Invisible Health

If I was to walk into work with a fever, vomiting, and coughing all over you and your office supplies, odds are I would be glared at and be told to just go home. No one wants someone in the office that’s sick, right? My boss might think my job would be compromised if I was so sick I couldn’t concentrate on my work. Hell, if one of my co-workers came into work in that state, I’d be thinking and saying the same thing.

The problem is… Many of the times I walk into work, I may not look sick, but I can assure you, I am.

Millions of individuals with chronic illnesses bear the extra burden of family, friends, coworkers, and even healthcare professionals who don’t believe these patients are ill because they don’t “look sick.”

My immune system sucks, that I’m sure of. And many of my friends and family can attest to that as well. But, the most debilitating of my “issues” are severe anxiety and asthma.

Granted, some may not really consider asthma an “invisible disease”, but it is definitely one of the more misunderstood diseases even to this day. Asthma has (sadly) become more known in society, but I come across far too many situations where the people around me just don’t get it.

Recently, I received a comment from a co-worker about it. I am in a field of work where most of my day is spent outside, in the sun, climbing in and out of parked cars that can range up to nearly 150° inside. We have been having unusually hot and humid weather, which does not bode well for my breathing. At 33-years old, I am very aware of my triggers, and I can tell you that sitting in sweltering hot vehicles under the blazing sun makes me — at the very least — pretty short of breath.

I came inside the office to cool off, and sat down at a co-worker’s desk. I took a puff of my inhaler, and started mentioning to my co-worker that my asthma was acting up because this heat is so bad for it. He smirked and made a comment about the fact that he had asthma, too. “Really?” I remarked. “I didn’t know that.” He looked at me, and half jokingly replied, “Yeah, that’s because I don’t whine about it.”

I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that complaining about the fact that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen was consider whining.

Yesterday, while at work on another extremely heated day, I started feeling short of breath again, and this time coupled with dizziness and extreme light headedness. I decided to leave work and head to my doctor. He prescribed me steroids, as he usually does, and gave me a note to excuse me for the rest of the day. On the note, it said I was not to return to work until tomorrow. “I don’t want you out in the heat. You need to stay home and rest and let the steroids do their work.”

I was relieved. Until I had to contact my boss. To which I texted him (twice) and emailed him, and the upper management a copy of the doctor’s note.

There was no anger or snarky comments from them in return, which I was worried about. But there was no anything. No response at all. From either of them. I texted my boss again this morning to remind him I would not be coming in, just in case he happened to miss my previous messages. Nada.

Which made me start feeling anxious. I am missing more work. They’re probably angry at me. I wonder if I’m going to be pulled in to be reprimanded when I go in tomorrow. Will I get in trouble? Why would I get in trouble?? It’s a legitimate excuse. They’re probably cursing me out and calling me a slacker and unreliable.

The constant string of worry kept me up last night and had me waking up feeling uneasy. Which then turned to frustration and anger.

WHY should I feel badly about this? Yes, I’m missing work. Yes, I am probably inconveniencing my boss and co-workers by not being able to be there to do my job. But I am sick. I am sick with a serious illness that could kill me if I’m not careful.

Why is it my job to educate the people around me that just because they may not understand how it works, or what it does to me, it doesn’t mean I should just brush it off, “man up” and keep on working.

And that’s what it comes down to. My self-consciousness about my illness makes me feel like I have to make excuses and overcompensate for it. I have pushed myself harder than I should have many times in the past.

It’s time to stop doing that. It’s time to just put myself and my own well being first. Something I need to start reminding myself more often.

Maybe you do, too.

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