Whether you're looking for a job, starting a new one, or immersed in the responsibilities of your current position, living with Crohn's disease poses a unique set of challenges in the workplace. Issues such as privacy, disclosure, and soliciting support from trusted colleagues are just a few of the demands that change as you begin to reformulate your professional identity. As was the case with friendships, work provides a forum for educating others about what it means to live with Crohn’s.
At work, you may confront the stigma associated with your illness, and perhaps more directly than in any other area of your life. (Read more how to talk about Crohn’s with co-workers in the Fall 2009 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine) The basis of this stigma is the implication that you did something—however incidental or arbitrary—to cause your Crohn’s disease. Maybe it's a feature of your personality, something you ate, all the stress in your life, your genetic makeup, or a country you decided to visit. And if you did something to cause your Crohn's, maybe others can do something to prevent it from happening to them or to someone they love.
But there may be an explanation for these misperceptions. They may simply result from people's desire to make the unknown less frightening, and to understand the fragile balance between being human and being healthy.
Crohn’s isn’t your fault
Although you did not cause your Crohn's disease, it is now yours to tend. Try to see your illness as an opportunity to learn how to better manage stress and rethink how you want to live your life.
Returning to work following a flare, for example, can be daunting and requires you to be highly focused on your own self-care. You will return to a place where, because of illness, you've been excused from your normal responsibilities. But some people may not completely understand what you've gone through. Some coworkers may be happy that you've returned, yet also expect you to work extra hard to make up for lost time.
While such a response may be misguided, it's an opportunity to remind yourself of how lucky you are to be well enough to work.
Whistle while you work
Counting yourself lucky is not an idea that often comes easily for someone living with Crohn's. But try to value whatever work you are able to do. It can provide you with a sense of mastery and competence, both of which are important for someone living with a chronic medical condition.
What's more, work can help you learn to strike a balance between honoring your responsibilities to others while attending to your own needs. While a perfect balance is more of an ideal than a realistic goal, if you're pursuing it, you're on the right track.