I have been working at my current job for a little over 4 months now. However, it was only a couple of months ago that I told my boss about my IBD and ostomy surgery, and only a few weeks ago that I “came out” to one of the girls in my team. Several of my co-workers still aren’t aware. Why, I hear some of you asking? To be honest, I am not really sure myself.
Both of my previous employers knew I had Crohn’s. The first one I told not long after being diagnosed. I was taking more and more time off for doctor’s appointments and sick days, and as my symptoms worsened, I felt it was important that someone in the office knew, so I told my boss. He was sympathetic and understanding.
After a few months off work including some time in hospital with a bad flare up, I found a new part-time job closer to home. Here I was upfront about my condition in the interview. I was given the job, and told most of my colleagues within the first few weeks that I had Crohn’s. Everyone was so supportive and caring, and happily filled in for me when I was unwell, including the weeks I had to have off for my surgery. They were ecstatic for us when I was finally well enough to travel, and I resigned to go on our extended overseas trip.
When we returned from our travels earlier this year, it was time to get back to reality and find a job. I registered on a job website and started applying. I had several unsuccessful interviews. I had to question … Was this because of my health background and condition?
Then I found a great role. Unless I was explicitly asked, I decided not to mention my Crohn’s or surgery in the interview. There was no need. It has no bearing on my competencies or ability to perform at work. Even though I know I am just as capable as the next person, would my prospective employer understand? Would they be concerned about potential sick leave? I feel as well now as I have in a long time, and haven’t had a sick day so far this year. If it was going to impact my ability to fulfil the role, then I would be completely upfront about it. But it wasn’t. So why did I feel so strange about concealing it?
I got the job, and based on feedback have been performing well so far! I was even offered a minor promotion to manage a new office that has just opened. I still hadn’t mentioned my Crohn’s or surgery to anyone at that point.
It came up a few months ago when I needed to leave work early to speak at a Crohn’s and Colitis support group meeting. My manager asked me what I was speaking about, so I told her. Of course she was completely fine and it wasn’t an issue at all.
I didn’t want to lie but for some reason I felt really nervous telling her. This was so silly as both my previous employers knew and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by it. In fact, I want to talk about it and increase understanding and awareness (hence this blog). So why was I so hesitant?
I think the big thing is that I don’t want to be judged or defined by it. I especially don’t ever want anyone to feel sorry for me because of it. Yes, I have an IBD and an ostomy, and at times that can suck, but it is only one part of me and my background. I am so much more than that, and I am capable of so many things regardless of it.
I also don’t want others to feel embarrassed around me. One of my closest co-workers came back from a bathroom break recently complaining about the smell in the toilets. She didn’t know that I had just been and emptied my bag, so I fessed up and told her it was probably from me. Instantly I could sense she was a little uneasy with where the conversation was headed. I tried to add a bit of humour to the situation, but that didn’t seem to be helping so I quickly dropped the subject. I have since had a really good chat with her outside of work, and now that she understands in more detail, I think we are both much more comfortable. She even said that it is not so much that people are embarrassed by it, they just don’t know what to say or how to react. I am comfortable talking about poo and toilets, but not everyone is. I hope to help change the public stigma around this, but it takes time, and I need to remember that too.
My manager has since mentioned that I have Crohn’s to several of my colleagues without my knowledge or taken me by surprise and said something in front of me. This is a bit annoying, but at the same time I am glad it is out in the open. Some people are interested and ask questions, some aren’t phased either way, and others don’t want to know about it at all. You can usually sense this pretty quickly.
It felt so good getting it off my chest. For those first few months it felt like I was hiding something that there was no reason for me to hide. I felt guilty for not saying anything. Would it have jeopardised my chance of getting the job? Maybe? If that had been the case, is that really the kind of place I would want to work anyway? Probably not. I think the important thing and my lesson learned here is that if I am not awkward about it, then hopefully others won’t be either. Now when my stoma makes its funny little farty noises, my bag blows up under my clothes, or if I stink out the work bathrooms, at least my co-workers know why!
I would be really interested to hear your opinions on talking about IBD and ostomies within the workplace. Does anyone else worry about telling their co-workers and why? Has anyone not been offered a job or been fired because of a chronic illness? Please share your comments and experiences J
Until next time, Laura x