Why I'm No Longer Hiding My Illness for Work
I write for a living. I love it, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else. But having fibromyalgia complicates my job. I enjoy writing for The Mighty because it helps me process the challenges that come along with chronic illness through a medium I love. However, I have chosen to write here under an alias – a pen name, so I can reserve my given name for more professional publishing.
I don’t talk about my condition in professional settings; only my family and closest friends know I have fibro. I choose to keep my professional and private worlds separate because I was afraid people wouldn’t hire me as a freelancer if they knew I had physical limitations. I wanted my writing to speak for itself. I wanted to make sure I had the same chance of getting a job as healthy candidates. Most of all, I didn’t want anyone to consider hiring me out of pity.
But chronic pain, migraines, brain fog, fatigue – the symptoms of my illness – can’t be quarantined in my private life. Fibro follows me everywhere. Fibro doesn’t respect “work hours.” Fibro doesn’t go dormant when I’m working on a writing project. It’s part of me, and because fibro has no known cure, it will likely be part of me for the rest of my professional career.
So, I end up feeling guilty when the symptoms of my illness interrupt my work. I end up angry when I have to take a break because my brain fog is so bad I can’t formulate coherent sentences or remember a word I want to use. I end up crying in bed when a migraine storms the barricade I’ve set up around my working hours. I end up anxious that my colleagues and employers will see me as lazy, unmotivated or unenthusiastic because they don’t really know what’s going on inside my body. I end up feeling like an imposter, pretending to be a healthy, normally functioning person when I am anything but.
I need to make a change.
In order to completely come to terms with my illness and fully embrace the person I am, with all my gifts, talents and limitations, I need to be more open about my condition. I need to begin tearing down this wall between my professional and personal lives, because if fibro doesn’t differentiate, neither can I. I need to trust that my writing will speak for itself, and if someone won’t hire me because of my physical limitations then maybe they aren’t worth working for anyway. I need to acknowledge that fibro is a part of what makes me uniquely me, as a person, as an employee and also as a writer.
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Thinkstock photo via opolja.