Returning to the Working World
For a couple of years now, I have been employed, but working from home: writing about migraine, and coordinating advertising for a local online news journal, both of which I can literally do from my sickbed. Recently while working on the news site, I saw that our county library had sent me a ‘help wanted’ ad. As I was uploading it, I saw that the job they were hiring for was library page, which is not a term I was familiar with. The description said the job entailed shelving books that had been returned, pulling books for other libraries, and shelf reading, with minimal patron involvement. Twenty hours per week.
Ideal job for someone with migraine
I immediately felt interested. Shelving in a library seemed like an ideal job for someone with migraine. Quiet and simple, not dealing with customers, just… shelving books. I love to read and have always dreamed of working at the library, and had never had the opportunity. Honestly, I always thought working there seemed so universally appealing that there would be too much competition for limited positions, and had never applied. I talked to John, and he immediately told me to go for it. I placed the ad and sent the invoice to the library, and in a separate email explained I would also be applying for the job.
Deciding to return to the public workforce
When I resigned from my position with my city’s parks and recreation department in early 2013, I was having nearly daily migraine. I was missing a lot of shifts, and not getting to spend any time with my family, because if I wasn’t at work, I was in bed. After two clinical trials, however, I have been just on the edge of returning to episodic status, and with the girls being older now childcare wouldn’t be as much of an issue. In thinking about getting what I call a “job job” (as opposed to “real” job since I feel my jobs that I do at home are as real as anything), I pictured myself behind the counter at a store downtown, but felt like I wasn’t quite ready to take that leap. When you work customer service like I always have, missing a shift is problematic because someone is required to take your place. With shelving, fewer books might be returned to the floor in a timely fashion, but there wouldn’t need to be someone filling in.
Cue the worrying
I completed the online application. I was honest about why I had left my last job, and stated I felt I was improved enough to work again outside the home. I submitted it, and around two weeks later I was called for an interview. Suddenly everything became much more real. I began to worry a bit. For one thing, I am now far more tattooed than I used to be. I could remove my facial piercings, but it’s become impossible to simply “cover up” all my body art. Several years ago, my city narrowly passed what everyone refers to as “The Ordinances,” which among other things prohibit employers from not hiring someone based on race, gender, sexual orientation / identity, and appearance. Would I be protected by those? Would I seem professional? Should I bring a resume? Most importantly, would the director of the library want to take a chance on someone who had resigned from a position five years ago because of illness?
The day of the interview arrived. I decided to leave my piercings in. I wore a cardigan sweater, but my button down collared shirt revealed the top of my chest piece. Even so I did feel I still looked professional. I didn’t want my interviewers to be distracted by my tattoos, or have their first impressions be about that and not my friendly, personable nature and intelligence. I also didn’t want to completely alter my appearance and then show up for work looking like a walking canvas. (“Surprise!”)
The interview went so well I couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t be hired. There were three people: the director, assistant director, and head of circulation. The director said that when he first moved here and had come to the coffee shop where John and I worked, I had helped him figure out what kind of espresso drink to order, and he said he still orders that same drink to this day. I learned my supervisor from a bookstore where I worked before it closed was also employed at the library, which felt like some kind of good omen. They honestly seemed more concerned that I might be overqualified, or that one of my other jobs might prohibit me from giving the library my full attention, but I assured them that would not be the case, and that I would not be bored. Then they told me eleven people had applied, which had been narrowed to four.
I was very nervous waiting for news. My former supervisor emailed me to say he was excited about possibly working with me again, and I knew he would give me a glowing recommendation. Still, I felt there were a few reasons why I might not get hired, so when the director called to offer me the position I was giddy and relieved. He said he actually hired three of us (they needed pages that badly) but that I had been his first choice. Later that day was when I heard from H, the nurse who had coordinated my clinical trials, about the new acute oral CGRP antagonist study. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, because without the study medication I don’t know if I would be able to pull this off.
Migraine creeping up on day one
On my very first real day, since the first shift had just been paperwork and a tour, I noticed how hot the building felt. I began to experience aura, with pain soon following. Not already, was all I could think. I swallowed medicine, drank water, took a break, but the pain continued to creep up and soon my eyes would no longer focus on the book’s labels and I began to feel nauseated. In the beautiful break room, tears streamed down my cheeks. A woman who works at the reference desk popped in, and she was very sympathetic, which helped, and when she left she said “We are glad to have you.” She said that even though it was my first day and she had discovered me overheated and in pain, weeping.
From doubling doubts to relief
I held on to that thought as I took the elevator back upstairs to tell the very kind person training me that I wasn’t going to make it. He was also very understanding. My direct supervisor had departed for the day, but I sent her a text explaining what had happened. I crawled into bed, devastated. How could I not feel like I’d already failed? I had started the new clinical trial, but I would need to establish a baseline for the entire first month. Would I make it through those thirty days? I didn’t have doubts about the medication’s efficacy, but just surviving until I received the tablets now seemed to be a tall order. Fortunately my supervisor did send back a text that couldn’t have been more perfect, something like “It’s totally fine. See you tomorrow.”
Staying hydrated on day two
I thought I might have to go to the emergency room, but my rescue medications did eventually kick the attack, and despite the postdrome (extreme fatigue, brain fog and dry mouth for me) I showed up for work the next day at 9:00 sharp. We are allowed to keep water on our shelving carts, so I kept myself hydrated and frequently fanned myself with books, thinking I might need to invest in some “moisture wicking” or cooling clothing, and I paced myself so that my heart rate and blood pressure wouldn’t increase.
Adjusting to the new job
I haven’t missed any time since that first day. I did purchase clothing specifically for staying cool, and also ordered a bluetooth earpiece because I learned pages are allowed to listen to books, podcasts or music as long as one ear is always available. I think of the carts as sort of a mobile office and always have my water and phone, and I make sure to take advantage of my fifteen minute break time. My shifts are five days per week, four hours at a time. Having a “job job” has taken some real adjustment on my part; it’s been a huge change for all of us.
Being a library page is surprisingly physical. Pushing and pulling carts, heaving books and videos out of the book drop, stretching and bending to shelve; my body aches every night and I have been struggling with increased migraine attacks, of course. There was no way around that. And twenty hours is kind of a lot. Starting at ten or twelve would have been ideal, but the job was advertised at twenty per week; it was going to be twenty or nothing.
Getting stronger little by little
At least I can say now, five weeks in, that I get a little stronger every day. The first month, I was back to a life where I was either at work, or in bed from exhaustion or pain. But I’m noticing that the fatigue is gradually decreasing, and I’m experiencing more days without migraine attacks. I really believe that in time, the job will cause me to feel significantly better, both physically and emotionally.