What It's Like Working When You Have Fibromyalgia
You may find yourself asking, “I have fibromyalgia, can I work?”
There is no simple answer to this. Like most chronic illnesses, it depends on how you feel and how the condition affects you. However, I have found ways to manage my fibromyalgia while at work.
I’ve been struggling with fibromyalgia since 2013 but I was only diagnosed late 2016. My arthritis contributed to the late diagnosis as rheumatologists overlooked any symptoms of fibromyalgia – and to be honest, so did I. Once I received my diagnosis and researched the condition, I could relate to all these symptoms: widespread pain, stiffness, fatigue, poor sleep quality, cognitive problems, headaches, irritable bowel, dizziness and depression and anxiety.
Over the past five years, I’ve been working as an employment specialist for a mental health charity and my fibromyalgia rears its ugly head daily while I work. From the minute I wake up, I feel like I haven’t slept a wink after a restless night of sleep. I push myself to get up, get showered, dressed and to get ready for the day ahead. It sounds like I don’t want to go to work when I say that, but I do. I enjoy my job and find it rewarding, so that gives me the push to go. I plan and organize my day and make sure I have micro breaks to stretch my legs, get some air or even just to switch off from it all for a few minutes.
The fibro fog always pays a visit and I write to-do lists, which keeps me on track – apart from the days when I forget what goes on the list! The pain is always there no matter what I’m doing and the micro breaks keep me moving and stops me from seizing up.
I can have this overwhelming wave of feeling hopeless and experience low moods. The anxiety can kick in, taking over my mind and sending me into a downward spiral. At my worst, my depression and anxiety took over and I found it difficult to manage work. It took me a long time to understand that I was burning my body out, focussing completely on work and spending weekends recovering. Last year, I spoke with my employer and took the decision to reduce my hours to part-time and dropped one day per week. At first, I felt a little defeated that I had to reduce my hours but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made.
Having a Wednesday off breaks my week up perfectly and gives me time to rest and recover both mentally and physically. It’s my rest day and there is not expectation for me to do anything else. I need that day. I’ve started to identify triggers that will case flares: stress, alcohol (not when I working), physically pushing myself to do tasks and cold environments. It’s been a slow process and sometimes I can’t avoid flares and must take the time off work.
The most important thing I would say is listen to your body. You know what you can and can’t do, so don’t push it. Disclose your condition to your employer, take micro breaks, write to-do lists, do part-time hours, identify triggers and have that rest day.
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