Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fibromyalgia In The Workplace - Part 1

Hello Everyone,

Today I want to talk about Fibromyalgia in the workplace. Specifically I will be referring to those PWF’s (People with Fibromyalgia) who are working a mainstream career and must handle their Fibro symptoms while holding down a traditional career. (This takes nothing away from PWF’s who are working for themselves. I try and approach all angles here on the blog.)

So how does one manage their symptoms while being on a strict time schedule, facing deadlines, having an employer to answer to, driving back and forth, dealing with workplace relationships, and being responsible for their particular work? The task is by no means easy, and takes a great deal of inner and outer strength to accomplish. Let’s look at some things that can help.

Admit It

There are many PWF’s who experience a certain level of fear or nervousness about telling their employer that they either have Fibro or are struggling with Fibro symptoms. They feel that telling the truth about Fibro may cause them to lose their job, be passed over for promotion, may cause the relationship between themselves and their co-workers to change for the worse, or may mean a reduction in trust by their employer. Why? Because Fibro symptoms can, when they flare up, cause a PWF to become all but incapacitated and unable to do their work; therefore they fear that they will become “less valuable” as employees because they fear being viewed as “unreliable”. They fear that their job security may, or will be threatened and therefore, they remain silent and refuse to show any “weakness”. This may be especially true for men and sole wage earners in the family who have Fibromyalgia. The pressure to keep their job outweighs their personal needs and they basically “grin and bear it”.

I want to assert that if you are facing this pressure and feel that you are forced to hide Fibromyalgia from your employer or co-workers; perhaps a different point of view of your worth and value is due.

Listen, I’m not blind to the problems going on in the economy, the loss of jobs, the fact that just HAVING a job nowadays is something to be very, very grateful for (although I personally feel that this should be the way we feel anyway, no matter what’s going on.) and that the idea of losing or walking away from what you have is an emergency extreme you don’t want to face. I know, and I get it my friends. Believe me.

Hear me out though. For some PWF’s this life of silence in order to keep their employment, may have a higher cost than anything that could happen by changing jobs or choosing to leave a place of employment where you are not FREE to live truthfully before your employer and co-workers.
The toll on your body and mind may be higher and more exacting than you realize. Like a rock tossed into a pond, the rings of consequence could branch out wider and wider until they touch areas of your life you didn’t realize could even connect. It could affect your relationships (due to sheer exhaustion and little quality time together), it could affect your safety and the safety of others (driving under pressure, pain, fatigue or medication), it increases the amount of worry and fear in your friends and family over your welfare, (I know you don’t mean to and don’t want to do that to them), it could actually increase your pain flares and make it even harder for you to work, it could cause you to make mistakes on the job and accomplish what you fear will happen anyway, and the worst thing…it could cost you your inner life. You will know, every day, that you will not protect you or make sure that you are ok and you will not be able to trust yourself any longer. In a sense you will know you that you abandoned yourself for money and a job and you will resent yourself in the deepest regions of your heart. You will foster resentment at having to “hide”, you will foster bitterness, you will foster anger, and you will foster depression. This is a deadly combination to your mind, body, and spirit.

Far better, is to admit that you have Fibromyalgia and that you have symptoms that you can neither control nor predict, and that it is a very real condition. The truth is…any employer that would attempt to undermine your value at work after learning of your condition is NOT WORTH your hard work! You deserve better. You deserve to work for a company and an employer who values you and will support and appreciate you. You need that in order to keep your symptoms under the best control that you can, while earning a living. That is the bare truth.

This may mean taking a leap of faith. This may mean seriously considering changing jobs and preparing now, to make that change. Getting your resume and cover letter in order, talking with your spouse and family, and resolving to make a change that has nothing to do with placing money ahead of you as a person. I know this is a radical idea, and not one to take lightly. It means being able to virtually guarantee that you have one job before leaving the other. In this current economic climate, it may be even harder. I know that what I’m suggesting is something very serious.

I choose to believe that you are valuable and irreplaceable. There is no one else who is you. If the world loses the benefit of your best self, it is not something we can ever get back. That’s how valuable I believe you are. No kidding.

In order to do this there’s a risk you’ll have to be courageous enough to face right now. You have to risk having an honest and heartfelt discussion with your employer regarding the truth about your condition. There is a chance that your employer may be more supportive of you than you thought and your work condition could actually improve by “clearing the air”. Without all that hiding and pressure, your work production and quality may actually improve and help you achieve a much healthier and happy existence. Plus, your employer may be able to help you understand with the help of Human Resources, the laws and regulations regarding workplace discrimination against those who have very real and verifiable health conditions. Don’t neglect doing a little research first! Find out for yourself what the guidelines are, and what you have to have in order to show documentation of your condition. Arm yourself.

Now for those of you who are thinking “Yeah Sherri, they may have rules, but they’ll just find some other excuse for letting me go by using “loopholes” and I just can’t risk that!” or “Sherri, I don’t care what you say, I absolutely can risk that! I can NOT lose this job!” I hear you. I understand completely. I don’t want you thinking that I don’t. I mean, what if you are a single parent and your children are depending on you for their basic necessities, or a an adult taking care of an elderly parent, or a parent or spouse taking care of an invalid, or a man who’s wife doesn’t work and your family is depending on you for income, or any one of a number of people faced with a situation that requires complete and utter dependence on you. I hear you and I’m not leaving you out to hang. What I want to do is help you find ways to “define Fibromyalgia instead of letting Fibromyalgia define you.” (Thanks to my friend at Twitter for that very real and inspiring statement!) In the next post “Fibromyalgia in The Workplace Part 2” I will talk with those of you specifically.

For now, let’s assume that you are going to go ahead with revealing your Fibro to your employer.

Talking With Your Employer

Before you have your meeting with your employer it’s important to have your “ducks in a row”. You need to have documentation if possible. Perhaps being able to show appointment dates with your doctor, a written statement of diagnosis, or perhaps a journal that you keep with your symptoms in it will be what you use to do this. You don’t have to share all of your personal details, just something to substantiate your condition as real and ongoing.

The next thing is to say what you can do and what you cannot do. It’s important to talk about what you are able to do first. You want to assure your employer that you are still a valuable employee and that there are many things you are able to do in order to contribute to the company. Remind them about things you’ve accomplished in the past while they were not aware that you were dealing with your Fibro symptoms. What you’re doing is telling them that it cost you to do those things and that eventually if you don’t deal with those symptoms while at work, your production will fall back, and you need to stay on top of your game.

The next step is to lay out what you have to have or do in order to deal with days when your symptoms are insurmountable and how you need to deal with it. What things can you both come up with in order to deal with those days? Perhaps they will need to know that if you call in sick on a day, there is a substantial and documented reason for you to do so. What proposals can you write down before your meeting with him or her to lay out a plan they can follow with you? The more prepared you are the better. It shows initiative, it shows a position of strength, it shows responsibility and it shows that you are not falling back on excuses but actively taking control of your condition.

Before your meeting, sit down and think all of these thoroughly. Write things down and if possible print them out so you have something they can look at and also keep in your employee file. Tell them what you will be using as tools to help you deal with your condition at work so it doesn’t come as surprise when they see it. Will you need to take more 10 or 15 minute breaks during the day? Will you need to use walking assistance (a cane or walking stick) at work? Will you be using a sign to signal a high flare day (like a sign at your desk or something hung from your chair, if you work outside perhaps some way of signaling this to your co-workers)? Will you be using the assistance of another co-worker to help you manage more detailed or urgent tasks that could suffer quality if you are dealing with a high level of brain fog? Will you be carpooling in order to keep yourself from the possibly having an accident? You get the idea. You need a plan of action in place before you go in for your meeting.

Perhaps your employer may have access to other things that can help you as well. Ergonomic tools and furniture to help you or other things that they know about that perhaps you don’t. Be open to suggestions and work together to come up with a plan.

Most employers are more than willing to work with you to keep you because they don’t want to spend the money to interview, employ, and train a whole new employee for your position.

The relief gained from finally coming out with it and then taking control of a plan of action can benefit you in so many ways. Again, like that rock thrown into the pond, the ripple effects can go on and on both professionally and personally.


I want to encourage you to network with other PWF’s or people living with Chronic pain and fatigue keeping a mainstream career. There are several support groups and online resources where you can band together with them. You have the potential of learning new ways to cope, new ways to increase your value at work, and most of all you gain the knowledge that you are not alone and you have the backing of other PWF’s to help you stay strong. The better armed you are, the more strength you have to keep going.

Links and Information

Fibromyalgia on the Job

Accommodating employees with FMS

Women Living and Working with Fibromyalgia

Men with Fibromyalgia (Check out the forums)

Allnurses – Working Full time with Fibromyalgia

Work and Disability Issues with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Work and Fibromyalgia

Google search – Working Full time With Fibromyalgia

Google search – Support Group for Those Working Full Time With Fibromyalgia

In the next post “Fibromyalgia in The Workplace Part 2” we will talk about those PWF’s who choose not to reveal Fibro to their employer and how to stay strong.

There is much more I could say and point out in this post, but for now I want to put this out there so you have something to consider right away. This is a starting point.

Here’s to your success! I wish you all the very best; and remember… YOU ARE NOT ALONE AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE EITHER.


1 comment:

Desiree Favela said...

This info was very helpful, but I am having a problem with getting a job and having the fibro dx. I work in the health care field, I just applied for a job at a local hospital in Scottsdale AZ. I was offered a position but then I was asked about ALL my medical problems n DX and I didn't feel I should have to tell them about my fibro dx. This OHN nurse sent me to the doctor for this hospital and he question the medication I was on , he then asked to see my full medical chart from my primary doctors office! When they wouldn't give him everything he became upset. There was one dx the doctors office missed and it was fibro and then wouldnt clear me for the job. I am now trying to fight for whats right! I shouldn't not be hired because I have a medical problem that I didn't ask for! I'm a single mother of three kids and am unemployed for the first time in my life since I was 15! I'm now having to move in with mom , which I haven't lived with since I left home at 16. I just don't know what to do or how to handle this! I'm so sad and depressed that this could happen to me and my family. I don't know how a employer can does this . And I am outraged that this is a hospital doing this! Please pray for my family! Desi