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When You're Misunderstood at Work Because of an Illness

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It is so frustrating and upsetting to feel misunderstood at work because of how your illness effects you. The thing that people don’t understand when they haven’t experienced what you have in life, is they often (likely without realizing) fail to separate the traits of your illness from your personal traits. They may suggest that you are unreliable or inconsistent, when in reality it is your illness that is unreliable and inconsistent. They say that you are difficult to deal with, difficult to communicate with, when in reality it is your illness that makes it difficult for you to deal with and communicate with other people.

In many ways it is not their fault. In the workplace they are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. They see the outcome, the public version, the result of what you are managing and with only that to guide them they make the assumption that person they see is you. But that is not you, not all of you. That is you on your worst day and you haven’t had the opportunity to show them what you is like on your best day.

So how can you help to show them (and yourself) what is you and what is your illness?

You can’t always make someone understand but you can try, and if the situation is really that bad, what do you have to lose? Worst case scenario it’s more proof that you really did make an effort on your side to make it work.

Think about what has been said, the words that have been used, descriptions or even the wording that makes insinuations. Write down those descriptions and words and take a good look at them. Try for a little while to look at them without the emotion attached and instead use those descriptions as an insight and sneak peek into their heads. You rarely get to know what people are really thinking, but you have had the (unfortunate) experience of finding out. In your case what they are thinking hasn’t been positive towards you, but you can use that to your advantage.

Maybe they have said you are unreliable, unpredictable. Maybe they find you abrasive, difficult to talk to, on the defensive. Look at what they are telling you is their experience. You don’t have to agree, you don’t have to like it, but that is their experience as they see and feel it.

Then ask yourself – what is me, and what is my illness?

For example, unreliable:

That is my illness, so what is me?

What would I like to tell them about who I am and why “unreliable” isn’t who I am?

What do they not know about me that I want them to know?

If you feel confident expressing it to them you can use a format like this one:

I know that I appear ____ to you in the workplace and looking at the situation from your point of view, I can totally understand why it seems that way. I want you to know that being viewed that way makes me feel ___ because actually I am/care about/value ____.

I would really like to find ways to help change this perception so that you can see me as a person who is ___. I have come up with some ideas that help me work at my best that I think will also meet your expectations of what is required of me.

You can join my free online community on Facebook at the link in my profile. Just click on my name.

Getty Image by hobo_018

Originally published: May 1, 2018
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