Working in an extremely creative line of business means that generally I’m surrounded by those who are accepting of even the most extreme differences within people. I count myself lucky that I have like-minded coworkers who keep an open mind at all times or, as I recently discovered, almost all times. I was at lunch with some colleagues recently when they brought up a coworker and were discussing their thoughts on her being out of work all the time. Now, two things made this a tender situation for me to be a part of: 1.) they were expressing how they don’t know what is wrong with her, but how it’s obvious that she must be dealing with either a mental or physical ailment and 2.) I sat there knowing exactly why she’s frequently absent and have physical knowledge of what she’s facing day in and day out.
It took all my strength to sit there, my own Fibromyalgia flaring up that specific day, and not defensively scream out “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS LIKE” as they discussed how it is obvious to them that she’s facing something that must be causing her some form of pain. Instead I sat there, sandwiched between the two having this conversation and attempted to remind myself that looking engaged in the conversation without scowling would be the proper response any normal human being should have. I can see their concerns with the stress it puts on an area when this person is absent, trust me. I know how hard it must be for the person who is left to handle an area all by themselves due to having no one to assist. All of that I can acknowledge and I agree with from a business point of view, but deep down the side of me that battles the same chronic disorder finds it torturous to hear people speak like this.
We embrace those who are different where I am employed. Skin color, sexual preference and weird quirky traits are not only supported but something that makes you unique in a good way. Yet there I sat at lunch with two extraordinarily open minded coworkers stunned to hear them speaking about how if a colleague was going to be absent so much maybe it was time for them to consider leaving their job. It immediately reminded me why I don’t walk around announcing what I’m battling and now I can see why the person they were discussing doesn’t either. I couldn’t help but wonder if I allowed myself to nurse the pain when it’s almost completely incapacitating some days. Is this how they would be speaking about me? If I didn’t have a stubborn attitude and push myself far past what I know is best for me some days, would I be the one they were suggesting consider leaving my job?
On the other hand, if the colleague was battling a different chronic disease that was more acceptable to talk about (such as extreme asthma, cardiac failure, diabetes, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis just to name a few) would they be sitting there having this same discussion? I don’t think any of those I listed above would have prompted this conversation among them. Somehow my gut tells me that instead of expressing their thoughts on this colleague giving up their job they would have spoken about the absences in more of a “how sad they are absent again” type of way. The discussion would be more about how difficult it must be to face that type of a struggle as long as it wasn’t something that impacted the safety of those surrounding them in their job.
Knowing it wasn’t my place to admit what this other person faces, I kept my mouth shut and just soaked up what I was hearing. I choked down my defensive anger that was quickly rising and reminded myself that not everyone understands how to handle those with chronic disorders despite how open-minded they might be. I know that there are many out there facing Fibromyalgia to a much worse degree daily than I sometimes do. I realize that the strength of my personality to not surrender to the card I’ve been dealt has to go hand-in-hand with having to keep my mouth shut, most of the time, so people judge me by my work ethic and not my chronic disease.
My theory has always been the following: I won’t deny what I’m facing if asked, but I’m not offering up the information so that someone has a chance to make a preconceived notion about how what I face might affect how I am as an employee. I’ve found that when people do find out they are shocked after seeing how I operate when in action at work. Likewise, it means there’s not a single day when I can allow myself to throw a pity party or slack off due to the pain because in the eyes of others I’m just a normal gal who has no reason to be lazy.