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When My Boss Mocked Me For Being Too Ill to Work an Extra Shift

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I’d just finished a 4-hour shift, which realistically was more like five and a half hours. My boyfriend and I had sold our second vehicle to help pay some bills. We’d been getting by fairly easily with one car, but it usually meant I had to sit around after work waiting for a ride. On this day in particular, I’d taken a seat at the bar amongst the regulars who were lost in the hockey game on TV. My boss came running over, begging me to cover a shift later in the day.

“Come on Kate, it’d only be a few more hours.”

I’ve come to realize there’s a delicate balance between communicating your symptoms and complaining about them. I thought I’d done a relatively good job of explaining just how much pain I was in by the end of my 4-hour day, and everyone was very much aware of my condition. I calmly reminded him of my situation and told him I needed to get home to rest.

He turned to my manager and they both started to laugh. They openly mocked me in front of my co-workers and a few customers. They thought it was simply hilarious I couldn’t physically manage to work a full day.

I left work that day feeling utterly humiliated. To them I looked like a perfectly healthy 23-year-old woman. I looked like all of the other waitresses who were perfectly capable of working a 10-hour day. They didn’t know I went home to a painful physical therapy regimen everyday after work.

They didn’t know how badly I wanted to work those extra hours, how badly we needed the money for medical bills.

And they had absolutely no idea how cruel their “joking around” actually was.

Since that day, my mind’s been in a constant battle over what people think of me.

Do they think I’m a loser who sleeps all day?

Do they think I’m “faking” how much pain I’m in?

Do they think I’m just being lazy?

What bothers me most is they’ll never know the person I once was. They’ll never know the girl who worked two jobs while going to school. They’ll never see the girl who volunteered for every shift she could get.

But the cold, hard truth is I’ll never be that person again.

If only they knew, if only they could see the real me.

It’s been about six months since I quit my job. I developed a nasty pneumonia which left me bedridden for weeks, and my chronic pain has only worsened since. I’m determined to one day soon make it back into the workforce again, hopefully in a job a little more suited for the chronically ill (if that even exists).

I’ve learned so many things over the course of my illness, and I take each lesson to heart. No one is ever going to know how much pain I experience in a day, how nauseous I get, how exhausted I am all of the time. No one is ever going to know what it feels like to live a day in my body, so how could I possibly expect them to fully understand?

It’s up to me to find a balance and live as happily as I possibly can.

I can’t sit around wasting what little energy I have on the opinions of others.

It’s entirely on my shoulders to fight through the pain, the fatigue and battle this disease to the best of my ability.

I quite often find myself filling out job applications. I get about halfway through before I realize I’m dreaming. It’s not realistic right now. My body needs time to heal, time to process. There are days when I want to give up, when I want to crawl into bed and never come out. Some days I have to drag myself to the yoga mat just to do my physiotherapy, but right now it’s the only weapon I have. The only thing I can do to fix my situation is to get my health back on track. And in doing so, I’m slowly rebuilding the gratitude for life that I once had.

You don’t have to look sick to be chronically ill. There’s an assumption in our society that if you look able-bodied, you should be able to work an 8-hour day. I suppose that may be the case for most people, but there are thousands of us out there struggling to do so in silence. Chronic pain, depression, social anxiety — you never truly know what’s going on inside someone else’s body.

Don’t be the person that causes someone to go home feeling humiliated, just because they appear to look healthy.

Originally published: July 20, 2016
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