit.  Endo sufferers may not need a slouchy jacket, but I find that, when I’m having a really difficult day, pain-wise, being comfy everywhere makes a huge difference to my ability to tolerate it.  A stiff jacket looks amazing but saps my spoons, so I feel that a relaxed blazer deserves a spot on this list.

Now, I realise this list sounds super boring.  Basics usually are.  To prove, though, that these pieces are important, I am going to do a week in the trousers and a week in the skirt, wearing them different ways, and including a slouchy jacket at least once in each week.  As someone who spends 5 days a week in business or business casual, though, these basics are incredibly important to allowing me to get through the week with a minimum of pain and discomfort.  I don’t need to rely on them every day, but having them there makes all the difference for those days when I am well enough to go to work, but only if everything else in my life is 100% easy and comfortable.

I’m planning a few more posts themes related to this.  In addition to my proposed “comfy work clothes” lookbooks, I want to talk about about how I have coped with my sudden weight gain, and what I keep in my handbag and at my desk to make work easier for me when I’m struggling.  Are there any other work, clothes or body-image-related posts you want to see?

 

Happy New Year: Change, Surrender and Big Decisions

TW: domestic violence, assault, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse

2018, like so many other years, has not been easy, but it has been big.  I spent around 3 months in total off sick. I had my third operation in two years.  I battled medically-induced depression, went into menopause twice, visited my homeland again, celebrated my second wedding anniversary and adopted two beautiful animals.  Most dramatically, though, I learned when to quit.  Literally.

I’ve worked in the same place, with one minor break, since January 2014.  I started as a volunteer paralegal.  In September that year I started as a part-time paid paralegal.  In July 2015 I finished my Masters of Law and my BA (Hons) and went full time.  In January 2016 I was promoted to a senior paralegal position and moved to a different section.  In August that year I become a solicitor.  I’ve never worked anywhere else as a lawyer.  I met my husband there.  I was instilled with a love of law there.  And, in the final work week of 2018, I quit.

This wasn’t a totally spur-of-the-moment decision.  A few months back I applied for a job elsewhere on something of a whim, and was moved into a merit pool.  I didn’t really expect anything to come of it.  However, the Friday just before that last week, I got a call offering me a position.  Two days later, I accepted it.

It was an incredibly difficult decision in many ways.  In my old job, I was a litigation lawyer.  I was in court at least three days a week, and meeting with clients or preparing for cases the rest.  Most days I would be appearing with less than an hour to prepare.  I was helping extremely vulnerable people.  I acted on behalf of domestic violence victims, the homeless and the mentally ill.  I got to argue points of law with magistrates who seemed hell-bent on confusing me, and work with angry clients who were not too far from assaulting me.  It was often incredibly rewarding, but, as I’m sure you can guess, extremely physically exhausting.

In addition to the time pressures that any legal job has – file this by 10am, send this letter out by 5pm, subpoena these documents by Wednesday – you also have a bunch of other unique stresses.  There is the belly-churning stage-fright you get before appearing in front of a magistrate, the pressure not to embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues, client and court by stuffing up.  There’s the emotional burden and vicarious trauma you take on by hearing stories of domestic violence – often involving serious physical and sexual assault, sometimes against children and animals – every day.  There’s the standards you hold yourself too to be the best lawyer possible, standards that are drilled into you irrevocably in the hyper-competitive environment of law school.

There’s also a hefty dose of physical exhaustion.  In addition to travel between the office and court (walking distance, in my case, so walking it is), there is an inordinate amount of running around involved in court work.  You have to chase around after a seemingly endless stream of clients, registrars, associates, other lawyers and even your colleagues, none of whom are ever where you need them to be.  There’s the inevitable last-minute change of courtroom because the lights aren’t working in courtroom 5, or because the magistrate that was hearing your application now has to do an emergency bail hearing instead.  There’s the frantic jack-in-a-box hopping up and down that a lawyer needs to do in the courtroom to demonstrate respect for the court.  All in all, combined with the mental and emotional stress, the job is incredibly exhausting, and I simply can’t do it any more.

I am extremely sad.  I love litigation.  I love the thrill of winning a point or getting a good outcome for a client.  I like the challenge and the test to my skills.  I love arguing (as my family will probably attest).  Not only that, but I’m moving away from some truly fantastic colleagues whom I will desperately miss.

Moreover, it’s a huge change in mindset for me.  Three years ago I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be a family lawyer.  I would do five years of practice, then get accredited as an Independent Children’s Lawyer, maybe even a mediator, and after ten years I would do my specialist accreditation in family law.  Now I’m moving into a government organisation working in a policy role that has nothing to do with litigation, family law, or domestic violence.  I’ve had to give up an entire future because my body was wearing out faster than I could replenish it. I’ve had to hugely re-evaluate where my life is heading and what I want to do.

In all honesty, now I don’t know.  A lot hinges on 2019.  I may hate this job and scramble back into litigation and work until it breaks me beyond repair (I hope I’ll have more sense than that).  Alternatively, I may love it, and be happy to never go back.  I may change career several more times, as my generation apparently does.  Right now, I have no idea what the future holds.  It’s scary, but I’m ready.  I’ve got my positive brain engaged.  This is a new opportunity to discover what else I’m good at and see if I love other things too.  It’s a new workplace, next to a beautiful walking track and near to my sister.  It’s also (I sincerely hope) a physically easier job, that will give my poor body the chance to heal that it so desperately needs, so that I can actually get back to building a career (whatever that looks like).

I’m proud of myself for taking this step.  Yes, I quit.  I gave up.  Some might say I failed.  Whatever.  Sometimes, quitting is what you need to do.  It was the right decision for my health, and hopefully for my family too.  It was scary, but I had the courage to do it anyway.  2018 was a year for courage.  2019 is going to be a year for perseverance, as I stick to the scary decisions I have made and see them through to their end.  I’m ready.  I’m happy.  Bring it on.

I hope your 2019 is full of hope, happiness, and beautiful surprises.  I wish for strength, endurance, courage and beautiful, painless moments for all of you.