Finding the Right Place for You: IBS, Invisible Illness and Work
Asking questions, sharing experiences, and showing initiative are usually considered the positive abilities of an efficient, intellectual, employee. But, sometimes asking questions can lead to stigma, discrimination, or worse, loss of employment. Similarly, choosing the wrong workplace for your physical and mental abilities can result in a lack of understanding, misinformed decisions, and feeling under-valued. Combined, asking questions, being innovative, and having an invisible illness can be a workplace death-sentence.
The burden of invisible illnesses
Living with IBS, mental health, and/or other invisible illness can, at times, set us at a disadvantage; however, at times, it can place us one-step-ahead. Think about it: we already know our limitations and abilities, we are in touch with our coping strategies, and we're used to researching employers and companies' abilities to provide aid to their employees through workplace education, efforts for inclusion, and benefits. We know what we want, and we are willing to fight for it - hell, we fight with our illnesses every day. What's one more thing?
I know, I know, it's am optimistic thought. One more thing on top of everything we deal with seems daunting. Frustrating. Thoughts like, "Why me?" spring to mind, sure, but ultimately we can deal with this. It's not like we haven't experienced this before. We have precedent. It often feels like living with IBS means we're always dealing with new and annoying symptoms. We're always having to be the one to make changes to our lives or make others' lives easier so that we don't affect productivity. Well, it's true. We do. But let's think of this as a skill we've learned. We deal with IBS-D and IBS-C, we shuffle through management of migraines, mental health, and joint pain at the same time. We can multi-task!
Steps for overcoming this burden
Remember all that research you did when you first got diagnosed with IBS? Remember how much you poured over texts, articles, or pictures? Remember how much it helped? Well, you might not have realized it at the time but that research, that self-knowledge you gained, has made you one of the most efficient employees around. You know how to search for answers. You know how to find the right definition, the right path, for you. You're prepared. You're educated, and that puts you at an advantage in the workplace.
Companies have recently discovered that putting time, effort, and finances into researching illnesses and educating employees not only helps to reduce losses over time, but also, improves the quality, and quantity, of work completed. Duh. According to Paul Hemp, author of Presenteeism: At Work - But Out of It, small investments in treatment and education are all that is needed to increase productivity.1 Again I say, duh. Keeping this rather obvious research in mind, let's think about a few things we can ask ourselves, and our employers, to cope with problematic situations in the workplace:
- Ask questions, even if they are frowned upon: What is your employer doing to help? Do they understand the issue(s) at hand? Do you feel like your needs, and the needs of others, are being met or ignored? Could there be a way to increase productivity?
- Research your opportunities: don't be afraid to see what's out there. No one can blame you for looking at employment websites when you're feeling under-valued or mistreated at work. Why are you still there? What are you looking for in a job? How can this company/employer meet your needs?
- Weigh the cost versus benefits: is this job worth the stress you feel? Are you in the right field, or are you misunderstood and undervalued? Are your superiors and colleagues supportive or do you feel judged/discriminated against due to your illness(es)?
- Consider the flexibility of your employer/company: Is there a possibility to work from home when sick (in order to improve your health and productivity)? How many sick days are you allotted and how are they defined?
These are just some of the questions you need to ask when looking for work. Ask yourself, ask your employer, and ask your colleagues whatever you need in order to make working with invisible illnesses less work! (See what I did there?)
Is gluten a trigger for you?