“Do people with chronic health problems have different challenges from those who are healthy in keeping their jobs?” This question came from a journalist who had told me he didn’t personally know anyone with a chronic illness. (Really?)
Not sure where to start, I gave him examples.
Let’s imagine Susie Q. A healthy 30 year old, she woke one morning and was blindsided by an unexpected physical problem. Could be she felt extreme fatigue (the flu). Or maybe it was disabling pain (she’d injured a muscle working out or sprained her ankle ). Susie’s day wasn’t going to be what she’d expected. It might mean she’d miss a key meeting, fail to deliver her quarterly report or not finish the memo her boss was waiting for. Naturally, this would create disappointment and/or a momentary problem. But it’s highly unlikely it would be a game changer for Susie.
A virus or an injury, although unpredictable, are acute problems that resolve and are gone for good. Chronic health problems are also unpredictable. But where the acute health incident is unusual, the chronic problem is frequent. The chronic problem doesn’t ever go away (that’s why it’s chronic). Also chronic symptoms are typically invisible and rarely objective (as in fever or broken leg). They can also be difficult or uncomfortable to describe (try explaining poor bowel control, spastic limbs or pelvic inflammatory disease).
Now, let’s look at Tim, who lives with ankylosing spondilitis. On Monday, Tim was a ’busy beaver’ at work. On Tuesday, he woke with dragging fatigue and pain that creates brain fog. The challenges Tim faces?
- When you feel poorly and that means that you’re not getting something done or don’t show up to work, you not only have to experience the lousy feelings but you also face a tough conversation explaining yourself to others.
- These conversations are particularly difficult because you have to explain your situation to someone who most likely is unfamiliar with this kind of issue and your problem could be an added burden on them.
- Finally, unlike the Flu or recovering from surgery, you can’t reassure anyone this won’t happen again.
The conversations that this requires is something that most of my clients struggle with. For detailed suggestions , check out ”Are You Talking” (Career Thrive Series) . I can’t promise it’s ever easy but it can get smoother.
For many of us, however, the toughest part is what we say to ourselves and how we manage that internal conversation. As a client said to me just yesterday, ”…even if no one questions my absence to my face, I’m constantly worrying about what they’re thinking”. Negative thoughts like these can be very distracting and damaging.
Still wondering about my response to the reporter’s question?
Yes, people with chronic health problems face the same challenges as healthy people. But for us, life’s challenges include an additional layer that requires a carefully honed skill set. People with chronic illness confront this question on a daily basis: Am I able to do this today? If not, what then?
What would you have said to this reporter? Anything to add? Do you agree with me?