(Names and details have been altered to protect the privacy of my clients.)
Judy is in her 3rd “flare” of Hashimoto’s disease in 5 years and on short term disability leave. In our first conversation, Judy told me that she was torn between worrying about losing her job and the desire to quit.
This isn’t a newly hired “20 something” with few skills. She’s a successful senior health care executive with a proven track record at the same company for 20 years. You wouldn’t think she would worry about losing her job because she’s sick. Or that she’d want to leave because she has periodic times of debilitating illness. But both are true.
After Judy did some “self observing” exercises, she realized that it’s not the symptoms that make working so difficult. It’s how others respond and the need to keep explaining. She wonders about the comments that seem to imply she’s a slacker. She gets angry thinking about those who ask how she is and look away when she tells the truth — or those who don’t respond when she says she’s not feeling well. There are those who ask too many questions and give advice when all she wants to do is work. And others who drip with empathy. Finally, she’s amazed how often people seem to forget that she’s ill and keep piling on the work when she’s said that this a bad time for her.
In the more than ten years of working as a chronic illness career coach, the concerns of talking about illness at work continues to stay at the top of the charts. I’ve found that it’s the on-going conversation that is most challenging when you live with illness. Even if you disclose with “positive” results and get what you need without losing your job, illness isn’t predictable nor does it stay the same. This means you have to keep talking about it. Are You Talking, part of my Career Thrive Guidebook Series, offers tips and strategies to help you with this.
In the final analysis, even those with the best of intentions often don’t “get it right”. That’s because, as another client said recently, “Living with chronic illness is living with a moving target”. That means that we’re often as clueless as anyone about what we need.
How is it going for you?