Me Before You? Being a millennial can be beneficial at times – we are all about pushing to create our best version of reality, and we do so by advocating for ourselves constantly. But making an effort to put myself first is not something I have always instinctively done (surprising, I know). Since I am an attorney, female, and someone with a chronic illness, I feel a particular need to prove myself, work harder, climb the ladder, etc, etc. However, 2017 has proven to me that this mindset is just not my reality or how I will be successful. When I finally decided to accept this reality, I promised myself that I would start putting my personal health before everything else. The first, and arguably most difficult stop on the way to self care was attempting to manage my stress level and curb my anxiety.
This week in the life of me: I celebrated my one year anniversary at work, the first full-time permanent job I have held since graduating. The year prior I worked on a few different projects with a legal consulting firm while studying for the bar, and before that I worked a variety of different jobs throughout undergrad and graduate school, so I have never held a real schedule for more than a few months. Once I started working at my current position, I realized that establishing a schedule can be difficult (as it is for anyone in their mid-20s), but my condition was not going to make the traditional schedule easy in any regard.
I always knew Crohn’s would present me with new challenges, but this was one I wasn’t quite ready to start navigating through. For a long time I haven’t wanted to be treated differently, like some special scenario needs to be made for me, so I haven’t shared anything about my health. Call me stubborn. However, I finally realized that a special accommodation is exactly what I need sometimes, because I just can’t make the 8a – 5p schedule in the office everyday without it taking a serious toll on my health. I then researched workplace accommodations that will allow someone like me to continue working while also keeping my individual needs in check. I was happy to find this information so accessible and relieved that there were resources to back up what I needed to discuss with my employer.
But actually having the meeting to talk to my employer about making necessary Crohn’s accommodations? Too uncomfortable, too scary, all signs pointed to no. But you know what was even more uncomfortable? Literally speed walking to the bathroom in a suit, passing my coworkers acting like I didn’t hear them call my name to ask me a question, trying to pretend I didn’t just spend 30 minutes straight in the same place for the 4th time that day, that the emergency bag of meds I bring with me is just for a toothbrush or makeup instead of foam suppositories to stop the bleeding, Prednisone, Tylenol, and everything in between, and lastly pretending I wasn’t losing blood at an alarming rate that left my face white and body physically exhausted while it tries to sustain itself.
Do You Have a Minute to Talk …
So I did it. I won’t lie, it was awkward at first, but it worked out for the best! I am now able to work from home when I am experiencing a flare, which not only improved my relationship with direct boss (because I seemed less flakey) but also management. They were more than willing to accommodate my needs and when I don’t feel well, I communicate with them about that and log onto my work site remotely. While my job is not traditionally work-from-home-friendly, they have made it work for me and depending on your profession, your employer should too.
How to Tell Your Employer You Have Crohn’s
- Don’t Sell Yourself Short, but also Don’t be Dramatic – Every situation is different and some warrant more explanation than others. Just make sure you get the accommodation you need, don’t feel bad for asking for more. At the same time, make sure you are doing the autoimmune community proud by adequately portraying our struggles.
- Give Resources – Prior to any meetings, send your employer some material regarding your condition and how they can handle it in the workplace without singling you out or making you uncomfortable. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has some great resources on this that I provided to my employer, found here.
- You Don’t Need to Overshare If You’re Not Comfortable – I used to overshare because I feared people wouldn’t believe me, but it is really not necessary and could violate some HR rules. The condition is real and unless someone else knows personally what it is like, you will end up explaining more than you need to. If you feel uncomfortable with your employer asking specifics, make it known that asking can go against the protections provided by the ADA, and have your chat with HR instead.
- You are Protected by Certain Laws – There are a few laws that protect us chronic illness warriors, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The Americans with Disabilities Act: The ADA protects individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against in all areas of public life. Disability is considered ‘the substantially limited performance of a major life activity’. Crohn’s can be physically limiting in a number of ways and thus qualifies under ADA, but you should know there are a few caveats. You must be a qualified individual – meaning you are able to perform your job with or without these accommodations and the requests must be reasonable. These reasonable requests you can make include:
- Moving your personal workspace closer to a restroom;
- Altering your hours of work, within reason;
- Requesting a temporary remote access or work from home accommodation for when a flare is occurring. The key part of that is ‘when the flare is occurring’ – don’t be communicating you are working from home just to sleep in or do other things. When I am working from home, I am sure to be as responsive as possible.
Though attempting to work full-time while dealing with a Crohn’s flare can be a very difficult and physically taxing, there are certainly some personal accommodations that employers can make. Note that these accommodations only apply to companies of a certain size, and depend on the specifics of your job. Make sure to thoroughly read through the resources given here and do some additional research, but in many cases, employers will be understanding and helpful! And sometimes, it just feels good to share and be honest with what can feel like is a looming secret… but remember, you deserve to be as healthy as possible, too.