Thursday, February 08, 2007

Co-workers and Invisible Disabilities

Having an invisible (at least most of the time it's invisible) disability can throw an interesting kink into a person's career. This is not to say that those of us with invisible disabilities have it worse than those with visible ones, just that it adds a different dimension to the dynamics of the workplace.

I work as a consultant, so I have to deal with people on a daily basis. This is particularly unfortunate when I'm having a bad flare and am in a lot of pain. When I'm hurting, I tend to snap at people or be less forgiving of their idiosyncrasies. But, how do you explain that to someone who has no idea that you have a chronic illness or disability? It's no excuse, but I've found that the few co-workers who do know that I have psoriatic arthritis are much more understanding when I'm grumpy. At the same time, I don't want to broadcast my health issues to the entire office. At the most I've provided the information that I have a "medical condition". It's really none of their business anyway, and I don't want to have to educate every person in the office about psoriatic arthritis and how it's not the same as the arthritis in their [insert joint here].

Now, when I'm in a flare, like now, I walk like a zombie. My joints are stiff and swollen, and every movement brings pain. When this happens, the gossip starts and the snide comments.

"Oh, what did she do to herself this time?" (because I really want to be in pain, yeah right).

"She's just attention seeking."

"She's said she has a medical condition, what is it? She must want me to ask what it is! I will bug her relentlessly."

"Hey grandma, get moving"

"Well, I've got arthritis in [insert joint here], and I don't walk like that, so she must be faking."

"What do you mean you can't walk a mile to the other office building? Well, I'm [X] times older than you, and I can do it."

"What a hypochondriac--she's always going to the doctor!"

The list goes on.

Of course, this is all compounded by the fact that I'm in my 20s. So, of course I have to be perfectly able to walk and move. ugh.

Then there are the countless doctor's appointments. My weakened immune system means that I get every single bug that goes around, missing work.

I'm very fortunate that my boss has been very understanding. He's totally fine with me working from home when I am sick. He's letting me miss work for my infusions (and not asking what they're for--just letting me tell him what I want to share) and make up the lost time other days of the week.

Now, if only the other folks at work would be a bit more understanding.

So, if these descriptions sound like something you or your co-workers have ever said about someone, think about it. Maybe that person is dealing with a chronic illness or invisible disability. None of us have a right to judge. And, as long as that person is getting their work done, what does it matter to you?

The key to getting along at work, regardless of abilities, is compassion and tolerance. Just because you are able to do something does not mean that everyone else is able.


Connie said...

Well said. If our children were taught this at an early age about their classmates, you'd think it would be a non-issue in the workforce. Wishful thinking I know.

Girl, Dislocated said...

It really is a bad combination for the workplace--the young age and the invisibility of the disability. I've found that my co-workers and my boss are much more understanding than my professors are, though some of my co-workers do occasionally make comments like, "I wonder what happens when she has sex? That would make an interesting ER visit hahahaha"

I don't know how you put up with the constant ridiculous comments from your co-workers. Do you ever wish they had to live with your disability for a day? Or is it just me who's mean enough to wish my EDS on certain ignorant people for a day?

Disgruntled Ladye said...

I wouldn't wish the whole she-bang on them--or the process of diagnosis. But, it would be nice if they could just understand. I don't really think anyone can truly understand unless they've been there or they have a close family member or friend who has been through something similar. I don't think it's so wrong to wish they could experience things.

Just for once I'd like them to know what it's like to have to ask someone to open a coke bottle (the plastic 20 oz variety) because your fingers are too stiff and swollen to do it yourself. That would probably put things into at least a little bit of perspective.

betsyl said...

when i'm talking to people about how i'm not going to walk somewhere, i usually just say that i have bad knees. because you're totally right, if you mention arthritis you get into the "but i/someone i know have arthritis and they do seventeen mile daily hikes!" which just makes me want to smack them. grrr!

seahorse said...

I share your frustration about the invisibility of some conditions. People make so many assumptions, which just makes it harder and more frustrating. We live under their restrictions, as in the restrictions of lack of understanding and imagination or empathy, far more than our own.

imfunnytoo said...

Given the assumptions made by co workers about my now quite visible difficulties, I can only guess how annoying it is to be judged on the invisible stuff.

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