People who live with a chronic illness often fear discovery where they work. Though disability is, in general, a protected status at your place of employment, it can and does still happen. Some medical conditions may be easier to ‘hide,’ while others are more obvious. The first thing to remember is that you aren’t required to disclose your chronic illness just to satisfy someone else’s curiosity. You also can often work with human resources directly if you feel uncomfortable approaching your direct superior or boss. If you do feel that talking to coworkers would improve your time at work, here are a few pointers for approaching the conversation.
Know Your Rights
It’s important to start from a place where you feel protected. Check out your company’s anti-discrimination policies so that you know you’re coming from a place where people will have your back. It’s unfortunately not unheard of for less understanding people to assume you’re trying to use your chronic illness as an ‘excuse.’ Simply knowing your position isn’t a vulnerable one is vital to a positive outcome.
If you’re going to be asking for any changes in expectations or tasks at work, make sure you have concrete solutions going in. This can be ways you can contribute to team projects that fit within your capabilities, contingency plans for when you might need a break or alternative ways to get to the same outcome. Whether you’re speaking with a manager or a teammate, this can help pave a way forward that makes both of you comfortable instead of having them guess at what your personal boundaries may be.
Valuing Work Friends
Let’s face it, we spend a large portion of our lives at our jobs. Chances are good that you’ve made some pretty good friends while you’re there, too. It can feel draining trying to hide a chronic illness with fatigue symptoms, such as fibromyalgia or Lyme disease. If you’re constantly trying to keep up with after-work happy hours or weekend excursions, you might also find yourself canceling more often than not. If you’re going to be sharing about your chronic illness with work friends, be ready to explain a bit about your symptoms and how they affect you. Again, you don’t have to satisfy the merely curious, but friends are often simply trying to figure out the best ways to help you along on your shared journey.
If you’ve decided to talk to your coworkers about your chronic illness, just know that sharing can truly strengthen a working relationship just like any other.