Fibromyalgia & Workplace Accommodations

I am not certain what inspired me to google “work accommodations for fibromyalgia.” After all, my supervisors have been very understanding and supportive as I have struggled, had doctor’s appointments, missed days, had more doctors’ appointments, and ultimately started sobbing in a meeting with them in which I announced that I couldn’t manage it anymore and had to go on part-time FMLA—where my schedule became even nuttier.

Through the last year and a half, my supervisors have been accommodating. I asked for a standing desk, and I received one immediately. I unscrewed the florescent lights over my work station. My job has incredibly flexible hours, so I can schedule appointments during the work day. I can call my doctors during work hours. I can work from home. I can make-up hours over the weekend if needed. Coworkers have asked repeatedly how I’m doing, and many have let me know that if I ever need to talk, that they have an ear or two to lend. I am so, so lucky.

And yet, I still googled “work accommodations for fibromyalgia.” My return to work at 32 hours was difficult, even though I had been slowly and incrementally increasing my hours under FMLA. It was and is exhausting to work 32 hours. Then I started my graduate Latin class, which I love, and the fatigue increased another level. Further, the difference between a good and bad day is stark, and I never know which way that pendulum is going to swing. I value reliability in myself and in others, so my unreliability day to day is another thing that I have to manage in my workload and classwork.

When I started reading the list of possible workplace accommodations, I was both surprised and not surprised by how many I had already received. Fibromyalgia can affect people in vastly different ways, so some accommodations, such as providing close parking when I bicycle or walk to work most days, are unnecessary. Others, though, like a flexible schedule and the ability to work from home are very much in demand. I did, however, have to laugh at the suggestion to “reduce job stress.” If only! I printed off the list and discussed it with my supervisor who took notes, offered encouragement, and set up meetings with the people I had to talk to (because she’s genuinely amazing).

As we begin the process of moving through official channels with the ADA office on campus, I have been struck by two very different things:

  1. I have a serious enough problem to be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and
  2. my own difficulties pale in comparison to those who have needed the protections of the ADA and lacked the supportive environment that I have been so fortunate to have.

Many individuals fear coming forward with their own difficulties and needs for support due to fear of retaliation where I have been able to be transparent about my needs and have had them validated. Based on the list of accommodations I found and which the university also uses as a resource, other people have needed the protections of the ADA to be able to call a doctor (let alone go to see one!) during work hours. Such a need is inconceivable to me.

I may not be where I had imagined myself in life, but I could not imagine a better team of people to be with.

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