Many people with FM continue to work full or part-time. But the chronic pain and debilitation (this is the word that was voted the most popular for the fatigue we feel) associated with FM often make working very difficult. If you are employed, it’s important to learn about managing the symptoms and coping with pain and debilitation.
Can People With Fibromyalgia Work?
By self-managing fibromyalgia pain and controlling daily stress, many people with FM can do almost anything they choose, by making simple modifications to your workplace that allow you to continue working.
What Type of Workplace Changes Can Help Someone With Fibromyalgia?
First, openly discuss your condition with your boss. Talk about the symptoms of pain, fatigue, and stiffness. Explain how you may have good days and bad days.
Explaining will give people at work a better idea of what you are feeling each day. Ask your boss if you can take rest periods on bad days. Or ask if you can take work home if you are feeling fatigued. Ask if you can come in on Saturday if you miss a day of work to make up the lost time and income. In addition, ask if you can put a cot in your office for a brief nap at lunchtime. Taking a midday nap helps many people with fibromyalgia and other chronic health conditions function on the job.
Are There Workplace Modification Guidelines for People With Fibromyalgia?[i]
To address concentration issues, employers should consider:
- providing written job instructions when possible
- prioritizing job assignments and providing more structure
- allowing flexible work hours and allowing a self-paced workload
- allowing periodic rest periods to reorient
- providing memory aids, such as schedulers or organizers
- minimizing distractions
- reducing job stress
To address depression and anxiety, employers should consider:
- reducing distractions in the work environment
- providing to-do lists and written instructions
- reminding the employee of important deadlines and meetings
- allowing time off for counseling
- providing clear expectations of responsibilities and consequences
- providing sensitivity training to coworkers
- allowing breaks to use stress management techniques
- developing strategies to deal with work problems before they arise
- allowing telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for support
- providing information on counseling and employee assistance programs
To address fatigue and weakness, employers should consider:
- reducing or eliminating physical exertion and workplace stress
- scheduling periodic rest breaks away from the workstation
- allowing a flexible work schedule and flexible use of leave time
- allowing the employee to work from home
- implementing ergonomic workstation design
To address migraine headaches, employers should consider:
- providing task lighting
- eliminating fluorescent lighting
- providing air purification devices
- allowing flexible work hours and work from home
- allowing periodic rest breaks
To address issues associated with sleep disorders, employers should consider:
- allowing flexible work hours and frequent breaks
- allowing the employee to work from home
My employer has been very considerate and co-operative in regards to my condition. We have tried different combinations (eg: 3 hours x 3 days per week in the afternoons, working on the weekend when there are no distractions or noise, working late at night when I seem to be less distracted) however none of these have worked on a consistent basis. So far, I cannot see how I can maintain employment with FM.
If you have tried different jobs and are unable to work, you might consider applying for disability. It can be a long and arduous journey, dealing with our Human Services departments and disability may be difficult to get because of rules about work capacity.
Can I Get Disability Because of Fibromyalgia?
In Australia, a person must have an impairment rating of 20 or more (under the impairment tables in the Social Security Act (Cth) 1991) to receive the Disability Pension.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. Therefore, some people with FM will have a disability under the ADA and others will not.
Because fibromyalgia is extremely hard to diagnose and there are no laboratory tests to prove the ailment to a third-party, it’s important that you do your homework before you apply for disability. And remember that you may be denied but, there are avenues to appeal decisions. Be aware of your rights! And check, and double-check, time limits!
How Do I Apply for Disability?
To apply for disability benefits, call your Social Security/Centrelink office. Much of the information may be provided over the phone, by mail, or the Internet. You will be asked specific questions about how you have trouble with daily activities. And you will need to be as specific as you can, describing your limitations and why you cannot work. You will be asked to give the names and addresses of your doctors. The Social Security office will contact each one for records.
What Other Proof Must I Provide for Disability?
Describing your fibromyalgia symptoms alone will not qualify you for Social Security disability. You have to be specific about signs and physical findings related to fibromyalgia and pain and how that impacts your ability to work. The Social Security staff will consider all your symptoms, including pain.
All of this information considered together must lead to a conclusion that you are disabled before you will be granted disability with benefits.
What if I’m not Approved for Disability?
It is common that fibromyalgia patients are not approved for disability, especially with the first application. If you are not approved, you’ll have the right to appeal. Some patients find it necessary to have the help of a lawyer during the appeal process. Although it may increase your costs, the chance your case will be approved is usually better if you have legal counsel.
I have applied (as some of you may know) and was rejected because it was decided that I do not have an impairment rating of 20 or more. As such, I have started the initial phase in the appeal process.
What Type of Documentation Is Needed to Get Disability?
It’s important to get detailed documentation – reports – from your doctors, including psychologists, at the onset of your illness. Have your doctors submit documentation of all prescribed medications, therapies, and lifestyle remedies necessary to resolve your fibromyalgia symptoms. You should also be evaluated by a fibromyalgia specialist, usually a rheumatologist. This doctor will give a detailed assessment of your impairment along with a list of the many tests and treatments used in your condition.
This seemed to be the hardest part so far. My rheumatologist held on to the incomplete report for 8 weeks before Mommy and I camped out in his office and reported him to the Hospital administration. Finally, it took less than 15 minutes for him to complete the required paperwork. Thanks Doc, for all the stress and worry for no reason.
I sent the requested reports (from him and me), copies of all correspondence between my medical team and a cover letter to Centrelink, on Friday. Although I have linked my letter here, I do not know if it will be successful, so if you choose to use parts of it, I cannot guarantee an outcome.
Wish me luck.
[i] These lists come from the U.S. Department of Labour’s Job Accommodation Network. I do not believe that there is an equivalent list in Australia (yet!)