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How to Create a Better Work Environment When Dealing with Chronic Illness

People in the workplace don’t always understand how debilitating certain chronic illnesses can be. Here’s how to fix that.

There are many, many chronic illnesses in the world. Some of which are extremely debilitating and sporadic. Most of the time, sufferers have no choice but to stay home when they experience symptoms.

Often times, though, people in the workplace doubt the severity of the symptoms of certain chronic illnesses, which often breeds a toxic work environment filled with doubt.

In this article, I’ll show you the very simple way to eradicate this doubt so that you can restore the well-being in your workplace. I’ll use chronic migraine headaches as an example, but the same strategy will work for other types of chronic illnesses.

The vast majority of people that try to describe chronic migraine tend to use words like uncomfortable, annoying, stressful, painful. But when the migraine community describes it, they use words like debilitating, excruciating, self-defeating, unbearable.

The latter is usually the more accurate picture because they were described by people who have actually lived it.

If there’s a drastic and fundamental misunderstanding of what someone is going through, then it inevitably breeds doubt among colleagues and superiors.

They may start thinking:

  • “Is she really in that much pain that she couldn’t come to work today?”
  • “She’s probably faking it so that she doesn’t have to come to Monday’s meetings.”
  • “We always have to pick up her slack because she gets headaches every once in a while.”

For obvious reasons, you wouldn’t want these thoughts directed at you in the workplace. However, these thoughts aren’t directed with malicious intent, they are merely the result of a lack of education about the subject. If someone has never had a migraine and never read up on the literature, can you blame them that they doubt the way you feel? Of course not. Humans are naturally skeptical, which was an important characteristic to have in the primitive days.

The most productive thing you can do is acknowledge the presumable skepticism of your colleagues and then educating them on your condition.

Tell them that migraine is the 6th most disabling illness in the world.

Tell them that a migraine is not the same as a headache.

Tell them that you need to wear special glasses because light becomes blinding during an attack.

Tell them that a migraine is much more than just head pain, it also usually comes with vomiting and vision loss.

When we do this, we are bringing the doubters down to our world, allowing them to be much more empathetic to what you’re going through.

And even if you’re not aware of colleagues openly questioning how you feel, they might be thinking it, so I believe it is crucial that you proactively educate them anyway.

Once everyone is on the same page, a metaphorical weight will be lifted off your shoulder which will allow you to have a better sense of well-being in the workplace.

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