Calling in "Chronic": Disclosing Illness to Your Employer
Around 7:50 AM
I had just finished doing my hair and make-up. I was headed to work and looking quite cute if I do say so myself. (LOL) I slipped on my burgundy flats, sprayed some perfume on my neck and wrists and headed towards the door. I had barely even grasped the door knob when God said, "Hold it right there!" A horrible pain shot up from my toes to the heel of my foot. I had felt this pain briefly the weekend before but this time it was harsher. As I stumbled back into my room, I thought "not again." Is this a new symptom? Is this going to land me in the hospital? The thoughts sickened me. I literally felt like firecrackers were going off in my foot. It was the worst "pins and needles" feeling that I had ever experienced.
Here I was, alone in my apartment with this firecracker foot. What was I going to do? I walked through the pain and got myself to the bathroom to run cold water on my foot. The pain continued. I got into my bed and thought about my options. I didn't want to startle my parents or friend unless I was sure it was a relapse. While I sat for about 20 minutes wondering what to do, the pain subsided. Soon, it disappeared completely. I was nervous that the pain would return. So nervous that I kept shaking my foot just to see if it would come back. After a few shakes, I looked at the time on my phone. It was 8:30! I was supposed to be at work!
"There's no way I can tell them what's really going on! I have to make up a lie."
Why did I think that I couldn't tell my boss and my supervisor?
I was convinced that they would find a way to get rid of me because of my illness. All of the equal opportunity laws in the world couldn't make this fear go away. I just knew that I would be judged for something that was totally out of my control.
For the next month or two, my firecracker foot would appear on random mornings causing me to be anywhere from 30 min to two hours late for work. I would tell my boss and supervisor that I had stomach problems. I even began to manage the pain by putting my foot in ice. When it got to the fifth or sixth lie, I started to think that they were on to me. As I drove to work that morning around 10:00 am, I made a decision. I was going to tell the truth. As soon as I got to work, I walked into my boss's office, trembling and sweating.
I finally let him and my supervisor know that my I was living with multiple sclerosis. I let them know that for the last two months I was experiencing extreme foot pain in the morning. I honestly thought that they would be cold towards me. Instead the first thing he said was, "Why didn't you tell me this a long time ago? You've been with us for nearly two years. My niece has that. I've seen how it can be"
Was I tripping or was he actually being compassionate? He was actually more concerned that I had kept it a secret. I told my coworker about the conversation and she said "You mean you never told them? That's something they ned to know for your safety." How come I never viewed it that way. I spent so much time assuming that I would face discrimination because of my illness that I didn't realize that I was threatening my own safety. If I ever relapsed in my office, they wouldn't have known to tell EMT's that I had MS. If ever had a bad reaction to my medication while in the office, they wouldn't have had a clue. I was putting myself in danger.
Disclosing your illness in the workplace is definitely a personal decision because every person's situation is unique. It's tough! In my case, the people I worked with were shocked that I never said anything. Instead I tried to cover it up until I couldn't anymore. In doing that, I learned that the most important thing to remember was your safety. How will disclosing or not disclosing affect your health, your finances, and your life. Think long and hard about your options and what is most important to you. It's not simple and no you do not have to tell every employer. Just make sure that your decisions don't hurt you.