Do you still remember the dreaded multi-day employee orientation the last time you started a new job? Most of us have been there – stuck in a dark conference room with other newbies walking through policy after policy related to our new workplace, wondering who on earth didn’t already know that running through the halls naked was cause for termination!
Inevitably, the topic of drugs in the workplace always comes up, with a barrage of rules that make one thing clear: drugs at work are a HUGE no-no.
But for those living with multiple sclerosis, the old adage of saying no to drugs (at least in the workplace) might not be possible. And yes, we can legally take drugs at work – just not the kind that will make us be the first person to actually run through the halls naked!
So how do you do it? In the daily myriad of MS workarounds, managing multiple sclerosis in the workplace can be one of the more stressful. As if fatigue, brain fog and other erratic and unpredictable symptoms aren’t enough, throw in MS medications and it can be enough to make even the most tightly buttoned up professional blow their cover!
So when it comes to MS meds at work, who do we tell, when do we tell them, and how do we keep our cool while keeping our MS in check?
To Disclose or Not to Disclose
Are the medications you need to manage symptoms of MS really your company’s business? Surprisingly in some cases, they may be. If your job involves driving, operating heavy machinery, or any other situation where any slight impairment could be potentially hazardous, then failure to disclose medications could be cause for termination.
Not the case for you? Just because you don’t have to disclose your MS meds doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t. In fact in some cases, finding an advocate within the company who knows what you’re going through can be hugely helpful. Does your treatment schedule mean that you’ll be taking your meds during the workday? Does doing so require a change in your work routine? If your medications impact your work schedule, it might make sense to have someone in the office that understands your unique needs and can support you.
While most people might dread conversations with human resources, this is one of those instances where they can be your best friend! In most companies, HR staff are required to keep conversations about things like medications confidential, meaning you can talk to your HR contact about your meds, get advice and support and never have to worry about it impacting your bosses’ and co-workers’ opinions of you and the job you do.
Whether someone at work makes them for you, or you make them yourself, there are plenty of accommodations to be had at work that can make taking your meds as seamless as possible.
Does your medication need to be refrigerated? It can be embarrassing and quite frankly, pretty exposing, to have to put your meds in the office fridge alongside everyone’s lunch. Some companies might be willing to get you a small fridge for your office or workstation so you can store your meds privately. It can’t hurt to ask, right?
Are you on an injection therapy? Sticking a needle into your body while your co-workers are nearby can be both embarrassing and likely the cause of some pretty intense office-wide gossip. Most workplaces will set aside a space for you to have some privacy. Does your office have a wellness room? What about a room for nursing mothers? These spaces are often at the full disposal of all employees, and can be a good retreat if you need a little time alone without the watchful eye of your cube-mates.
Storing your meds at work can necessitate some creativity as well. Aside from the refrigeration issue, some medicines may have high street value and could lead to unfortunate cases of theft. Does your work desk have a drawer that locks? If not, how about talking to your office manager about areas within the building that have locks, such as supply closets, file cabinets, etc. They might be able to set aside some space for you to store your medicine so you don’t have to carry it back and forth with you every day.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Despite the numerous challenges of taking medicine at work, I will leave you with one final angle to consider. According to the World Health Organization, patients not taking the medicines they’re prescribed can actually be a bigger problem than the lack of treatments for most major diseases.
Taking medications to better manage symptoms or to improve your quality of life is not something to be ashamed of. Again, there are millions of people doing it every day. Not taking your medication out of a fear of someone knowing, or concerns about how other people might treat or perceive you could compromise your well-being. When you really think about it, the most important thing is that you are doing all that you can to feel your best, and protect your productivity at work. How you do that, and what it requires is really nobody’s business, unless YOU decide you want it to be.