I got diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in March of 2014. Up until about late November, early December, I was on steroids and a therapy medication. The steroids were to help get my inflammation under control and keep the flare ups at bay, until the therapy meds built up to to a therapeutic level. I happened to be one of the few people who is allergic to Mesalamine, so I couldn’t take the one medication that is supposed to start working almost immediately. Instead, I got Azathioprine, which takes much longer to build up in your system and you have to take get regular blood tests to make sure it doesn’t cause problems for your kidneys.
I ended up gaining a lot of weight (didn’t actually weigh myself so I don’t know how much for sure, probably close to 40lbs in 9 months). During that 9 months, I also managed to pick up C-diff four times. I also found out that three others in my department at work were getting it too. We were pretty certain we were getting it from work (btw, been gone from that place for over a year and a half and no C-diff), but HR wouldn’t or couldn’t do anything about it. Between the C-diff and the flare ups, I ended up missing more than half my scheduled shift for 2014. It was horrible. I had qualified for FMLA, but the amount of time given wasn’t quite enough. I ran out of FMLA by December. You know, that time when everyone get sick and passes around colds? By this time, the head of my department was tired of me missing work and was looking for any excuse possible to fire me.
I had one more flare up at the beginning of December and my FMLA was gone, so I had to work within our company’s attendance policy (which didn’t have sick days). This policy had changed at least five times since I had started working for this company (and I had been there for five and a half years), yeah, that’s at least once every year. So I had asked my supervisor what about the policy and how to avoid getting written up. He gave me misinformation and I got written up for doing what he said was okay. When I tried to fight it, they said it was on me because I had signed the paper in April, saying I had read the attendance policy. The write up only lasts 30 days, so I figured, it wouldn’t be the first time I’d worked through the pain at work, I could tough it out for a month, not miss any work, and then reapply for FMLA (that time was coming up in about 30 days too).
Three days before my attendance probation was over, the supervisor who wanted me gone, walked by my desk, as I was silencing my kindle (we had a no electronic device policy at our desks, but many many people, including other supervisors had read kindles at their desks). She went over and told the head of the department and they decided to send me home, half an hour before my shift was over. The next morning I was fired. After almost six years of working for them, I got sick and they wanted me gone. The best part was when they denied my request for unemployment afterwards. Incidentally, I lost my insurance, couldn’t afford the $500 therapy pills in the interim between when I got back on insurance, and it caused the flare up that ultimately landed me on the operating table.
I know I’m not the only one with a chronic disease that has been singled out at work. At that company alone, there were at least five others in my department that had targets on their back as soon as their condition was made public. It doesn’t matter how illegal it is for a company to single someone out, or look for reasons to fire you. And believe me, I accept that it was ultimately my fault. I knew they wanted me gone and were looking for a reason to do it. I knew that having any kind of PED at my desk was against policy and regardless of them letting others do it, because they wanted me gone, they’d report me. But the fact is, after six years, you’d think they would be a little more understanding. This wasn’t a big corporation. It was still a relatively small “mom and pop” kind of business, privately owned by two wonderful people. The problem is, those two people never knew what was really going on in their call centers.
Fact is, when you have a chronic illness or chronic pain, it’s not enough that you have to suffer (sometimes daily) with your condition, but then you also have to practically walk on eggshells at any place of employment. It’s already emotionally draining to power through your day like you’re okay, but then to also have to be 100% the “exemplary employee” just to avoid getting treated any different from the dude who fakes headaches and goes home early, or the chick who answers her text messages from her phone, while a supervisor (the same one who sent me home) is sitting at her desk chatting with her. The double standards are horrible and I know I wasn’t the only who had to deal with it.
Once more, I find myself saying, “You’re not alone.” It is unjust and unfair, but fact is, unless you want to end up unemployed for far too long, it is something you have to endure. I am physically capable of working in that line of work again, therefore I don’t qualify for disability. Thankfully, I still currently qualify for unemployment, so I have some income. But I am living off the generosity of others and I can’t take care of myself and my son, if we were to live alone. That is probably the worst feeling of all. I can’t provide for my son.
If you still have your job, but are worried because you think there is a target on your back, try not to stress about it. Accept that this is the way things are for now and just accept that you’ll have to be the best employee ever. If you don’t stress about it, chances are, you won’t slip up. It’s easier to think when you’re not stressed or overwhelmed and with a clearer head, you’re less likely to forget your keys when you walk out the door, you won’t forget to clock in on time from a break or lunch or at the beginning of your shift, you’re less likely to forget the little things they could nail you for. And best of all, the most important thing;
If you don’t stress, you won’t aggravate your condition. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you suffer from a chronic illness, most likely UC, Crohns, or some other IBS. And as we all know, stress can trigger a flare up faster than anything.
My biggest problem with that job was that it caused it a lot of stress. Even before I got diagnosed, I was under a lot of stress to be good at what I do. That’s mostly due to the fact I am a perfectionist and I wanted the supervisor position (I was about to get it too, actually). But my GI doc ended up telling me, the stress from that job, coupled with the NSAIDs I was taking for my back pain, triggered my Ulcerative Colitis. Losing that job was both a good thing and a bad thing. I wasn’t so stressed, but I was also broke.
So, if you’re in a situation similar to mine, wondering, “Would it just be easier if I left this place?!” Weigh your options. These days health care is a little easier to get, if you’re unemployed. But honestly, if you’re able to get yourself into the mindset where you’re not so stressed about having a target on your back, then you can likely let that stress just melt away and make work less toxic for you. If I could go back and make myself accept my situation and not stress as much, I would. It probably would have saved me at least one of my flare ups. Don’t know about that C-diff thing though. It is kind of nice to not worry about that anymore.
Anyway, I hope this post helps a little, if you’re feeling like no one understands your situation, or you don’t know if you should leave that job or not. You are not alone, someone understands (many someones actually), and that list is a rather personal decision. All I can do is tell you my situation. And honestly, if it weren’t for my mom, I’d likely have ended up in a women’s shelter by now. Or in the projects somewhere. But that’s just my story.