When to disclose illness at work

Last week, my “mom” Marlene Kahan sent me a link to Lisa Belkin’s article in The New York Times: “I’m Ill, But Who Really Needs to Know?” At first I thought it was an FYI forward; Marlene and I share many things, among them duels with our respective chronic illnesses that have deeply affected how we live and work. The article begins, ONE of the first decisions you make in the emotional hours after a scary diagnosis is whether to tell others. Most of us share the news with our loved ones, but what of the circles beyond, particularly those at work? Your boss? So true, so true. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 21, shortly after I was hired at Ladies’ Home Journal. It wasn’t working out. I thought I had been hired as an assistant editor; it even said so on my offer letter. I had left a job I loved, as a reporter at Adweek, a wonderful if absolutely kooky place to start a career in journalism. But it was dawning on me that I was in fact being groomed to become a copy editor. For those of you not in the biz, copy editing is a very specific line of work requiring a highly exacting set of skills including precision and patience. Copy editing was not for me. Copy editing hated me. As my boss realized my lack of talent and I realized the enormity of my mistake, my stress level amped up—as did my stress-related illness. That job came crashing to an end in a tearful meeting with my boss (I cried, she didn’t) in which I revealed my recent diagnosis. It was the first time she expressed any sympathy toward me. Of course, I was leaving, so it didn’t behoove me much. But I was glad to leave her with a reason for my complete incompetence other than my complete incompetence. Since then, my illness has accompanied me like a fugly paper weight to four more workplaces. As is often the case … Continue reading When to disclose illness at work