Dealing with Your Fibromyalgia in the Workplace
For many people, the decision to work isn't a decision at all. It is necessary for most of us to hold down a job to pay the bills. In addition, many people see work as a vital part of their lives, helping them to be social and to feel like they are contributing to something greater than themselves. Work can be very difficult for a person with fibromyalgia, but there are ways to learn to cope. It is estimated today that four to six million people with fibromyalgia are in the workforce and are learning to cope with their condition as they work.
Monitor Your Work Pattern
In order to create a working pattern for yourself at your job, it's important to understand what makes you most comfortable, what sets off your flare-ups and what makes working difficult. Take one week and jot down what you are doing at your job and how you are feeling every fifteen minutes or so. This will be quite tedious for the week, but it will help to create a pattern that can be evaluated and observed. Then, with these notes, you'll be able to see, hopefully, what leads to some of your discomfort at work, what seems to help the most, what gives you the most stress, etc.
Get Organized in Your Space
Many jobs require repetitive motions. Analyze your workspace to see if there are changes you could make to help with your physical discomfort or pain. For instance, if you spend a lot of time on the phone, try to get a headset. If you stand a great deal at work, make sure to purchase high-quality shoes and add a cushioned floor pad to the area where you stand the most. If you sit most of the day, invest in a high-quality, ergonomic chair. If your company can bring in a consultant to help your workspace to become more ergonomic, or if you can afford the consultation yourself, take advantage of this opportunity.
Talk to Your Boss and Co-Workers
If your office mates don't know that you have fibromyalgia, you may want to let them know about it. This certainly depends on the level of your symptoms, but it may be helpful for them to know. You are not looking for pity, certainly, but you are looking for them to understand your needs. During your work day, you may need to take advantage of your high energy and low energy points. This means that you might be more productive at certain times and less productive at others. Stress can also make your fibromyalgia flare, so you'll want people to know that you need ample time to finish assignments. Your work time will be more productive and your co-workers will be more sensitive to you if they know what is going on. You can certainly stress with them that you aren't looking for special treatment, but that you are looking for them to be sensitive and to understand if your work load needs to ebb and slow a bit.
Don't get caught off-guard at work with a sudden flare-up in fibromyalgia symptoms. Consider what you will do if you suddenly have a problem with your symptoms. Consider pain-management techniques such as deep breathing and aromatherapy. Have your medication handy, if you take medication, and have a short speech prepared that you can use with co-workers on a bad day.
Know Your Rights
It's very important to know your rights where you live. Under the American with Disability Act and the Family Medical Leave Act you may be qualified for workplace accommodations and protection against discrimination. Make sure that you know your rights so that you can be protected.
If your present job is simply not going to be able to accommodate your fibromyalgia, or you feel that this isn't the right work environment for you, start to consider transitioning to something else. Perhaps you will be better off working from home with your fibromyalgia. Perhaps there is another type of work that would better accommodate your good days and bad days. Brainstorm with a friend or partner about what your ideal job would look like and start to consider how you could find such a position. Working is certainly important - but so is your health; your goal is to find a position that will take both of these aspects of your life into consideration.