Employment | Working with Fibromyalgia

https://www.instagram.com/chloesmartprint/?igshid=51sci1pq8sov

Hey everyone! As circumstances around the world due to the global pandemic are returning back to normal and shops, schools, nurseries, offices, restaurants, salons, bars and other places of work are reopening. This means most of us are returning back to work or looking for a job if we are able to work, so I wanted to share my experience with employment with you. My aim for writing this post is to give an insight to fibro fighters, employers, managers and colleagues to show that it is possible to find a job you love that is right for you, and a manager that will give you the support you need and what is within your rights. Having said this not everyone with Fibromyalgia can work which is completely understandable as I highlight continuously that every individuals journey with Fibromyalgia is different. This is to also help educate employers and colleagues on what they can do as well as what they shouldn’t say or do when employing or working with an individual with an illness like Fibromyalgia. Applying or starting a new job can feel daunting for many of us (something I have recently done), however having an invisible illness or any illness or disability for a matter of fact amplifies that feeling by one hundred. It takes so much courage for us to put ourselves out there and be ready to take on the responsibilities of having a job but in no way should this lessen our chances. 

Before I begin to take you on my journey of my employment, I really want to stress to everyone reading this that every single person’s Fibromyalgia is different, so it is wrong and impossible for anyone to compare one another’s pain and journey. I have been fortunate enough to find the strength and determination within myself to work for the last 4 years, only in recent months taking a break from employment and I can say with honesty that my journey with work has been far from easy, I have faced a whole load of obstacles in every one of my jobs I’ve had. I have worked for four different employers some being more understanding than others. It is so important to find an employer or manager who you can feel comfortable confiding in, can be honest with about your abilities and who supports you like they would any employer. I have been lucky enough to have 3 empathetic, supportive, understanding and fair employers/managers and this came from two of the organisations I have worked with one of which I am going to talk about. 

I started working at a nursery as bank staff in the summer before I started my second year of university in 2017 and continued to work with the same nursery up until I was a graduate at the end of 2019. In the summer I was doing up to 3 or 4 days a week, but as bank staff I was able to do a minimum of two days on my bad weeks of my fibromyalgia flaring which is why bank staff or part time has always been the best option for me. I was always so grateful for the position of being a bank staff member as it allowed me to also work once or twice a week whilst I was studying, as well as do my work experience for my degree in a setting where my needs had already been known and met. In September 2019 was when I took more of a permanent position in the setting and was employed as a baby room member of staff but part-time, working 3 days a week with four key children. Both my manager and I had discussed this in depth listing the pros and cons and the challenges that I may face. Being able to be honest and comfortable enough to talk to your manager and work colleagues about your health and abilities is so important, because without communication compromises on both ends, support from both ends and an understanding from both ends would not be possible. I also had the most supportive work colleagues who understood me and loved me for who I was for the years I was at this workplace. To me I valued them so much they were more than colleagues to me, I counted them as my close friends.  

Unfortunately, there were stressors in my life which became more frequent and distributive to my everyday day life. This resulted in my fibro flares occurring more often and more painful and it started to interfere more with my work ethic. I was beginning to call in sick, sometimes once a week and occasionally maybe more which I am not ashamed to admit. It was not ideal for the profession I was in. Working in a nursery you have full long days which require you to be on your feet a lot of the time and it is fairly physically demanding. I had an amazing 3 years at this nursery, and I wouldn’t change a lot of it, however how I reacted to certain situations due to my anxiety as well as being a very emotional person is the only thing I do regret. I’ve learnt that Fibromyalgia and anxiety is very complex for those not going through it to understand and it is up to us to handle those situations. It was of my own decision to leave that nursery for the benefit of myself as well as the nursery and the babyroom team and children I was working with. I am grateful for all the valuable lessons my colleagues and managers have taught me and the experiences I went through as it has made me stronger and the person I am today. 

To give you all a perspective from an employer and manager who has had an employee with Fibromyalgia I got in contact with my previous manager from this nursery who was willing to be a part of sharing my story on this topic. I asked her to answer a couple of questions which she has done with honesty to whom I am so grateful for and I hope this helps some of you employers as well as those applying for job to gain some knowledge and confidence when employing someone with and illness and also those of you who are able to work. 

Katrina: Did you know about Fibromyalgia before I was an employee?

Employer: I did not know about Fibromyalgia before you were an employee, I had the name but didn’t know more

Katrina: How did you find accommodating your workplace to someone with Fibromyalgia?

Employer: I did not really have to change the workplace but did have to look at how some practices were carried out. As you had worked for us for some time while doing your degree, I was very keen to employ you. Fortunately, you were honest about your condition which enabled me to look at how we could accommodate you. This involved providing you with part time hours so that you could still work, and we could still benefit from your skills.

Katrina: What was your biggest concern? 

My biggest concern was around whether you would be reliable, through no fault of your own it was likely you would take time off. This would impact on your key children however fortunately the other staff in the room were able to cover the children’s observations in your absence.

Katrina: As you were an amazing support to me, what advice would you give to other employers and managers when employing someone with a condition like Fibromyalgia?

Employer: My advice to other managers would be to give someone with the condition a chance. Look at how you can make changes to accommodate them i.e. part time hours. Regular supervision is important or even just 1-1 check in’s every so often to ensure both employee and manager are happy. A risk assessment is important to ensure safety of all.

Katrina: What was it that made you keep me as an employee, accommodate my needs and offer alternatives and solutions to support my employment? 

Employer: I wanted to support you to work for us because you were motivated and has shown commitment to your degree in Early Education and I felt you should be given a chance and not be discriminated against. You had always shown a willingness to work, to develop your practice and I did not want the Fibromyalgia to be a barrier to your career progression and my opportunity to employee you.

I have learnt that as much as I loved working as a Nursery Practitioner, the long hours, the physicality of it and the environment was not right for me due to my Fibromyalgia and I have accepted that that is okay! Every cloud has a silver lining as I have now landed myself a new opportunity to put my degree to use and work within the field of Early Childhood Education. I applied for a job in a primary school as a Teaching Assistant and got an interview! The interview was last week and as nervous as I was, I went in with confidence, spoke with honesty and did not hide my Fibromyalgia. I really wanted this job and all my hard work paid off as three hours later I got a call and was offered the job! Never underestimate your abilities, doubt yourself, or put yourself below others because you have a medical condition. Believe in yourself and always give it a go!  I can’t wait to begin this new journey and share it with you all in the future!

Illustration by Chloe Smart: 

https://www.instagram.com/chloesmartprint/?igshid=51sci1pq8sov

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