There are a lot of things that can get on the nerves of a person with chronic illness. Many of them are those off the cuff comments made by outsiders, who perhaps speak with no malice intended, but still manage to rub us up the wrong way. One of these such comments was part of a conversation I had the other day regarding my sick absence from work in the past few years. (I should precursor this with a bit of background: my requiring time off work due to my condition has lessened dramatically both since my initial diagnosis, surgery and since I started my current treatment (wondrous Infliximab infusions).
Of course I still need time off for all the various appointments I need to attend and much of that I take from my own leave allocation to ward off the nagging fear of being made unemployed at any given moment. I say my need for sick leave has decreased because I’ve seen the stats. My stays in hospital are less and less, and although this treatment brings with it many offshoots causing other health problems, I am managing to ‘manage’. This makes me happy for several reasons: I am getting better and there is a visible record of this in black and white, I am making my employer happy as I am able to work more than I could, and I am no longer living under a cloud of terror at the prospect of being sacked.
So there you have it, the stats can’t be wrong. I am a much more visible employee albeit with an invisible illness and am happy about it. It may be hard to believe but the majority of chronically ill people don’t want to miss work. It makes us feel redundant and useless and can again serve to separate us from ‘normal’ people.
SO back to my original reason for this blog.
The other day someone told me how pleased they were that they hadn’t had a sick day in a whole year. My first thought was, ‘WONDERFUL! Amazing you haven’t felt ill in a whole 12months!’ Swiftly followed by an internal (I can only DREAM of achieving such a feat). I politely told this person I was really pleased for them (I genuinely am) and thought maybe we’d leave it at that – mainly because I could sense “And you?” was coming round the conversational corner at breakneck speed. Arrive it did and when I confided how many days absence I’d had in a 12month period she was AGHAST. Knowing already of my condition and various issues I have had in the past few years she was still astounded at the number of days I’ve been off. (Side note – it’s less than a month). I then swiftly tried to justify myself, saying things like “Oh you should have been around in 2011 I was off for about 5months after my op!” - Desperately trying to make up for my behaviour and show what a good girl I’ve been since. GOD KNOWS WHY.
Wait, I do – GUILT.
As mentioned previously we want to work. We want to be active and useful and ‘normal’. We try our hardest to do so. We are absolutely delighted to hear you are well, and have been well enough to attend work every day; but please don’t make us feel like shit because we haven’t. Encourage us instead. Gloating about your achievements is never cool – even less so when it makes us feel like failures.
Remind us you’re glad we’re alive, because that’s definitely an achievement we can get on board with.