When People at Work Avoid You Because of Your Illness

You want to say that you just imagined it, that the room did not suddenly become quiet when you walked in. But you know that you didn’t imagine it because this has happened before.

You were out sick last week, like half of your office coworkers, but with one difference – you didn’t get better. While everyone else was back in the swing of things, springy and happy and catching up on neglected projects, you were still struggling with weakness, a cough, and nausea.

For a while, it was nice to have comrades in the battle against whatever sickness was going around. But then you were left alone to struggle silently. Again. They had no idea what it was like to not get well. On top of your day-to-day chronic illness symptoms, now there were more piled high. DayQuil for a few days and lots of sleep brought everyone else complete healing, but for you, achieving wellness was a debate between more antibiotics and as many pain pills that you could legally take and still drive to work.

Some coworkers were kind, but you hated to burden and bore them with the same-old, same-old: Fatigue that never left, joint pain, headaches. You spared them and kept silent and alone.

With courage that you did not feel, you entered the room. You smiled, purposely showing your straight white teeth in hopes that they wouldn’t see the lingering symptoms of your illness and think what a nice person you are. You asked them about their kids, how their projects were going, and whether they needed any help, praying they would say “no.”

All to appear healthy, approachable, and not contagious. Soon they warmed to you, though some wormed away. You wanted to scream that you hated being like this, that you were a person and not a tick or a rat that was going to bite them. That you would love to stay at home and get disability and sleep for 12 hours, but you needed to work. You needed the money to survive, just like they did.

But you didn’t. You were nice. Trying to understand their fears, trying to fit in. You would cry later. At home when you crawled into bed at 6 p.m., too exhausted to cook, do dishes or watch TV, even. Praying that tomorrow you would have strength to do it all again. Wishing that it were Friday and not Tuesday.

Tomorrow, you would search the internet for a new supplement or treatment that would heal you. Tomorrow you would take caffeine and smile. Smile for them. Smile for your family. Smile for the world. Taking solace in the words of fellow people with the similar symptoms, where you could be yourself…All the while imagining a world where rooms did not fall silent when you entered and you had the strength to look yourself in the mirror, smiling with your whole being and not just your mouth.

Tomorrow, the place where your dreams and hopes lived.

Tomorrow, where anything was possible.


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