Dear Employers, I've Been Afraid to Tell You This. Until Now.

Dear employers,

I’m confident I can nail the interview. I know I deserve the job. When I walk in, I’m all smiles and confidence on the outside. But on the inside, I’m scared to death because I’ve never been completely honest with you.

Yes, I’m an excellent sales professional. Yes, I’m great at identifying opportunities, making warm and cold calls, managing the sales process, developing a pipeline of opportunities, identifying the decision maker and closing the deal. My resume is diverse but solid. I look the part, all dressed for success in my professional-but-trendy business outfits. I’m the whole package. I enjoy doing what others say can’t be done. And I love every minute of it. This is all true.

But some days I just do not feel very well.

Kerri lying in a hospital bed with her eyes closed, giving the thumbs up During the interview process, I feel a bit like a fraud. I ask you things like, “Do you offer a flexible schedule to accommodate personal appointments?” I try to give you clues that I’m not your typical 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. employee. You say what most sales managers say when interviewing a potential new hire: “As long as you’re meeting your numbers, we don’t care how you spend your time.” An interviewer once said the following statement: “This may not sound good, but we just want to hire someone who’s normal.” We both laughed, and I said “Well, normal is relative after all,” as I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. (They later clarified that they really just wanted someone who fits in with the group, but it’s hard for me not to take statements like that personally.)

Normal for me means living with a chronic but invisible illness.

I have something called Chiari malformation (CM) and syringomyelia. I likely have some other related conditions: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) and Dysautonomia, for which I’m currently being tested. I look healthy, and most people would never guess that just a year and a half ago, I had brain decompression surgery. Looks can be deceiving. Because most days I’m experiencing some form of pain or discomfort; and some days, I have to muster all my strength just to get out of bed.

A close-up of the back of Kerri's head, partially shaved and covered with medical gauze I’ve been doing pretty damn good in life for someone whose brain had been squished out of her skull and into her neck, causing damage to the brainstem. I’m a strong individual. Despite the pain, brain fog and all the other weird and at times fleeting symptoms, I’m still living my life. I’m not only a sales professional, I’m also a wife, mother, writer and advocate.

It’s not always easy. I have days when I’m so down, I don’t know how I will ever get up again, and so I allow myself a pity party, get some sleep, and guess what? I get up again. Get up, dress up, show up and never give up. This is what I try to do. 

I want to work. I’m willing and able to work, but what I do need from you is flexibility. What’s most important to me is that you understand that my chronic illness is never off the clock. I live with it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

Many others like me exist, only some of them are not able to work at all. They may be on disability or relying on help from friends and family. I’m lucky because the work I do can be done in a flexible manner for the most part. But for those who are not in sales, who are maybe laborers or in a service position, less options exist. Many of these individuals want to work, but so few organizations will make accommodations for people like us — people who look fine on the outside but are in pain on the inside.  

I’m sorry I don’t tell you all of this during my interview or before I accept a position. But if I’m completely open and honest, I have to wonder, would you still offer me the job?

I know you want to hire someone who’s normal.  

I’m normal for me… normal is relative after all. 

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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