Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

by on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 19:13
This entry is filed under: IBD

shhSo, at every previous job since I’ve had IBD I’ve been very vocal about my disease.  It was practical because I was sick at the time, and when people asked me questions, the advocate in me burst forth!  Since I’ve been in remission and managed to get a job in Portland, OR in this crazy economy, I’ve decided that it no longer requires mentioning, or for that matter, broadcasting.  I tend to get up on my educational soap box when it comes to IBD, which is a good thing, and something I will certainly continue to do, however, I think many of us have learned all too well that even the most empathetic and understanding employer will, to some extent, always see your disease as part of who you are, and therefore, as a limitation.  I’d rather my work speak for itself.  I’m working as a paralegal, which basically means I do a lot of writing that the attorneys sign their names to.  It’s okay because I adore any chances to write and get paid for it 😉 I’d rather keep professional courtesies, well, professional.  I am a very open, friendly person and I definitely let that come out in my job, but I am also trying to work on that part of me that for so long made Crohn’s a part of my identity.  It doesn’t define me and I no longer want it to, so I’ve made a real effort to modify that.  It’s easy to not complain when you are in remission and not suffering or in pain.  So, for the past few weeks, I’ve overheard our secretary talk about her mother’s “colitis”.  I kept my mouth shut until today when another paralegal started talking to her about a friend of hers who had Crohn’s that was airlifted to the hospital.  At that point my IBD alarm went off and I thought, “Okay, I know a lot about this…maybe I can offer some helpful words.”  So, without an intro of, “I have that too!” I just asked if the girl was on any meds.  Sounded like she’d unsuccessfully tried everything, including Humira, which was my savior.  I had nothing more to offer, so I hushed.  The secretary then started talking to me about it more and I said, “I have an interest in GI disorders and know quite a bit about it, so I was curious.”  I was actually able to make some suggestions to the secretary about her mother, she then asked me, “So do you know someone with it?”  My reply, a smile and a, “Yes.”  I then went back to my work.

So what is your policy regarding IBD in the workplace?  It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and I’m oddly proud of it, but I’ve lived and learned and am, for now, deciding to remain a mystery :)

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12 Responses to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. avatar

    Paul says:

    July 15th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Like you I was always very open with my co-workers about my disease in large part because of the time I missed and frequent bathroom breaks. I always felt that if I weren’t people would talk and I’d be labeled a slacker or viewed by superiors that way. So full disclosure was a way of covering my a _ _ at work. However, in a down economy even that may not be enough. Nonetheless I feel being upfront is probably the best policy otherwise people will wonder and talk.

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    Erin says:

    July 16th, 2009 at 4:28 am

    I kind of like how you’ve decided to handle it by keeping it a mystery. I am just shocked by how many people know someone or of someone who suffers from IBD. It’s certainly somethat that is becoming of great interest. I have a lot of people curious about some, but not all of the details of course. I think once i have my take down I’ll probably remain on the downlow myself and offer my advices when asked of me. I like your style.

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    Lizz Reply:

    Haha, thanks, Erin. Now that I’m in remission, even with the Jpouch, I really don’t think I go to the bathroom more than anyone else at work, and I’m busting my ass, so I’m definitely not being labeled a slacker. But like I said, before it was practical because I was sick. Since so many people where I work do have a good idea of the horrors of IBD, I think it best to not tell them until absolutely necessary, which I hope to avoid by just staying in remission:)

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    Mark says:

    July 16th, 2009 at 9:01 am

    This post hits home for me Lizz. Now that we’ve moved to Georgia (6 months ago), I’ve been able to push the restart button on my life. Two aspects for me have been 1) not having the need to tell people because there aren’t outward signs of being sick (i.e. running to the bathroom), and 2) I don’t identify as a “sick” person any longer and therefore, I don’t think about my health enough to talk with anyone about it (other than Megan and we do still talk at home about how the pouch is doing, fiber, pouchitis, etc…). It has been really nice to not tell people that I work with about being sick, but if it came up to someone being sick, I would probably give them information but not sure how I would handle it because I wouldn’t want to blow my cover like you are doing at your job.
    I think the best thing you are doing in P-town is not letting the disease be your identity and I feel like i’m doing that here in Georgia and it is the first time in nearly 8-9 years that I feel truly content with myself as a man, not a man with a disease.

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    Eric says:

    July 16th, 2009 at 10:49 am

    I agree. I used to have a huge gap on my resume starting in 2005 when I was really sick the first time around. I used to say “ask me about this” and explain everything. If someone straight up asks me, I’ll answer honestly, but now I just add that I was freelancing during that time (which I was, I just don’t tell people that it was often from the hospital). So I’m all for keeping it a little quieter now that your healthy. Congrats on the job and the health! I raise my coffee in a toast.

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    Elise says:

    July 17th, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Thank you for your post Lizz :) Well done. I have the same issue as Eric. I have a few gaps on my resume and I also have the itch to pursue a few opportunities. So, once again I would need to explain those gaps! I hate that.

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    lizz Reply:

    I’ve had to explain them too, but one was just explained as “emergency surgery.” They then asked if it was anything that would keep me from working. I thought about it and decided that since the twisted J-pouch issue had resolved, and I was in remission that my answer was, “No.” I find that often times our surgeries require SO much explanation, that to a potential employer, a yes or no answer can suffice.

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    brevin via iphone says:

    July 18th, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Back when I had UC, I used the bathroom so frequently that the running joke within the team was that one of the stalls was my “second office”. Har har har. If people are genuinely interested in my health I’ll share as much as they want to know, and I will moon them for a minimal “visual presentation” fee. My management is very accommodating with my shenanigans, and I feel blessed about that.

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    Lizz Reply:

    Where does a talented, witty artist like you work, Brevin?

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    brevin via iphone Reply:

    I’m none of those

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    brevin via iphone Reply:

    Whoops, I somehow accidentally posted before done. I was trying to say I’m none of those fancy adjectives ( you left out “financially risky” cough “invest in KFC flavored gummi worms” cough cough), but thanks! I work in the video game industry : )

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    Lizz Reply:

    Oh cool! My fiance would be insanely jealous…

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