After my career had been sidelined by fibromyalgia for more than a year, I began to consider ways I might be useful outside of the workforce. I naively believed that even though full-time employment was impossible, I easily could volunteer for a few hours a week. It didn’t take long to discover how wrong I was. Donating my skills and experience was much more difficult than I thought it would be.
Although my assistance was welcomed wherever I went, there always was a time commitment required. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that schedules are mandatory for any functioning organization — including all of the nonprofits I approached. I carefully explained to each volunteer director about fibromyalgia’s good days and bad days and not knowing in advance when either might occur. Each director said they would understand if I wasn’t able to come in when expected. However, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to promise something I was doubtful I could do. I agreed instead to come in when I was able. The result of my unreliability was being assigned menial, boring tasks. These jobs were unfulfilling and provided little motivation for me to return. I bounced from one volunteer position to another.
Then I remembered the local hospice founder who once spoke at my church. In addition to asking for funding, she had begged for volunteers. I wondered at that time what kind of person could do that kind of work. How difficult it must be to work at a place where patients didn’t recover! Although I admired people who could do it, l lacked the courage to do such a thing.
But my life had changed in drastic ways since that first introduction to Francis House. My husband had died very suddenly. Fibromyalgia had ended my career. My only child now lived in a city five hours away. Given the personal losses I’d experienced, working at a hospice sounded a lot less daunting. When I learned about an orientation for new volunteers, I decided to attend.
That decision changed my life. This organization was grateful to have me, no matter how undependable I was. They were accustomed to volunteers with physical challenges. After attending a lengthy training program, I agreed to work a four-hour weekly shift and added my name to the substitute list. I occasionally filled in for a person who couldn’t get there as planned, so I felt no guilt when asking someone to do the same for me.
Part of what made working there so special was the kindness of other volunteers who were willing to do this kind of work. Every day was different. Yes, some were sad, but most were joyful. Any resident’s simplest wish was cause for celebration. And celebrate we did! There were always cupcakes baking, hugs shared, songs sung.
Far from being morbid or depressing, the atmosphere there was peaceful and uplifting. Working there was the most gratifying experience of my life. The privilege of helping people make their final days the best days they could be is a gift I will treasure always.
So, here’s my advice if you’re considering volunteering. Be creative. Don’t limit yourself to places your talent or experience has taken you in the past. Consider new situations, things you’ve never done, things you’ve dreamed of doing. Don’t be afraid to take that first step. And don’t be discouraged if your first attempt isn’t successful. Consider it an opportunity to try something else. There is no shortage of places that need your help.
Be sure to be honest about your limitations. Any organization that’s worthy of your support will find ways to accommodate what you can do for them. And you’ll be amazed at how good you’ll feel about yourself for being a fibromyalgia volunteer.
Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.