I like featuring Guest Posts because it offers more perspectives on this subject that’s dear to all our hearts.
This blog post is from Carla and I appreciate that she is sharing this with us all.
Example of having a conversation with a coworker while out to lunch:
Coworker: Why aren’t you eating your fries?
Me: Oh, I’m on a diet.
Coworker: But you aren’t fat at all.
Me: It is a diet for my health. I have an auto-immune condition called colitis. So I have learned all about ways to eat that make me stay healthy (smiles).
Me: (smiling) Have you ever been on any diets before?
Coworker: No, not really. But my aunt who is a lawyer has diabetes. She takes her insulin with her to work and watches what she eats.
Have you ever had a conversation like that one? I am in my late 20’s and I have had ulcerative colitis for about 20 years so living with a chronic illness has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I spent about 15 years being uncomfortable talking about illness and making up stories to hide why I was on a special diet. I spent all those years feeling nervous every time I asked for accommodations at school and wondering if I really deserved them, then hiding a lot about my personal life at work for fear that someone would find out. I finally just got sick of it, and decided that if my health bothered someone then it was more their problem than mine.
That attitude shift has had a profound effect on the way other people view me and my professional competence. I still get uneasy glances and stuttering responses sometimes when I tell someone about the colitis, but it usually only takes around 30 seconds before they begin to mirror my tone of voice. Most people don’t know how they are supposed to talk about a chronic illness so I have made it my job to show them how. I have learned to ride out that awkward pause and smile.
Granted, I still come across intolerance and bias but not as often as I used to.
I have recently finished my last year of pharmacy school, which involves working in small time blocks at a lot of different locations. I thought this would be a great time to practice telling people I work with that I have a chronic illness without the threat of being fired for it.
In a few cases, I told the boss directly in the first couple of days, in the context of asking to switch a weekday for a weekend day in order to attend a doctor’s appointment. In another case, I waited until something came up (many people sharing one bathroom key for a multiple stall bathroom) before speaking to the boss about it. Since I worked in pharmacies, in a few additional cases the topic just came up in the course of our work. The response I got back was stories about themselves or their family members who either overcame a struggle with illness or were still struggling. This was sometimes followed up by questions about what strategies I have used to be successful living with an illness.
The things that seemed to work best were:
- Tell the boss or a coworker one on one in a setting where time is already set aside for a private talk.
- Be confident and maintain a calm and confident tone of voice no matter how uncomfortable they may look at first.
- Frame it in a way that shows you are already finding ways to get around any obstacles you have in order to achieve excellence. For example, I was expected to participate in a charity walk outside of work on one occasion, but was not up for it. Instead of asking not to participate in the walk, I came up with the idea to volunteer at the registration desk instead.
- When asked for more specific information about your illness, there is no need to start talking to someone at work about your GI tract. Just direct them to a website like CCFA or the Mayo Clinic database and assure them that it hasn’t gotten in the way of your work before and it won’t get in the way now.
If you work at a company where everyone around you is totally intolerant, then I don’t have any good advice. I have made it my mission to avoid places like that at all costs. The last thing I need is more stress in my life.
Carla describes herself as a Pharmacist and advocate of food as medicine. Her blog is: http://selfhealthdetermination.blogspot.com/