Working again

May 31, 2016

I am grateful for the understanding I received at my new employment when I disclosed about my memory issues related to my concussion.  It felt good to be supported and understood regarding my challenges and a willingness to work with me.  This felt like a rare gift, and gave me courage as I continued on this journey.

I learned a lot about my abilities in the past week.  Unfortunately, after a few hours on my first shift, I got a migraine that remained with me for the day.  My brain couldn’t handle all the stimulation and learning, and went into overload rather quickly.  I love being in an environment with a lot of activity and variety, but may not be something I can handle at this point.  Later in the week, I had a shorter shift, which appeared more doable.

This process, like many in my life, seems to be different than I imagined it would.  Because of the nature of the job, I am working with many different people, and I find myself needing to share more than I had intended to.  Perhaps this is part of my path, where I learn to find the balance and right words to share in each situation.  What I thought I would need, isn’t the way this environment is set up, but yet I am still learning valuable ways of communicating and acceptance, and getting a better understanding of my own abilities.

It is always hard for me to see what it is I am not capable of doing.  Though I can look at the positive side, a part of me still feels flawed, inadequate, and unworthy.  Work is such a significant part of having stability and opportunities, and I haven’t found something that gives me promise that I can have this in my life.  I am competent in many ways, but it doesn’t seem to be enough for the workplace.  My vision mind wants so much more, and the gap between my desires and my abilities is vast.  It doesn’t help when my income isn’t enough to pay expenses, and I feel like I am sinking further into poverty.

As I move forward, I have to hold on to my truth, and trust in time it will come together.  I see things falling into place, and I am doing what I can each day.  I can’t deny the love of people I have around me, and that I am becoming a better person – more kind and humble and present.  I pray that I can discover my abilities, and contribute in a career path, and find a means of being financially stable.  I step at a time.

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A new Day

July 29, 2013

A day of disappointment, yet a day of gratitude.  Another loss in this chapter called life.  My new job seemed to have been going well.  I enjoyed the work, and felt like it was an area I could excel in.  I found my energy level could maintain itself as long as there wasn’t too much stress.  Unfortunately, my coworker who was training me, wasn’t happy with my performance, and when she isn’t happy, then she prevails.  As a result I was let go.

I have found that I have one major gauge when it comes to conflict – is the person willing to communicate and work through the conflict?  Through the years I have met many people, some who were highly moral and some who appeared to be more self protective.  Regardless of their moral outlook, the biggest area where conflict could be resolved was a willingness to be humble and talk through the issues.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the case with my coworker.  As much as I wish to rant and rave, in the end it doesn’t really matter.  I will strive to communicate, and be open-minded.  However I can’t control other people and don’t tolerate regular insults well.

The upswing – I enjoyed my little time reentering the working world.  I love learning new things, love learning about the law, and enjoyed being an advocate for those who are going down the wrong path.  I took pleasure in giving grace to people even when they had made serious mistakes or were caught in the system.  I could be kind and hopefully make their day a little easier by treating them with dignity.  I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses, in spite of literally no positive feedback.  I created my own systems, made changes with my mistakes, worked well with clients, gave it my best effort and tried to be positive.  I didn’t do as well without structure, in some of the details, and with unclear roles and situations.

It is hard not to feel like a failure when things don’t work out.  To some degree I have a clear understanding of my own role, and can protect my own hurt with feelings of anger.  I asked enough questions to seek better clarity, but the more that was spoken, the less that made sense.  I am grateful that I didn’t disclose about my fibromyalgia, as this would have made it even more complicated.  I don’t have to question whether they were using it against me, though she could have known through her LinkedIn search.  The reality is part of it was my doing, part of it is who I am, part of it was the environment, and a great part of it was the people.  I can gain comfort in knowing I tried my best, and sometimes things just don’t work.  May grace be given to me.

The beauty of the struggle is that this is when I like to write.  I have much less to say in the good times – which there has been many.  Somehow I feel more in touch with my soul in the pain than the mundane.  So as much as I prefer to have the glory, perhaps it was all meant to be…..

I


The Next Adventure – I got the job!

April 29, 2013

I can’t believe it – I am almost officially employed.  I received a call a few days ago that I was selected for a part-time job as a legal assistant.  I am looking forward to returning to work, challenging my mind, and meeting new people.  Everything seems like a good fit for me during this time in my life.

Having chronic pain does bring some unique concerns that I would prefer not to have.  I have to consider the office environment, my ability to focus, and whether I should disclose about potential limitations, and ways I may need to adapt.  Unfortunately every job is different, so what worked and didn’t work in my last job may not apply.  Fortunately I am healthier than I have been for years, and am no longer on any medication.  This should make a difference in my stamina.  Hopefully eating right, taking breaks, and drinking some good coffee will help me in the initial intense learning days.

Regardless of my concerns, I can’t help but be excited.  I will hold on to the energy I feel from being with the people I will be working with, and my own interest in the law.  I love learning about the law, and doing research on topics that interest me.  I will keep my support group strong, let go of some of my commitments and forge ahead to this new path.  May the spirit guide me in each step, and help me deal with whatever comes my way.

 


job interview today

April 22, 2013

I had a job interview today for a legal assistant position.  In many ways it was a spur of the moment application, looking through jobs and finding one that seemed interesting.  I have always wanted to be a legal assistant, and this looked like a great fit for me: close by, few areas, and my areas of interest and strengths.  I really enjoyed meeting the attorney and other legal assistant – wow, great people.

When I came home, I wanted the job more.  I love the idea of a new challenge and being able to make some extra money.  Did I mention the people were great?  Very kind and easy to be with.  The job sounds challenging and stimulating.  The interview went well – it lasted a few hours.  I really believe I can do the job (well most of the time).

Then the fear creeps in – should I have disclosed about my chronic pain?  Last time disclosure was a disaster, and ended up being more problematic.  I think it is something better to manage on my own.  Lots of coffee in the early days to help with the fatigue, and move around as needed.  I may have to limit my evening activities.  I felt confident in my decision not to share.

As the evening approaches, I decide to see if they looked me up on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Not sure about facebook, but linkedin shows that someone from a law firm looked at my profile today – oh no, what is on there?  Overall professional, with lots of connection to disability groups and pain groups.  Then I saw the part about fibromyalgia – did they read this?  Oh shit, not what I wanted.  I didn’t want the interview process to be mixed up with the fibromyalgia.  Looks like they may have known before they interviewed me.  The good part is, we still talked for hours.  The challenge is whether they were hoping I would disclose or not.  Since no-one read my chronicpain journals today, I am confident they didn’t read about my disclosure series :).

Well I should know in a few days whether I got the job.  I am feeling sad and fearful.  Sad that I have to worry about this thing called fibromyalgia and fearful that it will be a shadow that follows me every time I step into the light.  I am one of 5 people who were interviewed, and clearly we connected.  I pray that regardless of what they learned, they can be open to seeing my strengths and find who is the best one for the job, whether that is me, or another person they interviewed.  I also pray that I can accept whatever comes my way.  I don’t feel compelled to take the fibromyalgia off of my linked at this point, but might be something I do in the future if I continue to look for work.


“Disability” at Work

July 8, 2012

I am learning a great deal about disability. Though I can classify myself as disabled, I have never thought of myself this way. The term in itself implies limitation and little hope. Synonyms for disability include: disqualification, incompetence, incapability, lack of power or ability. There is even a definition that is specific to work. Random House Dictionary includes a definition of “a physical or mental handicap, esp. one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job”.

In general, I prefer to reflect on the statutory definition of disability. Statutory Definition — With respect to an individual, the term “disability” means

(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;

(B) a record of such an impairment; or

(C) being regarded as having such an impairment.

I like the focus on the impact on activities verses implying that someone with a “disability” can’t live a normal life. I would prefer the word “impairment” be changed to condition, because many “impairments” also come with strengths that may be less measurable. Unfortunately we also fail to note that some of these “impairments” can have less impact on someone’s life activities with simple modifications.

The best way I can describe myself is that I have been regenerated. I believe that my condition has moved me to” re-create, reconstitute, and, make over, esp. in a better form or condition.” The pain I feel in my body brings me a greater awareness of my physical and mental state. Because stress increases my pain level, I am more committed to addressing problems and maintaining a positive attitude. Because I struggle with fatigue, I have made adaptations to my schedule. I have more down time to spend with my family, and constantly evaluate my values and priorities so I can focus on what is most important. As a person I am much more compassionate, humble and understanding of the challenges people with limitations face. I also have learned new survival skills, medical terminology, and assessment techniques.

When I make adaptations to my life, I notice less the negative impact of my physical condition. Because I have extreme pain back and have periodic pain spasms, sitting can be difficult. At home, I encounter the intense pain less, as I sit on my couch to type. During meetings or in the office, I am still searching to find a comfortable working chair and ways to keep this more manageable. When dealing with my fatigue, I find that it is best to tackle the detailed activities during my prime time, as I need to be able to focus. When I feel more tired, it helps to focus more on my natural abilities like talking to people or doing routine tasks.

Because my symptoms are less visible, many people are not aware of my physical challenges. Disclosure is a balance not easily understood. For me it has less to do with rights, and more to do with support and my motivations for disclosure. It is important that I have people around whom I can talk to in both the work and personal environments. In situations where I am doing a task, or have less personal contact it is less significant to fulfilling my role. I choose to live with a degree of potential misunderstanding instead of making my condition part of the equation. I seek to remember that those around me may also have limitations that I am unaware of.

I am grateful that I have had opportunities to explore my vocational interests through volunteer and work experiences. It isn’t easy, and has required a great deal of flexibility and personal growth through some tough challenges. I keep in mind my own values, and keep pressing ahead. It may not always turn out the way I want or expect, yet, it is always enriching if I allow it to be.

References:

Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010.

http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/902cm.html


A letter to an Employer regarding hiring someone with a disability

September 8, 2011

I have written a general letter to an employer considering hiring someone with a disability and/or with chronic pain.  This letter is expressing my ideal work environment and what it is I need and desire from an employer.  Every individual is different, so I can’t generalize to others, yet it can be a great starting point for understanding and thinking about accommodations and support in the work place.  My letter is  addressed  to a potential employer, as this is the beginning of the employment relationship and where the self advocating begins. 

 Dear potential employer,

 Please consider me for employment opportunities in your company.  I have many skills and experiences in which I can contribute to make your company a success.  I also have chronic pain, fatigue and some ADD traits.  Even though my health conditions require some adaptations, they have contributed to making me the strong person I have become.  I am clearer about my priorities and values, I think outside of the box, I know how to work with others, I am persistent, have integrity and can see the silver lining in the most difficult situations. 

Hiring someone with a disability will make you and your company better.  I have met many people with various disabilities when I worked as a vocational consultant, and every one of them has changed me in some way.  I have been inspired by the positive attitude, the ability to overcome obstacles, the self evaluation, the willingness to ask for help, and the humbleness of many.   I have learned to be clearer in my statements, to slow down, to change my perceptions about certain disabilities, to ask others if they want my help (not assume they do), and to listen so I can receive a clearer picture of their life.   I have also seen how difficult it can be for some people to find a sense of value and worth in the middle of such difficulty, and how many doors were shut down because they didn’t fit into our expectations of “normal”. 

The structure you set up that will be effective in drawing out my strengths, will also contribute to greater relationships with others.  Writing out instructions is helpful for me to be clear on what is needed, and develops procedures in the office.  Regular meeting times helps me feel supported and allows time for constructive feedback.   Working together we can see problems and visions from a different viewpoint making us more creative.   

The greatest thing an employer can do is to learn about the specific individuals needs in regards to their disability.  Asking questions to understand how I am doing and what I need creates a supportive environment.  Because of privacy issues, it can be helpful for the supervisor to ask whether I  would like to talk about the impact of my disability in the work place and if I wish to be the one to bring it up or to set up meetings periodically to discuss this.  Many employers believe they are being supportive by treating them like everyone else, or ignoring the issue.  However, for some individuals this can feel like the elephant in the room, and problems may not be addressed in their early stages.  Though the responsibility does fall on the employee, it can be difficult for someone with a disability to be assertive about their needs for fear of losing their job, discrimination and/or rejection. 

For some disabilities it may be helpful to have discussions about it with the staff.  If the employee is interested, they can provide information to other co-workers about their condition and how it impacts them.  If such disclosure is public it is imperative that the employee chooses this option, and follow up support is available.  This can be a good option for the more visible disabilities or where the accommodations are apparent to everyone.  In an ideal world disclosures about all disabilities would be treated with compassion.  This is generally not the case, especially with mental limitations, and could become problematic for the employee in his/her relationships with others. 

Making accommodations for an employee may feel burdensome.  It can be difficult to schedule time to make changes in the work place and to have discussions with your employee.  If the individual seems demanding or there are personality clashes, it can be challenging to sort through what is needed in the situation.  An employee may not even understand clearly what they need in the work place, because the type of work and environment can be different than anything they have experienced.  Often being around someone with a disability can trigger emotional reactions with co-workers and employers that are uncomfortable.  The powerlessness in the situation goes against our nature to fix things, we may feel like they are getting special privileges, and we may have had negative experiences in the past that effect our current assessment.  Processing through your own biases is crucial to a healthy environment. 

Learning how to find your own support is vital if you find yourself reacting to the employee and if you start making decisions that go against the values and strategic plan of your work place. 

Communication and support are the keys to any healthy work environment.  If we have regular times to discuss issues then the remainder of the time can be focused on production and fulfilling company goals.  There are many resources available to learn about the local laws, accommodations, and services for those with disabilities.  Some disabilities can receive job coaching, through state or local programs and employers can receive training and guidance on particular disabilities.  Being proactive will give a greater likelihood of success.  However, just because one experience wasn’t successful it doesn’t mean the next one won’t be.  With an open mind, you will be amazed at the lessons you will be taught, and the inspiration you gain from watching someone with significant barriers succeed in their job duties. 

 Thank you for considering me and others with disabilities for employment. 


Disclosing a disability at work – part 3

July 7, 2011

Disclosure at work can be a difficult decision even in the best of circumstances.  Will it hurt my chances of advancement?  Will it give me protection for the accommodations I need?  Will it help others to know about my pain and fatigue?  Though I wish that honesty really was the best policy, when it comes to disclosure privacy may be the best option. 

Many questions are helpful to ask when making the initial decision.  Will I be able to complete the essential functions of the job without some accommodations?  What am I looking for and is disclosure the process to get me there?  I consider the risk associated with sharing particular facts and feelings regarding my “disability”.  How would I handle insensitive comments, silence and/or ignorance in the workplace?  Am I able to receive the support that they offer me?  When would be the best time to share and what specifically do I need them to know in order to succeed at my job?  It can also be helpful to know a little about who you are disclosing to, as reactions are usually about their own experiences and circumstances, and less about your particular situation. The answers to these questions aren’t stagnant, they will vary depending upon my health, the duties assigned, my co-workers and other life circumstances. 

Trust and effective communication are essential in the disclosure process with supervisors.  If I am unable to articulate my pain and my needs, it is impossible for them to grasp its impact.  Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible.  When I first returned to work, I wasn’t really clear about my needs in a work environment, because it wasn’t an experience I had encountered yet in my illness.  This lack of clarity, made my situation more complicated and created increased frustration.  I am much more persistent when I trust someone and more willing to ask for feedback and verify the meaning of key statements.   Without trust, it is difficult for me to feel safe especially when dealing with people in authority.  Generally specific request are granted, where emotional support is less defined.  However, emotional and practical support from a supervisor can make all the difference in the disclosure process. 

The ADA provides protection for disclosures but can create fear with supervisors regarding potential law suits.  I have found understanding the ADA is helpful in knowing my rights, as well as learning the language of the law.  However, an argument with an employer about rights rarely results in a positive work environment.  If disclosure is necessary (or apparent) it can be helpful to be clear about the specific request and why this is necessary for you to perform the essential functions of the job.  The JAN Network is a helpful resource to learn more about the ADA and accommodations for specific disabilities.  Being respectful, kind, clear and persistent will be aide in reducing the fears of the employer.  Most requests are best done in person with a follow up e-mail, but this may not be necessary for simple request and/or if the relationship with the supervisor is strong.  If an employer refuses or makes excuses it is important to keep accurate documentations in case further action is needed and/or desired. 

The issues with disclosure are numerous and can’t be completely communicated in a simple blog.  The most important thing about disclosure is regardless of the reaction of others at work, you have value in the workplace.  Find supportive people within the work place and/or outside of the workplace to process with whether you choose to disclose or to maintain your privacy.  Don’t give up.  Look for the gold in your relationships, your periods of growth, moments of service, your strengths, and living out your values. 


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