I’ve already told you the rather dramatic incident I had at my current job when I tried to talk to my boss about being invisibly ill. You can read all about it here. Let’s face it – being invisibly ill is going to start a lot of awkward conversations. ESPECIALLY in the workplace.
My invisible illness is endometriosis. Endo is hard to talk about without mentioning unmentionables. Men who are faint of heart might want to skip to the next paragraph. When I explain endo, I have to use words like “uterus” and “ovaries” and that tends to freak people out. And hey, I can admit it, endo is gross. I’m certainly not a fan. But moving on, I have a little story to share.
Once upon a time, me and my then-fiance worked in a really great restaurant. He waited tables and I hosted. I mean it when I say we adored working there. It was one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had. One of the reasons we loved working there were the people we worked with. We were very good friends with one of the managers – the young one who was in charge of scheduling. He was a newlywed himself, and he had honeymooned at the exact resort we had booked. I had already had my surgery for endo and was doing much better, but still had to take days off occasionally for pain. Since the schedule manager was such a good friend, I thought I could share with him my true reasons for taking off work, rather than having my fiance just tell them I had a cold or something.
I don’t remember how this conversation started, but my memory begins around the time I said the word “endometriosis.”
My manager buddy – we’ll call him Mike – was sitting at a table with me, smiling as always, and replied “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of that. It’s uh…what is it again?”
Being a very young, very newly diagnosed girl, I was SO excited that someone wanted me to talk about being sick. I was hungry for understanding. So I launched right in. I told him how I was born with my ovaries just not quite set up perfectly, and that once a month–
At that point, Mike hastily stood up, looking at the front of the empty restaurant and saying “Yeah, I think I have heard of that, will you excuse me I think I–”
And he was gone. I sat there, at first shocked and hurt, followed by feeling deeply embarrassed. Very young, very newly diagnosed me had just learned a hard lesson: Don’t talk about being sick.
Of course, that’s NOT the lesson to take from this at all. There’s a definite stigma about illness, and we’re trained not to talk about it, ill and well alike. In fact, one of my closest friends was sick for years before telling me about it, and she only told me because I shared my diagnosis with her. I noticed her taking pills and taking sick days and even asked about it all. Even between two close friends, the subject is taboo.
I have one more story: Once upon a time, I was working at Party City. It was the WORST job I have ever had. I did not know I had endo. One morning before work, I woke up in agonizing pain and begged my mom to take me to the ER. Now, work should have been the last thing on my mind, but I did call them while I was on the way to the ER. I told them “I am sick and going to the ER.” Their (unedited) response?
“Okay, well your shift starts at ten and you’d better be here.”
I quit that job.
At every job I’ve ever had, being ill has come up in one way or another. And every manager, boss, or shift leader I’ve worked under has had to have “THE AWKWARD CONVERSATION.” I can’t think of one invisible illness that isn’t awkward to talk about. Weather it’s physical or mental, if you don’t look sick, it’s awkward to say you are. And people don’t know how to react.
So I want to hear from YOU GUYS!
How do you let your boss or teachers know that you’re sick? How did they react? Have people been jerks to you? Was it totally awkward? Do you have any success stories?
We need to end the illness taboo. So leave us your stories in the comments, and we’ll post our favorites on the blog!