Can You Work with Fibromyalgia?

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Written By The Bimblers

Rob and Bridget - The Bimblers are two of the UK's most influential chronic illness and accessible travel bloggers. They live by the mantra Life is an adventure; let's make it accessible.

Can you work with Fibromyalgia?

The answer is yes, you can work with Fibromyalgia, but you might have to change how you work or, in the worst case, change your job.

I’d already given up work to become a full-time carer when I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and I doubt I’d be able to continue working in the same job now.

It wasn’t a physical job, but it involved travelling and moving around, so it took its toll on me.

Hence why I now work from home.

In this post, I want to talk about the impact Fibromyalgia has on being able to work, including examples of how Fibromyalgia can impact different types of jobs and strategies for discussing Fibromyalgia with your employer and colleagues. 

I’ll also offer tips for managing symptoms at work and explain the importance of self-advocacy. 

Let’s recap what Fibromyalgia is and what the main symptoms are.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles, joints and tendons. 

Symptoms also include fatigue, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. 

The cause of Fibromyalgia isn’t known, but its thought to be related to the abnormal processing of pain signals in the brain. 

There is no cure for Fibromyalgia, but treatment can help you manage your symptoms.

Can Fibromyalgia Affect Your Performance at Work?

Fibromyalgia can significantly affect your work performance due to the chronic pain, fatigue and cognitive symptoms (Fibro Fog) it can cause. 

Fibro fog makes it challenging to focus and concentrate, causing difficulties in performing duties that require attention to detail, like reading, writing, and working with numbers. 

Fatigue caused by Fibromyalgia can also make it hard to keep a full-time schedule, resulting in reduced working hours, which can impact you financially and stunt your career development.

Fibromyalgia can cause pain, stiffness and weakness in the muscles and joints, making it difficult to perform physical activities at work. 

Typing, standing, and sitting for long periods can be challenging for people working in specific jobs, such as office work or customer service.

Fibromyalgia can also lead to emotional distress, causing depression and anxiety. Poor mental health can make holding down a demanding job difficult.

These symptoms can make work difficult and, in extreme cases, lead to job loss.

Fibromyalgia affects each person differently; symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Each person’s experience of the condition and its impact on work performance will be unique.

Can Fibromyalgia Affect Different Types of Jobs?

Fibromyalgia can impact different types of jobs in various ways; some examples are:

Office jobs: 

Fibromyalgia makes sitting or standing uncomfortable, which can be challenging for people working in office jobs such as customer service, data entry, or computer programming. 

Fibromyalgia fatigue can also make it challenging to maintain focus and concentration, leading to difficulties performing tasks requiring attention to detail, like reading, writing, and working with numbers.

Manual labour jobs: 

Fibromyalgia can cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in the muscles and joints, making it difficult to perform physical tasks like lifting, carrying, or climbing ladders, which can be a challenge for people working in manual jobs like construction, factory work, or parcel delivery.

Service jobs: 

Fibromyalgia can make it difficult to stand for long periods, which can be challenging for people working in service jobs like waiting on, retail, or hairdressing. 

The emotional distress caused by Fibromyalgia can also make it difficult to communicate effectively with customers and colleagues, which can be challenging for people working in service jobs.

Professional jobs: 

Fibromyalgia can cause cognitive symptoms such as “fibro fog”, affecting memory and concentration. 

This makes it difficult to perform tasks that require attention to detail, like reading, writing, and working with numbers, which can be a challenge for people working in professional jobs such as law, medicine, or accountancy.

Fibromyalgia can impact different jobs differently for each person. Some people experience severe symptoms and require more accommodation to perform their job duties.

Accommodations in the Workplace.

It is your right to ask for accommodations or modifications in your workplace. You can ask for adjustments to your work environment to help you do your job.

An employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid you being disadvantaged compared to non-disabled people in the workplace.

Source: UK Government

A word of warning, employment law and disability discrimination are complex topics. I recommend you seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau if you have any doubts.

Examples of accommodations for employees with Fibromyalgia can include:

  • Flexible working to accommodate fatigue and pain.
  • Providing ergonomic equipment such as adjustable chairs, keyboards, and mouse pads.
  • Allowing for frequent short breaks to stretch and move around.
  • Providing a private area for rest.
  • Allowing for the use of assistive technology such as dictation software, voice recognition, and screen readers.
  • Providing training to supervisors and co-workers on how to communicate effectively and sensitively with employees with Fibromyalgia.

What’s available can vary depending on your needs and the specific needs of your job. You and your employer should work together to determine the most appropriate support for you.

Self-advocacy is also essential; you should communicate with your employer about your specific needs and request support in writing. 

You should also be aware of your rights under the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

Tips for Managing Fibromyalgia Symptoms at Work.

Here are some tips for managing symptoms of Fibromyalgia at work:

Prioritise rest: 

Make sure you get enough sleep and take short breaks to rest and stretch during the day.

Exercise: 

Regular exercise can help to reduce pain and improve overall well-being. Consider incorporating low-impact activities such as yoga or swimming into your daily routine.

Ergonomics: 

Use ergonomic equipment, such as adjustable chairs, keyboards, and mouse pads, to reduce stress on your body.

Plan ahead: 

Plan your work schedule to allow for symptoms such as pain and fatigue, and schedule your important tasks during your best time of day.

Communicate: 

Be open and honest with your employer and work colleagues about your condition and any support you need to perform your job effectively.

Take care of yourself: 

Practice self-care, eat a healthy diet, and manage stress levels through relaxation, meditation or therapy.

Medication: 

Take your medicines as your doctor prescribes, but be aware of side effects that could be dangerous at work.

Seek support: 

Join a support group, talk to a counsellor or speak to your doctor about managing your symptoms at work.

We are different, and some of these tips will only work for some of us. 

Working closely with your medical team and employer to find the best strategies to manage your symptoms at work is essential.

Strategies for Communicating with Your Employer and Colleagues.

Here are some strategies for communicating with your employer and colleagues about Fibromyalgia:

Be open and honest: 

Explain to your employer and colleagues what Fibromyalgia is and how it affects you.

Be clear about your needs: 

Be specific about the support you need to perform your job effectively, including adjustments to your work schedule, equipment, or work environment.

Be proactive: 

Offer solutions and suggestions for how to accommodate your needs. Show your employer and colleagues that you are taking an active role in managing your condition.

Keep your employer informed: 

If your symptoms change or you need additional help, let your employer know as soon as possible (in writing).

Seek support: 

If you feel uncomfortable talking to your employer or colleagues, seek the assistance of a union rep or employment adviser.

Be prepared: 

It’s essential to be prepared for any questions or concerns your employer or colleagues may have. Be ready to provide information and resources about Fibromyalgia and its symptoms.

Be professional: 

Remember to approach the conversation professionally and respectfully and to maintain a positive attitude.

Respect boundaries: 

Remember that some people may want to avoid discussing the subject, and respecting their boundaries is important.

Remember that communication is a two-way street and that your employer and colleagues may have questions about how to support you. Open and honest conversations can help create a positive and understanding work environment.

Should You Self-Advocate?

Self-advocacy is the process of taking an active role in managing your health, including communicating with healthcare professionals, employers and colleagues at work. 

It is an important aspect of managing Fibromyalgia because it allows you to control your care and communicate your needs effectively.

Here are some reasons why self-advocacy matters to individuals living with Fibromyalgia:

Improved communication: 

You can better communicate your needs and concerns by actively participating in your care.

Better care: 

By actively participating in your care, you can work with healthcare professionals to develop a care plan tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Improved quality of life: 

You can improve your overall well-being by actively participating in your care, such as seeking support, making lifestyle changes, and managing symptoms.

Greater independence: 

By being an active participant in your care, you can take steps to maintain your independence.

Empowerment

Self-advocacy can empower you to take control of your health and make informed decisions about your care.

Self-advocacy is a continuous process, a skill that can be developed and improved over time. 

When you’re living with Fibromyalgia, seek support, educate yourself and work closely with your healthcare team, employers and workmates to achieve the best outcomes.

What Did We Learn – Can You Work with Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia can significantly affect your performance at work due to the chronic pain, fatigue, and fibro fog it causes. 

However, with the proper support and strategies in place, even with Fibromyalgia, you can successfully continue working. 

Employers can also play a crucial role by providing accommodations, understanding and support. 

The best approach will vary from person to person. But self-advocacy, working closely with your medical team, and communicating with your employer can significantly improve conditions in your workplace.

Fibromyalgia Stories

Useful Resources

Equality Act 2010 – How it Might Affect You

Image Credit: Firmbee

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