Managing Work Relationships While Living With PsA
Everyone stares as I slowly make my way across the room. I’m sure I know what they are thinking–Late again, huh.
Geez, can’t she manage to get it together?
Wish I could roll in whenever I felt like it too…
If they only knew…
Navigating work and work relationships while living with psoriatic arthritis is at best, challenging, at worst, nearly impossible. Like many people who live with PsA, I find myself stuck between just healthy enough to continue working while still having my share of challenges that make working difficult. Working with PsA is interesting because even though I often feel terrible, I don’t typically appear sick. The coworkers who know I have PsA often forget or others don’t even know at all.
How much should you share with coworkers?
I need understanding on days when I struggle. Sometimes, I need extra help, more time, and leeway for doctor appointments and completing some tasks. But on the other hand, I have legitimate fears of being considered incompetent, fears of being judged as “bad” at my job or worse, not viewed as a team player. Sharing your diagnosis with management can certainly allow them to make the necessary accommodations and provide support but with coworkers where should we draw the line? Just like many people with PsA, I want understanding, not sympathy.
In a modern workplace and economy that touts itself to be more accepting than ever of people with disabilities, from my perspective, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. People scream, “But the law is on your side!” There are laws designed to protect us from discrimination in the workplace, however, the law doesn’t keep gossip from spreading. The law doesn’t stop the sideways glances when I have to leave a meeting early or have to cut back on my work load just to continue to actually work. Let’s face it, we barely have enough energy to fight with insurance companies over benefits, let alone spare energy to defend ourselves in the workplace.
If that weren’t enough, there is the never ending internal conflict.
How long can I continue to drag myself out of bed?
I love my job, I’m so frustrated that I can’t do it as well as I used to be able to.
What happens if I can’t work anymore?
I need insurance, desperately.
Can I even qualify for disability? Even if I do, is that giving up?
My coworkers don’t see this side of me. They don’t see how hard it is for me to keep it together. They don’t see how much their whispered comments hurt. They don’t know that I’ve even said them to myself, countless times. That I’ve had a job every single day since my 16th birthday and I can’t imagine life without a job, without feeling like a productive member of society.
Don’t get me wrong, I work with some amazing and understanding people. We all work hard at our jobs and do the best we can to manage a stable work/life balance. Everyone wants to be seen as good at their job: responsible, dependable, and hard-working. People who struggle occasionally at work are no different. We should be seen as valuable parts of the team, and we should we be treated as such.
What can you do to help manage a stressful work environment?
Talk to your manager – Make him or her aware of any needs you may have that would help make your work life easier as well as any conflicts or misunderstandings with coworkers. It is his or her job to deal with conflict resolution as well as provide the necessary accommodations to allow you to work effectively. It is very important to foster a positive and open relationship with this person. In my experience, being demanding or confrontational will not help any situation. Things can get emotional and sometimes we can take things a bit personally, just do your best to remain level headed and open.
Talk to your coworkers – How much or how little you share with your coworkers about living with PsA is up to you. You are certainly not required to share any information with anyone. However, I will say that in many cases, if you are open and honest about your desire to work and do your best then it will help you develop positive relationships with your coworkers. Helping others understand what you deal with on a daily basis can go a long way with helping them understand and make accommodations for you without being overly judgmental.
Put on a smile – No one wants to work with a “Debbie Downer.” Yes, we are in pain everyday. Yes, doctor appointments and tension at work can be stressful. But if we let the pain and stress show every second we are at work then it makes a stressful work environment for everyone. I’m not saying be fake or phony, just try not to make every conversation or interaction be negative.
Know the laws in your area – When all else fails, take the time to be informed. Know your rights and don’t be afraid to (respectfully!) speak up. In this situation, being educated is your best friend so research, research, research.
When it really comes down to it, only you can make your work environment a positive and productive place. What have you found to be helpful or hurtful as you try to continue to work with PsA? Do you find it difficult to be open about what life is like with PsA? Has honestly about your condition impacted your work environment in a positive or negative way?