Conflicting advice about my career and Rheumatoid Arthritis – what do I do?

Dear Ms. Meniscus:

When looking for a job, I have been told numerous things in reference to Rheumatoid Arthritis.

“Don’t tell anyone about it, because they will immediately dismiss you as someone unable to learn new skills.”

I’ve been told to, “Be open,” but then people seem to just yawn if you have a flare-up – which is sometimes precisely when you need someone to listen the most.

I’ve heard, “Do not become overly protective.” Fine, I can find balance. The very worst remark is, “I don’t know what to do with this invalid.” I heard this just because I could ice skate, but I was intelligent enough to not let myself be literally hurled through space by someone I knew had no training to do so! All I really want out of career is a chance – same as anyone. This feedback is utterly confusing at times.

-Cindy

Dear Cindy,

There are probably as many methods of dealing with having a chronic disease, such as RA in the work-place, as there are people on the planet.

“Do I disclose it, or do I hide this illness from my colleagues?”

“What exactly am I risking if I do disclose?”

These are very real and daunting questions one has to answer. If you choose to disclose your condition, you risk being seen as inferior or incapable of “measuring up” to the rest of your colleagues. If you choose to keep your illness hidden, then you will have to be ready to engage in some covert activity to keep up an illness-free façade. You would need to continually make up reasons as to why you are missing work if you have a flare-up or when you go to your regularly-scheduled rheumatologist appointment. This of course means you would have added stress, which only serves to further amplify your condition.

My recommendation would be to decide whether the job you are looking into would need you to disclose your condition up-front. You should seriously reconsider finding a new career-path if you are loading and unloading delivery trucks. This kind of physically-taxing job is one that requires you to be up-front about any chronic illness that would hinder your work. Most desk jobs should be OK.

It is not your duty to disclose your RA to everyone in the office, and I wouldn’t disclose it until it was necessary or you felt comfortable. Let them get to know the real you, instead of them automatically associating you as your RA.

The reaction to your ice-skating event is appalling, and altogether uncalled for.

If that is the work-environment you are currently in, I suggest you find a new one – soon.

Whatever decision you make, make sure it is one with which you can live.

Good luck.

–M

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