Working With (Not Around) Your Chronic Illness

  1. I have an illness that will affect my workflow. OR I have (x) illness — I just want to tell you now that it will affect my workflow.
  2. Realistically, these are the deadlines I can and cannot promise to meet. (Personally I always quote extra time just incase.)
  3. Especially if you have flare-ups/ attacks that come on suddenly: These are the signs that I’m having a problem. If I ask for help, here are the things I may need help with in order to recover.
  4. When having a flare-up/ attack that runs any chance of affecting your work: TELL YOUR TEAM. This can be as simple as “Hey all! Not feeling so good today. I’ll be a little slow — I’ll keep you posted if I need anything.”
  1. When explaining your illness say “Hey, stop me if this is too much or you’re uncomfortable. (As much as I would love to say “That sounds like a YOU problem” every time somebody doesn’t want to hear about a friend’s health, this really does save friendships. It’s ok for people to be squeamish about some things.)
  2. If they ask to hear more, ask if they prefer links to read about or for you to explain it to them. (Personally I prefer to read about things and then ask questions. Some people would rather talk to a friend and hear it from them. Both are perfectly valid.)
  3. Be understanding if somebody doesn’t want to hear exactly what’s happening with you. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, and they aren’t trying to hurt your feelings. They have their reasons for being uncomfortable. (This one was the hardest for me to wrap my mind around. The illness that affects me the most is gynecological in nature, and I was raised in a very sex-positive household where I was encouraged to ask 8 MILLION questions about everything. It was really hard to wrap my mind around why a professor in Texas didn’t want me to tell them why I was in the hospital and missed their class.) Again — sounds obvious when I say it out loud. IT REALLY IS OK IF SOMEBODY ASKS YOU NOT TO TELL THEM MORE. You’ll both be a lot happier if you smile and accept it.
  1. Communicate any concerns as soon as they come up, and in as direct a manner as possible. (ex. “Hey, I know you have some medical conditions. How are these going to affect your ability to complete (x) project?)
  2. Communicate deadlines as soon as you set them. Understand that, if a deadline is suddenly and/ or drastically moved forward, it may not be possible to meet it.
  3. If you want to know how somebody is feeling, ask them directly. If you need a visual, ask how many “spoons” they have left that day. (If you’ve never heard of Spoon Theory — I get to it later in the article. It’s genius! I wish I had been smart enough to come up with something like that.)

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Stephanie is a Composer, Conductor, Soprano, and Activist currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Follow her on Twitter @StephSWilkinson.

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Stephanie Streseman Wilkinson

Stephanie Streseman Wilkinson

Stephanie is a Composer, Conductor, Soprano, and Activist currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Follow her on Twitter @StephSWilkinson.

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