Heather Huppmann

@heatherhuppmann | contributor
Heather Huppmann is a thirty-something wife and mom to three boys. Huppmann is chronically ill, but not chronically down – and dedicated to living life to its fullest while dealing with diseases that try their best to stop her. She is an advocate and sympathetic ear to those struggling with similar issues.

When Being Sick Is a Full-Time Job

As my illnesses progressed, I came to terms with the fact that I am no longer able to work a traditional 9-to-5 job. I’ve lost six jobs, all for different reasons related to my illnesses, in the last few years. The smack of defeat, depression and embarrassment was so emotionally devastating with every single “I’m sorry, this just isn’t working out,” whether it was from me or my employer. I would cry my eyes out every time I saw it coming or came to the realization that I was going to be unemployed, again. I wanted to believe that I could still contribute to a company, make a difference in the world, provide a stream of income for our family, obtain health insurance and not worry if we were going to be able to pay the bills on my husband’s salary alone. I was lost. So much of who I was leading up to my diagnoses revolved around my title as a working mom. I loved my industry and I loved my work. I hung in there for as long as I could. When I was a kid, I never dreamed of being a stay-at-home sick person. The moment I got clear about how bad things really were, it was a relief. Luckily enough for my family, we can get by on just my husband’s salary. It’s not easy, but we make it work. In all honesty, my new job doesn’t pay a dime (quite the opposite, truth be told), but managing my illnesses is a full-time job. From making sure my medications are right and up-to-date, doctor visits, labs, tests, dealing with my insurance company, and most importantly making sure I and listening to my body. It was impossible to faithfully fulfill my responsibilities to my employers and manage all the things that kept me going. I realized something along the way. I learned that my self-worth is not tied to a job title, a high salary or a fancy LinkedIn profile. Those things were for a healthier version of me. Being chronically ill, my bar is now set lower, but clearing that bar is as important as ever. My bar and measure for success revolves around those good days where I function like a normal person and enjoy life without the constant reminder that I don’t feel good. No raises, no promotions, no awards — just the satisfaction of having a good day is enough. I am enough just the way I am. I traded in my power suit for pajamas and a robe this year. I’m still worth something, I’m still happy and I’m still making my small dent in this world.

Reasons Why You Shouldn't Hide Your Chronic Illness

I used to hide. I spent years hiding my illnesses from my family, my friends and sometimes even my husband. People close to me knew I was sick, but I tried really hard not to discuss it. I would say things like, “Oh, we are doing great. I’m fine, don’t you worry about me.” I said these things because I was afraid. I was afraid of the awkward silence that tends to follow being honest with someone or people thinking I was faking because I don’t look sick. I was afraid of comments like, “Oh, I once had a really bad flu, so I know how you feel.” I was nervous people would avoid me because they didn’t know what to say, and so they would say nothing. I didn’t want people to think I was the girl who complained all the time. I was afraid my mom would cry, and that I would have to comfort her. I feared my kids would internalize having a sick mom, one who couldn’t be normal like Johnny’s mom. And I didn’t want to add more weight to the world my husband already carries on his shoulders. I was afraid of all of it. After years of hiding and being dishonest and unauthentic, I’ve come to learn a few things: Telling your story helps you heal emotionally. Telling your story helps educate people. It helps them understand exactly what you are going through. Some people may judge you, and that’s OK. Learn to let it go. If people don’t know the truth, they might make assumptions when you cancel plans at the last minute or tell them you’ll let them know. You will learn to let go of other people’s reactions. They aren’t yours, anyway. People will surprise you with their kindness. People can be awesome when given the chance. Being vulnerable enough to share something that scares you is empowering. Telling your story puts control back in your hands. Telling your story opens you up to a world of people who, upon hearing your story, can say, “me too!” With the help of your new found transparency, you will learn tips and tricks from others with similar issues as well as how an unexpected kind word can brighten a bad day. Now I am the girl who leads with her story. If you meet me and we plan a coffee or lunch date, you’ll probably hear me say something like this, “I am so excited to have lunch with you, I’m chronically ill and some days I get sick out of no where. If that happens, I’ll let you know.” People are usually very kind about that, and I’m comfortable because I’ve set clear expectations and shared a little about what my life looks likes from the very beginning. This helps me deal with the heartbreak of people calling me a flake, or telling me to just suck it up. I set the expectations now, even though I can’t control the reactions. I also tell my family and my husband when I’m not feeling well. This helps me avoid snapping or losing my temper when I’m sick or in pain because I’ve been proactive and have asked for help or space. I said this before, but I want to say it again – people can be awesome when given the chance.