ask the readers: when you’re the chronically sick coworker

Last fall, we had a letter from someone frustrated with a coworker, Jane, who was constantly out of the office and had taken far more personal and sick leave than anyone else in the office received. The letter said, “I find it incredibly unfair that Jane is given so much lenience … I’m having a hard time enjoying the work I do when I’m stuck on the same team as such an unreliable coworker.” In my response, I pointed out that while Jane might be abusing the employer’s good will, it’s also possible that she was dealing with a health condition and had negotiated time off to deal with it.

In the comments on that post, someone wrote, “I’d love an Ask the Readers post on this! And how and how much ‘Janes’ communicated with coworkers when they’ve been in her position, and how things worked out. I’m still constantly trying to find the line between ‘taking care of myself’ and ‘rationalizing slacking off and/or unnecessarily burdening my coworkers.'”

So, readers, if you’ve ever been the chronically ill coworker who needed extra time off or other accommodations, how did you navigate it with coworkers? What went well and what didn’t? What advice would you give others who are struggling with that?

{ 676 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I want to keep this practical and useful, so I’m going to ask that people minimize the “there’s nothing that will help; you are doomed” comments. There’s a place for discussing the really problematic ways we handle chronic illness in the workplace, but this post is for constructive recommendations about what to actually do.

  2. JokeyJules*

    I worked on a small team one summer, and it really affected us when our coworker would show up unwell or just not show up. But I think what made an already annoying situation worse was that they were VERY mum about it with the other staff. They never told us that they weren’t feeling well while we were working together – they would just periodically leave the office for a little while (anywhere from 15-90 minutes), leaving us in a lurch and without coverage. They also would call in 15 minutes before their shift and say they would not be able to come in at all and just hang up.
    It turns out that they had a terrible, unpredictable, and rare autoimmune condition that left them extremely fatigued and in pain and were unable to manage those symptoms yet. I think we would all have been more understanding or at least a little less irritated if that had been communicated. I know that management knew, and was choosing to keep it entirely under wraps which is the correct thing to do, but being called into work early or on my day off at least once a week was infuriating. Management would just call and say “welp, Jane’s not feeling well, so I need you to come in 5 hours earlier.” It left us all feeling a LOT of resentment towards Jane. I truly think a few people didn’t believe her when she told us about her condition at the end of the summer, but were polite enough to not say that to her face. I can’t say I think she was faking it or abusing the system or anything, but I can definitely say that telling us something would have made us all a lot less upset.

    1. JokeyJules*

      to clarify: this was the type of job where they hired exactly how many people they needed to get the work done every day, so being short one person made a LOT of extra work for everyone else. If it were someone in my office, and I only had to do a few extra tasks, it would not have been nearly as much of a “burden”

      1. Squigs*

        I feel like this really goes back to something that came up in the original post, about trading off privacy for empathy and sympathy. Yeah, your medical problems are your business and no one else’s but you can’t expect a lot of goodwill from your coworkers when they don’t know the full story and only see you leaving early/coming in late/taking excessive time off with no consequences.

        1. JokeyJules*

          it really ostracized Jane from the rest of us, which must have been especially hard on her since it was such a small team. But from our perspectives we were being asked to pull doubles or start your shift at 7am on a Saturday but being told at 11pm on Friday night.

        2. Loux in Canada*

          But you know what sucks? Sometimes when you tell people what your medical condition is, they start with the, “Have you tried x? That will solve all your problems!” and will NEVER let it rest. Ever. So that might preclude some people from talking about it. I have chronic migraines and I’ve heard it all.

                1. 404_FoxNotFound*

                  Seconding this. These are all things that I as a chronically ill human has heard dozens and dozens of time. I’ve mostly stopped disclosing until I thoroughly trust the folks I’m working with, or the back-talk/judging/skepticism is outweighed by the actual benefits of disclosing (ie. I’m sick enough that it can’t be avoided)

                2. YogaCat*

                  Yes it’s a common experience. Or you are completely disregarded. I don’t blame people for not wanting to tell people the WHAT of their chronic illness. I’ve heard:
                  -“It’s in your head”
                  -“You should go to a doctor” gee you think?!
                  -“You should try xyz” Chances are if it’s on the internet as a cure, we’ve tried it or our doctor has said, NOT to under any circumstances try THAT because it’s dangerous.

              1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

                That’s literally EVERYONE’S experience with a chronic illness. Show me one ill/disabled person who hasn’t been persistently pestered that way and I’ll show you a unicorn.

                I 100% appreciate and understand your position. What you’re describing is very annoying. But most chronically ill people face a very real dilemma: disclose the illness and be pestered/interrogated/doubted/bullied, or don’t disclose it and just accept that you will lose respect and frustrate everyone you work with. It’s incredibly demoralizing. Heads they win, tails I lose.

                I do understand where you’re coming from. But this problem of well-meaning youshouldtryyogahaveyoutriedthismedicineclearedmyheadacherightup, outright skepticism and persistent interrogations is so well-documented and discussed that it seems weird to me that someone might not have heard about it.

                1. celtic47*

                  I’m dealing with this right now. I have multiple chronic illnesses and can work a mostly normal schedule with maybe 1 or 2 days a month that need to be out. During those times, I cannot function. But yesterday my boss informed me that some coworkers have been complaining about the difficulty scheduling things. ALL my coworkers know about one of the chronic illnesses I have, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

                2. ChimericalOne*

                  Nothing about “That’s terrible, I’m sorry that’s been your experience” suggests “I’ve never heard of anything like that” or otherwise expresses skepticism, to me.

                  JokeyJules doesn’t say that Jane should have given them a ton of details to latch on to — they just say that telling them “something” would’ve helped. “I’ve got a serious medical condition that flares up without warning” inspires a lot more sympathy than “I’m not feeling well” played on repeat & doesn’t really open you up to a lot of advice-giving, either.

                3. Two Tin Cans and a String*

                  ChimericalOne, I did read surprise into that comment, perhaps unfairly, especially because of that explanation point and the lack of acknowledgement that duh, of course that’s been the experience, that’s always the experience, it’s common as dirt.

                  I’ve done my best to explain in good faith why that surprise can be galling, here and further downthread. If it doesn’t apply to JJ, good! I’m glad they already know because it’s something everyone could benefit from knowing! And if others reading this thread didn’t know that, well, now they do!

                4. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

                  Yup. My chronic illness started in university, and even being fairly open about it with friends, a rumor started up that the *actual* problem was alcoholism (I almost never drink, so that was especially ironic). Even telling people the problem doesn’t necessarily help, and it invites more prying and ridiculous advice (“Have you tried covering yourself with potato skins for an hour? I read a website saying that would help!” – something that was actually said to me.)

                  If it’s an illness that people *think* they understand, they’ll try to ~help~. If it’s an illness they’ve never heard of, they’ll think you’re lying. If you tell them nothing, they’ll think you’re lazy/stupid/insert horrible stereotype here. If you tell them anything at all, even a vague “I’m sick,” they’ll feel entitled to more details. There’s no ‘winning’ with everyone – the best you can do is judge how individuals will react, and choose your response accordingly.

                  Personally, I don’t disclose at work, because it’s currently well-controlled and the symptoms that do crop up are easy enough to handwave away as typical, ‘happens-to-everyone’ issues. The boss and those I’m very close with know I have a chronic illness, but don’t know details. It’s been working well for a few years now. YMMV based on your symptoms and workplace.

                5. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                  Anastasia Beaverhousen- a roommate we had a couple years ago was *convinced* that I had a coke/speed problem because I often stayed up all night, and because I sniffle & snort constantly.
                  I have a circadian rhythm disorder as well as insomnia, and allergies that are not fully controlled despite being under a physicians care and on multiple meds. I had talked about all of this, it’s not a secret. And yet, jerk still had to jump to a majorly wrong conclusion.

                6. pancakes*

                  I’m trying to reply to Chimerical One but can’t seem to do so directly.

                  “‘I’ve got a serious medical condition that flares up without warning’ inspires a lot more sympathy than ‘I’m not feeling well’ played on repeat” — No, I don’t think it reliably does. What it does, in my experience as someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s, is inspire an awful lot of wretched gossip about what exactly the diagnosis is, and whether the diagnosis is real or a lie, a big monstrous lie. I knew this going in because my mother and one of my aunts had cancer as well. People who’ve never had experience with serious illness often seem to imagine that it leads others to be very kind, etc., and sometimes it does. Sometimes it leads people to behave horribly, too, in all sorts of ways. There are people who’d rather say nothing at all than risk a moment of awkwardness, for example, and people who can’t seem to resist bullying someone they know is vulnerable.

                  People don’t necessarily handle the illness of coworkers better than they handle any other source of stress or anxiety. Many, many, many people handle stress and anxiety very badly!

                7. HelenB*

                  It sucks doesn’t it. Same problem with pregnancy losses and infertility, and their attendant medical appointments and long-term crippling, alienating, emotional awfulness. You absolutely hit the nail on the head about why I generally didn’t disclose.

              2. General Ginger*

                I am comfortable saying this is pretty much a universal experience when you have a chronic illness. Ask me how I know this :(

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              I’ve heard both and it’s indeed infuriating.
              I was born with most of my medical issues and they aren’t curable by any means.
              I am indeed sick, and your worthless pseudoscience BS ‘treatment’ is less useful than doing nothing at all.

            2. AnnaBananna*

              Yep. People still think my condition is fake. I just want to glare at them and reference all the various studies with proof but frankly it’s not worth the stress. So….I suffer in silence as it’s about the only semblance of peace I have these days. I’m with you!!

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                When I was a kid, I had more than one teacher accuse me of faking ASTHMA ATTACKS to “get out of running” in PE. (Running is one of my triggers so hell yes I avoided it!)
                This was in the early 70s when there wasn’t as much awareness of asthma, and at one point before I was diagnosed, but still- seriously? Some adult can look at a 6 yr old kid wheezing and gasping and tell them TO THEIR FACE that they are faking it?

                I also have allergies, and ADHD, which are both conditions that many people refuse to believe exist. I didn’t get diagnosed with ADHD until I was 48 (I didn’t even *suspect* it, as I am the inattentive type) but I am still a *textbook* example of it, so much so it makes me laugh to see how closely my life has followed the pattern.
                But sure, tell me how it doesn’t exist, it’s a made up illness, it’s caused by bad parenting or too much sugar & TV (totally the opposite of my growing up experience.)

                1. YogaCat*

                  Yep co-worker told me asthma was in my head and I could make it go away. I actually yelled at him for being stupid while at work. He never bothered me again. But I don’t recommend my approach in a professional environment. This was retail.

          1. Lora*

            2X cancer survivor here. I never tell anyone who doesn’t absolutely need to know. Between the weird judgment, the pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, plus the added burden of managing other people’s emotional reactions (excuse me? I’m the one who is sick!) it’s just too much to deal with.

            1. Kitty*

              Yup, I totally get that. I would think “I have a chronic or serious health issue” would do the trick with most reasonable people? I’ve never been in this position, though.

            2. CastIrony*

              I’m so sorry to hear that, Lora! Imagine my mortification when my relative, who also works where I work, showing a co-worker, who had recently beat cancer, a video on Facebook on how garlic repelled this cancer cell in a petri dish!

              Don’t worry; I scolded them for that.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Hahaha! I can’t tell you how many times I heard that (and yes, I have taken up yoga – still ill, lol).

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Ill yet flexible, LOL.


                1. Rainy*

                  YOU SHOULD PUT LAVENDER OIL ON IT is the one I used to hear a lot, about literally everything from migraines to hives. I am actually allergic to lavender oil. :P

                2. Rebecca in Dallas*

                  Ughhhhhh the essential oil suggestions are the worst for some reason. I actually do have an essential oil blend that I use to help alleviate the nausea that comes with a migraine, but I promise it does not cure the migraine!

                3. My Dear Wormwood*

                  My friend and I get a giggle whenever the yoga suggestion comes up, because it’s very mildly helpful for me (still have Aspergers, but at least my back doesn’t hurt) , but she has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and being too flexible is part of her problem!

              2. Janie*

                It’s so funny how yoga hasn’t cured my PCOS OR made me thin. (Wouldn’t want it to do the second.)

            2. SnapCrackleSloth*

              Fun story, yoga makes my condition much worse. So I REALLY love hearing that one.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                Yep, I’ve gotten the “try this treatment that is totally contraindicated by your condition!” comments before and it’s really infuriating.
                Even more so when you tell them, and get something like “well you’re just doing it wrong!” or “how do you know if you don’t TRY?”
                There are times when I wish that everyone who wants to give ‘halpful’ suggestions could experience everything I do for 1 fucking month. Then they can try out all their wonderful advice on themselves!

                1. 653-CXK*

                  “If you don’t fall over into a grand mal seizure, foam blood out of your mouth and then explode into a million tiny pieces like Mike TeeVee of Willy Wonka, I’ll believe it’ll work. Until then, I am not going to even try.”

                2. Former Employee*

                  This is somewhat unrelated, but a friend asked me how I can say that I won’t go camping because I know I won’t like it even though I’ve never tried it.

                  I explained to them that I’ve never been in prison either, but I just know I wouldn’t like it.

          2. LSP*

            As someone with chronic migraine, this happens way too often.

            I’ve had migraine for more than 25 years, and the only thing that ever gave me a reprieve was becoming pregnant. I’ve just had my second kid, and even if I wanted more, for other medical reasons, this one must be my last, so even the “just stay pregnant forever” joke solution isn’t going to work.

            I see a specialist. I know my triggers. I don’t need someone saying, “Oh, I hear peppermint oil really helps with headaches.”

            Of course, when people inevitably do butt-in with their “helpful hints” I just smile and let them know I’ve tried that (because I probably have), and that I work with my doctor to keep them from impacting my work and my life too much.

            1. Workallday*

              Omg, before I finally found what worked for my migraines after suffering for over 25 years with them as well, well meaning people had all the answers, from cutting out red wine (which I don’t drink) to exercise which I have always done. My migraines happened to be hormonal, but no one could get that through their thick skulls no matter how much I told them, they knew my body better than I did.

            2. Evan Þ.*

              My mother went through migranes for most of my childhood, so I had a close-up seat for all the things that she tried and, for all they apparently worked for other people, didn’t for her. Where she eventually ended up was a combination of some pills that sort of worked, a lot of lifestyle tips to keep them from impacting her life, and menopause which apparently blunted their severity.

              Of course, that’s the opposite of the “one easy fix” that I still find myself wishing for about my own infinitely-less-severe issues. Apparently, it rarely exists. Best wishes to you.

              1. CatMintCat*

                Menopause cured my migraines, which were obviously hormonal despite multiple doctors denying that was a thing. Unfortunately it’s a hard cure to recommend to others.

                1. My Dear Wormwood*

                  “You should try having your ovaries removed!”

                  Yeah, I can see that one going down really well.

                2. Prior HR*

                  Just saying, i talked about forcing my body into early menopause with my gynecologist, just to end my migraines. For other reasons, I decided against it, but there are times when I start to reconsider.

            3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              Here’s a story for ya!

              Someone that was a really close friend of my husband’s, and a migraine sufferer, ended up being our roommate for awhile. She decided she wanted to go all-natural, drug-free for everything. Cupping, massage, essential oils, organic food, no plastic containers, etc etc
              When she’d get a migraine (about every other week), she’d end up dragging around the house for DAYS, suffering, until it either faded, or she broke down and asked my husband (who also suffers from migraines) for an Rx ibuprofen or occasionally one of his migraine pills. MONTHS worth of this.
              One day I’m on FB reading a post from a mutual friend complaining about having a migraine. And I see that our then-roommate has commented- all about the fantastic properties of peppermint oil and how it has worked WONDERS for her migraines!
              It was one of those *literal* jaw dropping moments, and I could never figure out if she had been lying on purpose or if she had just become such a zealous convert to the natural cause that cognitive dissonance or denial had kicked in and she really did think that the migraine going away after a week = peppermint oil works!

              1. Anita Brayke*

                I get the idea, and I am under no illusions that peppermint oil cures a migraine, but what it does for my migraines is to give me something else to focus on, other than the pain. I would lay you odds that mine are hormonal and I hope, when I get insurance in a few months, that my doctor will listen to me. I use essential oils for my own relaxation and for headaches, but I am strongly supportive of real medical care, too.

            4. AnnaBananna*

              I hate to be THAT girl but legit….

              Have you looked into taking oxytocin? I take it as an injection as part of my pain regimen but it was actually suggested after resaerchers realized that mothers had a much higher pain threshold during pregnancy. So now they give it to fibro patients at my doctors office and that sh*t is AMAZING. It’s even given me back 20/20 vision (something about increasing blood flow to the ocular nerve?), so I’m wondering if your natural oxytocin levels are just really low outside of pregnancy, and that this supplementation might help? I will admit that my rheumie is a research rheumie. He spends 80% of his time in research with other research hospitals and 20% on pt care. So he tries stuff most folks aren’t aware of yet.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                I forget to mention the link between that. The oxytocin may have helped with your migraine while pregnant. THAT is why it was something to look into now that you’re not pregnant. I wasn’t very clear…sorry! Also, they have found that men can take it with no issues too, so it’s not just a mom thing.

          3. mark132*

            Sometimes I have a bad case of the “engineer’s disease” and you just want to “fix” things. I have to remind myself often people are asking for sympathy and not advice. So I fight the urge to try and “fix” it.

          4. Rebooting*

            And if you’re fat, “Have you tried getting your weight under control?”

            Yes. Yes, I have. And even if I was at a “healthy weight”, I would still be chronically ill, Jane.

            1. KK*

              Ohhhh yes! I’ve had ear infections, dermatitis, hearing loss & dandruff all caused bc of my weight. I have learned to not share when I don’t want input.

            2. General Ginger*

              “Yes, literally all of my illnesses, including the flu last winter, are because I’m fat, thanks, Concerned Coworker, how could I have possibly figured it out without you” /s

            3. paxfelis*

              Why, yes, I have. My weight is a symptom, not a cause, of my complicated GI history. And so far everyone has been nice enough about it, but I’m carrying most of the excess weight at the right spot to look like about a seven-month baby bump. No, I’m not pregnant, I’m just fat. When is my baby due? Twenty-two years ago.

              And no, going vegetarian or vegan is not going to help either.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                “When is my baby due? Twenty-two years ago.” I would love to see this conversation IRL. lol

                1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                  Many years ago I remember reading or hearing a comic give the advice of “Never ask a woman if she is pregnant unless there is actually a baby coming out of her” LOL

                2. paxfelis*

                  The usual next line is “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and embarrassed apologies, and me saying it’s ok. Rarely I get a mild denial, to which I repeat that nope, really not pregnant. So far nobody has accused me of lying about it, or tried to tell me that being pregnant is nothing to be embarrassed about.

                  I don’t remember where I’ve read about returning awkward to sender, but in this particular case it’s fun.

              2. Rebooting*

                Ugh, GI issues. Mine mean I can’t handle fibre very well. All those low GI foods and lovely, fibrous veggies that are supposed to be so good for diabetics? Nope. They make me sick. So people see me eating white bread and meat and heavily-steamed-to-the-point-of-mush veggies (on the days I -can- eat; I found out recently I’ve been eating perhaps half of what I should be for -years-) and assume the worst. I miss salads :(

              3. Miss Petty and Vindictive*

                I was once sitting on a bus, and an older lady sat down next to me and said “Oh, when are you due?!” – we chatted for ages about how long I had left, yes my legs hurt, oh I hadn’t tried that supplement for milk production etc etc. She finally asked “what are you having?” and I replied: “My parents would like a Hawaiian, but my partner would prefer a Pepperoni. I honestly don’t mind as long as it is deep dish.”
                A woman around my age sitting in front of us cracked up laughing and eventually managed to tell the woman next to me “She’s just fat, lady”. Older lady got mad and said we were rude. Woman in front of me then discussed with me the ins and outs of birthing a pizza, and that she was glad her first was a burrito otherwise it would have scared her off having anymore. Her second pregnancy she had twin garlic breads.

            4. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              I gained a great deal of weight in my late 30s from the side effects of life and sanity saving medications when I went through a long period of both physical and mental health crises. Like going from a stick person to Venus of Willendorf amount of weight (I’m now in between and quite happy.)

              And of course it was the weight that was named as causing my LIFELONG chronic health issues.

            5. CheeseNurse*

              I have Crohn’s disease. It flared one winter and I revealed what was going on to a co-worker, who promptly said, “People with Crohn’s get skinnier, not fatter.” I was really bloated from the disease flare and had moonface from prednisone.

              Fuck em, they can stew in a rage imagining that I’m malingering.

              1. TardyTardis*

                I would never EVER mess with someone on prednisone! (husband had to do RCHOP for lymphoma, he’s still alive, thanks!).

            6. Suzanne*

              This is so good! I have fully disclosed my condition to all my coworkers at work and they seem to be sympathetic. Still, I resent having to fight so hard every day just to meet the standards of what society considers “normal.” Also getting and maintaining treatments is another full time job. It’s exhausting.

          5. anon needs a new name*

            I have really severe endometriosis. The amount of times someone has told me “most women get periods, if I can deal with it, so can you!” is infuriating.

            When it hits, I’m spending two to three days in the bathroom with non-stop vomiting and diarrhea, which doesn’t even touch the migraines, fatigue, and muscle spasms.

            I don’t need someone telling me to take ibuprofen and drink some herbal tea, or giving me the rundown on their bc methods as though I haven’t talked with my doctor about my options. Telling people rarely gets me empathy, usually just a lot of annoyance that they’re at work when they have their cycles when I’m spending my days crawling from the couch to the toilet.

            1. Just following along*

              You have my utmost sympathy and respect. Lived with that monstrous condition plus fibroids, and the only thing that cured me was a hysterectomy! Good luck to you.

              1. anon needs a new name*

                It can be such a fraught topic because I’ve dealt with a lot of men who suddenly treat me like a leper or women who act resentful because they think I’m lying about my period causing me pain. There’s always such a weird, determined pushback.

                Not all periods are the same, and we should start acknowledging that!

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  You’re lucky. My husband tries to mansplain my own period to me.

                  Yes, you read that correctly.

                  I’d rather be a social pariah for the week.

              2. Jaid*

                It wasn’t the pain, it was the blood loss that got me under the knife. And it was awesome when the doc saw the massive amount of endometriosis that no one had a clue about. 11 hours on the table and 3 days as an inpatient with two blood transfusions when I was supposed to go home on the same day…

                In other words, I feel you, my sisters. I wish you all well.

                BTW, I have pics from the procedure! My doctor downloaded them to my cell phone afterwards. I’m such a geek that way.

                1. Just following along*

                  11 hours?! That’s just awful. And you’re right, it is validating to be told afterwards, “you were in bad shape.” I was lucky in that my family and co-workers were incredibly understanding and kind. Not everyone fares as well. I’m so glad you made it through OK.

                2. JenRN*

                  I was taking pictures the whole time the MD was removing the pins from my foot. I was so stoned. Given that the MD and RN are laughing in many of the pics I sometimes wish I could remember what I was saying… but mostly I don’t.

                  fellow procedure geek

                3. TardyTardis*

                  And I’m the kind of person who would actually enjoy seeing them (medical geekery, nom nom nom. I was also one of three people who leaned forward during the heart surgery bit in ALL THAT JAZZ to see better…).

            2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              I’m so sorry. I don’t have any particular issues or conditions, but I have *always* had extremely painful menstrual periods, right from the start. BC minimizes the pain, but they are still so severe that only hardcore meds will even begin to relieve the pain.
              I had to get my meds refilled at one point and my regular doc wasn’t in, so I saw a different one. When he found out I take them for menstrual pain, the LOOK he gave me…I wanted to rip his guts out through his navel and then ask him if an ibuprofen would do…

          6. Carbovore*

            Same. Was diagnosed with endometriosis this year and have only discussed it with my direct supervisor–it’s been trying enough having family and friends give me the endless, “Why don’t you do this? Or try this? Well, what’s going to fix it?” so I wasn’t about to widely share it with coworkers, primarily because I’ve been able to mostly manage my symptoms and cart my trainwreck body into work.

            Even after awhile, the question “how are you feeling today” can be aggravating because if I’m honest, every day is a day where I don’t really feel great. And I can tell people internally roll their eyes when your answer is always that. People start to think you’re just milking it.

          7. Zorro*

            I have a Primary Immune Deficiency and I get this one All The Time. I know people mean well, but I really, really, really just want to respond with either, “I have five different specialists whom I see on a regular basis, so I’m going to go with the advice from the actual MDs” or just a simple “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!”
            I don’t, of course- I smile politely and say, “I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.”

          8. JustMePatrick*

            That why one doesn’t need details about the persons illness. Simply stating they are dealing with a debilitating illness would have provided some context. Sure I would curious as to what “it” is, but at the end of the day I would have to respect that boundary. I would at least have some context and perhaps a heads up from management due to the illness that I, along with others, may expect to adjustments to our schedules.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          It’s not just “seeing you leave early/come in late/call in with no consequences”; it’s getting your work dumped on them and losing their own time off without adequate coverage, and that is a management fail. Management doesn’t need to disclose health information but they can say, “we have some unusual circumstances going on with staffing right now”, but then they should hire another person or otherwise make sure they aren’t overworking their remaining staff.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Totally agreed. Management should have informed the staff that Jane needed the flexibility and that management was working to accommodate her, and also managed the workload for everyone else. They don’t need to say why, but leaving the staff totally in the dark *and* holding the bag for the workload was a major fail.

            1. Natatat*

              Yes, this is the heart of the issue I feel. There is a person with a chronic illness who is away alot in my work unit. The problem isn’t that she’s away alot, it’s that there does not appear to be a plan to account for her work load so we just get random “urgent” dumps of her work because they haven’t worked her absences into the workflow plans.

          2. Jennifer Juniper*

            As a physically healthy and able-bodied person, I need to be thankful that I’m able to function. The ability to work consistently without pain or illness is a privilege – and one that can be lost instantly at any time.

        4. Ellen N.*

          You make good points. A few years ago I had a coworker whose son had sickle cell anemia. For quite a while nobody knew. We all expressed our frustration to her and each other about having to do her work, often last minute.

          Once we knew the situation we all felt as my boss put it, “If I’d known I would have stayed late to do her work and been glad to have the opportunity to help.”.

          1. Former Employee*

            Thank you, Ellen N.

            After all the tales of awful co-workers who refuse to believe that someone has a real and horrible medical problem, it’s lovely to read a comment about how wonderful people can be when they know what’s going on.

            That’s why I remain of the opinion that it’s better to let co-workers know that there is a medical condition that is causing you to be out of the office. You don’t need to go into detail, though if it’s something so specific (like your child has sickle cell disease) it might be worth it to tell your co-workers the name of the condition.

          2. TardyTardis*

            This is why I kept people up on what was going on with my husband and left lots of notes, so when I had to tell my supervisor, “Husband, emergency, be back as soon as I can!”–and made sure to help out other people when I was there so I wasn’t resented.

        5. Lupus Survivor 14*

          If they’re not having consequences then I would think it’s pretty obvious that they have a medical accommodation or something like that…. But the thing I want to point out is that just because you tell people about your disability doesn’t mean they’ll be empathetic. I’ve told people many times over the last 25+ years about my lupus and how it affects me and a lot of people choose to just be downright mean in response. So it’s hard for me to see how telling all of your coworkers about your illness is going to help.

      2. OhGee*

        I feel for you, but the real issue you faced was that management didn’t staff up in a thoughtful way. That’s not Jane’s fault, and it wasn’t her responsibility to appease you. I think many issues that come up on this site get blamed on an individual, when there’s often a higher-level structure/decision-making process that could make work more humane for everybody, and this is definitely one of those cases.

        1. JokeyJules*

          I agree! something from management besides “she’s sick and i need you to do this” would have resolved a lot of it.

          1. nonymous*

            I’ve been in a situation where when I (naively) asked how we were going to accommodate the absence i.e. seeking direction on what tasks could be deferred or if voluntary OT staffing was possible, they presented it back to the sick co-worker that “nonymous asked how you’re going to handle tasks XYZ”. What they really wanted was for the team to magically absorb the extra work, but since it’s physically impossible to simultaneously extract RNA while inoculating BacT samples at production volumes they threw us under the bus. Part of the problem in my particular experience was that the chronically ill coworker thought that the management solution was one she should advocate and she would pull people aside and ask why they refused to step up while she was gone, as if we were deliberately sabotaging her at a personal level.

            Like, I have all the sympathy in the world for migraines, and I understand that the window that my coworker discovered it was a drug resistant instance was somewhere between when she woke up and when she got in her car to come to work (so about 1/2 hr before shift started) – just tell me what one bench to sit at!

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              I had a situation like this happen and I’m afraid I kind of lost it a little. Jane was out at least one day a week for a medical thing I knew nothing about and there was way too much work for me to absorb it effectively. At one point when a deadline was missed she basically told me she needed me to be able to cover these things for her when she’s out and I was so fed up at that point I snapped back with, “Well, Jane, what I need is to be able to only do one job and actually have a day off but that isn’t happening because you aren’t here.”

              In retrospect I feel really bad about it, but since I had no idea what was going on it really did feel like I was just being taken advantage of. Obviously it wasn’t Jane’s job to tell me about her medical issue; but any kind of information about how this was a known thing and not just a slack off situation, as well as some kind of assistance from management to keep all the work from just falling on to me really was needed and not at all provided. It was just a crappy situation all around and it all boiled down to management not wanting to be proactive or get their hands dirty.

              1. Prior HR*

                I’m currently covering for a coworker who is out on medical leave; and my job has become very stressful and now I’m dealing with personal health issues because of it. My DH wants me to take a sick day, but I can’t because every day I have so much work to do. My Jane has come in a few times for a couple of hours, and each time, she rearranges the work I am doing, so I have to go back and reconstruct it; she leaves notes on how I didn’t do X right (aka, the exact way she would have done it, so not actually wrong, just different); etc. Management is aware of what is happening, but honestly, I’d feel nicer towards her if she showed some gratitude or understanding for me instead of acting like I’m trying to make her look bad or steal her job. So, while I know she is dealing with a lot, it is hard to not feel resentful based on her attitude towards me. I’m not asking for gushing thanks or such, but the crap she is giving me is making it harder for me.

          2. Sally*

            At minimum, the manager should have at least seemed compassionate toward Jane and also toward the employee who was being asked at the last minute to come in early. But really, they needed to deal with the situation. It sounds almost as if management’s attitude was “not my problem, I’ll just make someone else cover Jane’s shift.”

        2. Kotow*

          See, but the problem is that the issues are due to Jane not showing up and you having to become slaves to your job because of her. It’s going to be hard to not place that on Jane because she IS the one creating the situation. People have to take on her work, she has no consequences and it IS because of her not being there. So yeah, they’re going to be mad at Jane if management isn’t doing anything. If it were me I would’ve started ignoring her and generally being unpleasant around her.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Well, that’s obnoxious. You’d shun someone for being extremely ill, even though it is *management* who is responsible for managing everyone’s workload, and even though *management* has the power to solve it?

            That’s peachy.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Lol! Right. My jaw is on the floor with that response. You would purposely be rude to someone who has no control over whether or not she’s ill? I hope you don’t ever end up in that spot, Kotow. Shit happens to the best of us.

          2. Anna*

            I think it’s normal for some of the irritation to be directed at Jane, because human nature, but that doesn’t mean you get to bully her or just generally be a jerk.

            1. pancakes*

              Look around at the world — bullying and just generally being a jerk are both *extremely* common.

          3. Gymmie*

            WHAT?! Because she is sick? It’s definitely a management problem. Should this person not try and get a job? This is upsetting.

          4. skunklet*

            So what if Jane is on vacation? it’s MANAGEMENT’S responsibility to ensure proper coverage. you never staff at only 100%, that never accounts for vacations/sick/travel… smh…

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              100x this. I used to work at a company that had certain positions that needed butt in seat coverage all the time. On top of all the regular positions there were about 4 to 5 extra employees that were full-time subs/temps. We would cover for people when they went on vacation, called in sick, or someone left for a new position. While we would usually not be able to 100% replace the coworkers who were missing we were able to do enough to keep things from grinding to a halt. I was usually given a schedule on who I would be covering for a week in advance, but on any given day when I walked into work I could be sent to cover a different coworker. On the rare instances that we were staffed at 100%, we had our own desks (we rarely sat at) and legitimate busy work that needed to be done, but was not top priority to work on.

              Yes this was a large company, so I understand having 4 to 5 extra employees for coverage is not possible for all companies, but similar backup plans should be in place. Also I know certain positions are harder to have new people take over on a moments notice.

          5. A Chronically Ill Anon*

            Jane has probably gone to management and informed them of her situation. The onus is on management for communicating this to her workers and/or not coming up with a plan while Jane is ill.

          6. scorpysuit coryphefuss arterius*


            “…she has no consequences”

            She may not have the same consequences as you do, but she has consequences like, for one, dealing with whatever condition is keeping her out of the office so often (and all the pain, stress, exhaustion, financial strain, etc that may entail), as well as likely a constant fear about her/her family’s continued financial stability, the effect it may have on her career long-term, guilt regarding her coworkers (even though it’s management’s responsibility), stigma and possible discrimination, and even extremely unsympathetic coworkers who take out their frustrations on her!!

            1. TootsNYC*

              plus, she may lose opportunities for advancement or raises.
              Management can’t retaliate, but they’re also not going to give her the high-profile projects that get you advancement points.
              She may feel she can’t leave this job, where management knows and is working with her, for a new one where she has no track record to lean on (and where she probably wouldn’t qualify for FMLA anyway).

              1. Lola*

                I 100% know that raises & advancements will not come Jane’s way. Why because I was in a similar situation- I have a variable illness. If I get stressed out it will flare! I had amazing numbers that put me as a top performer for the entire company. When the illness became obvious I had to use FMLA to continue working- granted it can take years to get a diagnosis. Basically, it meant intermittent leave was granted by HR. I could take an extra hour at hour, if needed. Management must have decided I was faking it because I was treated horrifically! I was given the harshest schedule to work under & when a position that came up that I could do better. & it would be better for my illness- I was passed up for it. I had even been told it’s because I was sick too!

          7. It's mce*

            I think the blame is more so on management’s assumption/direction to pass on the work to others without weighing the situation. Ex-co-worker had to go for emergency surgery where two of had to do her work; the publisher mandated it without asking. I did it, but I was unhappy because I had to cancel appointments during work and work late on short notice. The ex co-worker sent a small gift to say thanks but the publisher/bosses never acknowledged us. And that upset me quite a bit.

          8. Solana*


            I don’t even call in when I should, as I try to save my sick days for when my illness is REALLY bad. (I came in one day when a migraine was so nasty that I threw up after smelling food I was packing for lunch. Brought ginger tea and took medicine and made it through the day.) Other days, my sense of balance is just gone and I don’t move too quickly, or my arms will hurt picking up a single animal cage. It’s a nasty bundle of issues I have to deal with, but I’ve learned many tricks for getting through work, then collapsing into bed at home.

            When I first got sick, I talked to the then manager and joke of an HR guy, and they told me that they didn’t believe in special treatment. In my amazing job now, my coworkers know about my issues and will do things like let me push the rack of cages instead of walking backwards while pulling to help with dizziness, or help me lift a cart off of another one to use. The managers let me go grab a snack when my blood sugar gets low, and have offered that if I’m assigned to a station that I can’t handle that day, they can try to make adjustments. (Not often, and the only time I’ve asked is after tearing a muscle.) On my good days, when the pain is little to moderate, I’m a Rockstar and try to help out others as much as I can, even if it’s something as simple as holding a door open to push a rack through. It probably helps that we’re union, a few people have illnesses or work-related injuries, and work in medical research.

          9. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

            Is dying a severe enough consequence? That is what will happen to many people who do not seek treatment for their illnesses. What other consequences were you envisioning?

          10. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Are you actually advocating that sick people be punished for being sick, and needing to take time off of work to care for themselves?

          11. Emma*

            @Kotow Your attitude is appalling and I sincerely hope you never have to experience chronic illness to gain empathy and understanding.

      3. JSPA*

        I think the preparation is actually incumbent on all of us / all the rest of us. When any of us finds ourselves nodding along when someone mocks company “bloat,” or when coworkers start blaming the sick person for everyone’s group misery, it’s often step back and look around, and see what snaps into focus.

        Whenever I hear about a takeover that’s meant to “trim out fat,” what I hear is, “we’re removing the slight excess coverage that makes working here something people aspire to, and turning it into a nightmare waiting to happen, with people going for each others’ throats out of overwork and desperation.” (It’s like seeing an extreme sports runner with 2% body fat who last had a period a decade ago, being acclaimed as the type-specimen of a healthy body that we should all aspire to: in the short term, the efficiency can be hugely impressive–but it’s not sustainable, and if we were all like that, the human race would cease to exist.)

        Better to praise companies that can be staffed happily by real people with real lives (including, in many cases, illnesses that don’t resolve in 3 days) even if the stock dividends are not as stellar, and the efficiency figures are a bit “Meh.”

        1. Yikes Dude*

          I think you nailed it. It shouldn’t matter why Jane isn’t there if it is an excused absence. Jane and her legally protected accommodations are completely irrelevant to the problem. The problem isn’t that she’s not there, the problem is they don’t have enough coverage. It’s basically just the scheduling version of someone taking 10/12 cookies for themselves, giving one cookie to one person, and then making 10 people fight over the remaining cookie. I also hate the term “trim the fat.” Fat in an organization serves the same purpose as it does on bodies, in moderation, it is very useful (if not required) if you intend to stay alive.

        2. Manders*

          This is really well said. I think we’ve gotten used to thinking that companies should function with the absolute minimum level of staffing they can get away with, and that’s not a sustainable system in the long term.

          I’m not really sure what can be done on the individual level to fix that, though. It’s tough! Maybe workers can speak up as a group when they notice that staffing is getting dangerously low, without making it specifically about the one sick coworker? And managers especially should be willing to spend some political capital on advocating for hiring a reasonable number of people and distributing work in a sustainable way.

          1. mt*

            Its consumers who have driven companies to run at the bare minium. Most industries the profit margin is under 5% of revenue. If i have two identical products, but one is 2% less than the other, consumers will go for the cheaper one. If over staffing by 1 or 2% is going to make a or break a sale, then companies will do what they must to survive.

            As somesome who bids on outside work, 1 head sometimes is the difference between getting a gig and not getting the gig.

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              I think the real problem is that stockholders and investors want to see more and more profit at the expense of workers pay and benefits, and even at the expense of having quality products.

        3. I Took a Mint*

          Totally agree. My office has more staff than I suppose we really need, but we have pretty minimum overtime and one employee has been on sick leave. We’ve gotten prompt notices about when they will be back/out again and I haven’t seen a huge effect on morale/workload. Amazing what actually managing the situation can do.

      4. Jack Russell Terrier*

        This is the original problem. They hired someone who needed an accommodation yet only hire enough people to get the work done every day. So when they’re inevitably out a lot, it’s a huge burden. This set everyone up for failure.

    2. Joy*

      I think this is the crux of the issue, when it comes to coworker resentment. I 100% understand the desire for medical privacy on the part of chronically ill persons, no question, but the fact is that in general, humans are far, far better at being compassionate and understanding about tough situations when they have a little bit of information, and often terrible at assuming the best when they have no information. It’s like being trapped on a plane that isn’t taking off — people tend to be MUCH less grumpy when they’re being frequently communicated with and given as much information as possible, and can get pretty furious when left in the dark.

      So I think, honestly, some disclosure of they *why* a chronically ill person (to a degree and in a manner they are comfortable with, be it direct conversation, management dispassionately informing staff for them, etc) is likely to serve them better in the long run in terms of generating goodwill with coworkers, even if it would be nice if everyone could assume the best of everyone else without perfect knowledge!

      If it’s an illness that they really, really don’t want to disclose the details of and are not comfortable speaking about, I think giving management permission to say directly to their coworkers “look, so-and-so has a serious medical issue that results in [whatever impact it has on the coworkers, which should be the focus — sudden absences, short days, regular absences]. It’s a private medical issue so I won’t be discussing the details and ask you not to discuss it with them, but if you are having difficulties in your workload, for whatever reason, please come to me and we will discuss options.”

      Because really, if an employee’s chronic illness is causing undue stress on other employees, it’s up to management to find solutions that are fair to everyone.

      1. JokeyJules*

        I think the script you gave coming from management would have made a world of a difference for everyone involved.

      2. SierraSkiing*

        I love your script! It does plenty to maintain privacy while making sure the coworkers know enough to not be resentful.

        Reminds me of airlines: when they told me my flight was pushed back four hours, I was annoyed. When they told me it was because my plane had been struck with lightning while landing and they needed to do a thorough systems check to make sure it was still safe, I was fine waiting!

          1. Feeling old*

            I was going to ask if SierraSkiing had flown through Atlanta recently, for the same reason!

        1. OhBehave*

          Isn’t this where giving them (co-worker, airline, etc.) the benefit of doubt comes into play?
          Couldn’t we first consider that maybe there was a medical emergency that caused the delay?
          Or feel empathy for the cw who is always ill? How horrible it would be to be that person!
          I agree that better communication could have gone a long way to mitigating the resentment felt towards the cw. You can bet she felt that resentment when she did work!

          1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            Based mainly on this site, its letters and associated comments, I would say that sufficient numbers of people have worked with others who have taken the piss and got away with it, that their capacity to give “the benefit of the doubt” has been eroded by those who have “cried wolf”. At some point after encountering enough of these karmic Houdinis, you’re going to be skeptical of all claims of wolf, even if a separate coworker comes in with bite marks.
            In other words, there are people out there who spoil it for the rest of us. Not saying it’s a majority, but it only takes one bad apple to ruin the rest.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Coming back from Heathrow in 2014, we were late pushing back because a woman had a seizure on the aircraft during boarding. Emergency personnel showed up promptly and took her to the hospital, but it put us an hour behind schedule. A ton of us missed our connections and had to stay overnight in ATL and the airline took care of everything.

          I didn’t hear one person complain about the reason for the delay; most people were like, “Oh I hope she’s okay,” etc. Anyone who did probably would have been glared into oblivion.

      3. Thankful for AAM*

        My company did exactly that and I think it made a big difference in everyone being positive about it.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Bingo, nailed it.

        I got really sick for a while. Not only did management mock me to my face but my cohorts were less than supportive. This is probably because of management making their own presumptions known to all.

        Fortunately, we had a level headed union rep. The union rep said, “She’s as white as a sheet, she’s dropped a lot of weight, she is shaking yet she still manages to get more work done than half of the people who work here. Leave her alone.”

        People go in the direction of their management/leaders. I firmly believe that if coworkers are getting snippy management has done something to cause that, or failed to do something to slow down the snippy attitudes.

        In the end, where I landed with all this is that basically companies do not care. Employer-employee relationships are NOT an “in sickness and in health” thing. I find the running commentary about employee loyalty to be ironic. When I hear management remarks I want to say, “Go look in the mirror. The employees are copying you. Heaven forbid you get sick because this is how you, too, will be treated.”

      5. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is a great comment. Communication is absolutely key and it’s possible to communicate without revealing all of your private medical information.

      6. some dude*

        I worked with two people who had serious issues and I wasn’t informed of it. All I knew was that I was covering their shifts and they were calling out all the time, which I resented. And then one of them died of HIV related complications and I felt like a giant jerk. All my manager had to to was tell me that Bill is struggling with a serious medical issue etc. and it would have made it easier for me to handle being stuck with his duties. as it was, I had no way to distinguish his absences for serious medical issues with the absences from my other coworkers who were too hungover to come into work. I didn’t need to know the private details of his medical issue, but just knowing he had one would have been enough, especially when it was serious enough to be impacting his work regularly.

        1. Eww David*

          Do you know it’s illegal under the ADA for your manager to disclose that? All your manager is allowed to say is that different employees have different situations and she is not free to discuss the details. Critically ill people are entitled to their privacy. And you either trust your manager and coworker or you don’t. If you trust your manager, then you trust there’re are valid reasons for the decisions being made around your coworker’s time off. If you don’t, then yes, you can sit around being a resentful jerk.

      7. Ankle Grooni*

        Joy’s script is a perfect example of what to say.
        I’m wondering if Allison can post a recap of “best scripts” or “best responses” as great ideas like these can get lost in all the replies.

        1. Corporate Goth*

          This idea would also be fantastic as a post in and of itself. – what to say in “that” situation, when words are hard.

      8. Anonymuss*

        On of my direct reports has a chronic condition for which she has FMLA. I was told by HR that due to federal law around employee medical privacy, I cannot even hint that she has a medical condition to anyone, much less FMLA. This employee then sought workplace accommodations through a dedicated Accommodations department. The accommodation resulted in a flexible work schedule which would be extremely obvious to her coworkers. Again, I was not allowed to tell staff that she had an accommodation. All I could tell her team was that she now had a flexible work schedule. I asked, “What should I say if someone decides they, too, want that schedule?” Again, I couldn’t say it was a special thing, they gave me the vaguest script in the universe to address it. Fortunately her teammates never questioned anything, likely because she had been calling out sick for a long time and they probably put 2 and 2 together.

        I was happy to accommodate that employee because it was clear she needed it, and I value her and her work. I tried hard to mitigate the effect on the rest of the team, but I couldn’t mitigate it completely.

        Horrendous management aside, this is loaded territory on the management side. If I can’t tell you, then I can’t tell you. And if nothing is being done it may be because there is nothing TO be done. It’s on ALL of us to be compassionate when clearly a coworker is not well. And it’s on management to find ways to lessen the impact, although many times it’s not possible to eliminate it.

        1. Burned Out Supervisor*

          Normally, with FMLA, the employee doesn’t even have to tell their manager why they’re applying. The company I work for uses a third party to manage FMLA benefits and everything (medical records, etc) is sent to them. When your FMLA is approved, your manager gets an email that simply states the FMLA was approved for a medical condition and doesn’t name it (unless it’s pregnancy). Usually, the employee just tells their manager what is going on based on their own comfort, but it’s not a requirement. I’ve known people in the past who were reluctant to apply for FMLA because they didn’t want their boss to know that they had IBS or Bipolar Disorder or whatever and I would always let them know that FMLA doesn’t require disclosure of your medical diagnosis.

        2. LavaLamp*

          Ugh I went thru that with my own fmla but my boss didn’t want me to tell anyone about it myself. Yes I ignored her on that and when someone was grumping that I was out I just calmly responded that I have an fmla and have to be out sometimes due to a medical condition. People were instantly nicer because I gave them the info they needed. Communication helps so much.

          That boss also got in trouble for FMLA interference because her boss and her thought they could bully me into not using it. They got to the point where they wanted to have a discussion about my attendance with HR on the phone (I think they were trying to write me up) and I lost it. They never told the HR person I had that accommodation and the next time I saw my boss it was clear she’d been crying and something big had gone down. I still don’t know how they thought that would work, did they expect me to just not mention my time off was federally protected or what?

        3. minuteye*

          With the teammates not questioning it, there’s probably an element of putting 2 and 2 together, but there’s also sometimes a management trust component in these situations.

          If I have a manager who reliably manages people who are slacking off, addresses problems promptly and thoughtfully, doesn’t play favourites, and maintains good professional boundaries? I’m a lot more inclined to trust that they’re doing the best they can in this kind of situation. “Evelyn knows Teresa hasn’t been coming in every day, and she wouldn’t just avoid an issue like that, there’s probably something else going on.” Especially if the manager makes it clear that they’re aware of any impacts on me (e.g. “I’m aware that your workload has been greater lately, let’s talk about what I want you to prioritize.”) These are things that can be done without ever even talking about the employee on FMLA.

          But if my manager is conflict-averse and never deals with problems? I’m more inclined to assume that this is just another problem employee that management is failing to deal with. I’m unlikely to be able to tell the difference between Teresa not coming in because she’s hungover and not coming in because of her chronic illness.

      9. Mockingbird*

        I love this script! It puts the onus on management, invokes empathy and reinforces the employee’s privacy.

        I have a chronic illness and have my whole life. This is similar to how my accommodations were handled in high school by my guidance counsellor, I mention this because I thought he did a good job and I was having more active symptoms then so needed more accommodations. I had a lot of issues not only with nosy kids but adults (honestly sometimes worse) so I thought including something about not asking me about it was super helpful.

        I’m more “out” now but I also work in healthcare so I’ve found that people are more understanding in this field. (Though that’s not necessarily the case with everyone or every condition as biases still exist.) If I’m explaining to someone new I do stick to something like “I have a chronic disease”, in part just bc my diagnosis is complicated so I don’t want to spend half an hour discussing it lol. But I think if you want to keep things private this is an awesome script.

      10. Veracity*

        My experience, though, is that even with information people don’t understand complex and chronic illness and how debilitating it is. Sympathy and understanding remains for a while, but after a time there’s an expectation that you’ll get over it eventually or that receiving treatment means that the illness should have no effect on your day-to -day life, whereas the struggle is real every. single. day.

        I was actually speaking to my sister this morning about ‘spoon theory’ as a tool for explaining chronic illness to people without chronic illness or disability. Basically, each day everyone has a certain number of spoons. Able-bodied people without chronic illness have a pretty much unlimited quantity and can function day-to-day without any undue problems. But people with chronic illness and/or disability have far fewer spoons. On ‘good days’, their quanity of spoons and ability to do things will be higher (although not as high as an abled person) whereas on ‘bad days’, they have far, far fewer spoons – sometimes none – and can only do some things or can only rest. And if you go through ALL your spoons on any given day, even if it was a ‘good day’ then that will mean your available spoons are drastically reduced for the next few days or whatever until you’ve recovered properly to your baseline level of spoons. Which means that you have to pick and choose what you do, and may not perform as well as you would if you didn’t have the chronic illness.

        This is a post by the spoon theory originator:

    3. Jaime*

      I’ve been in a similar situation. I’m also on the side of having a smaller chronic condition – major depression means that I sometimes need to take sick days just to cope, though it’s not nearly often enough to cause any issues with my coworkers, I would hope. But I’ve had the coworker who would call out on a nearly weekly basis, and felt the frustration of having to do a job and a half for what amounted to 1-2 weeks a month, depending, and that’s also an untenable position, one that had the effect of exacerbating my own chronic depression. I’m watching this whole post to see if anyone has any experience with how to communicate these issues with a team, or what a manager/management team can do to help lessen the burden on both the ill employee and the others who need to take on the extra work.
      I know what it’s like to deal with my own depression, and I have several friends with chronic physical conditions that affect their ability to work. There has to be a way to deal with this without putting so much pressure on those left behind to do the work – ideally, the answer would be “hire enough people that everyone isn’t working at 100% all the time,” but until we manage to fix capitalism and convince the rich to look out for someone other than themselves, we need to find another solution.

      1. JokeyJules*

        also “hire enough people” isn’t always a viable solution for the business! This job had a budget for payout to a specific number of employees, so hiring someone else wasn’t an option.

        1. Lily*

          Sorry, but “can’t hire enough stuff/a temp to cover for one sick employee” equals “doesn’t have enough money to do business”. Costs for staff (and yes, including the occasional sick coworker, human beings will get ill from time to time) are non-negotiable, similar to “having a building to use” or “staff having working materials” or even “there is light and heating in the building”.
          You can’t just throw your hands up at the usual cost of doing business and somehow expect your employees to cover for your miscalculations.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Adding, the longer people stay with an employer the more vacation time they have. What is the plan for that? I calculated that in my department we had 32 weeks of vacation time combined. We were always short a person, because more often than not someone was on vacation. If someone called in sick on some one else’s vacation week it was a nightmare, we were down two people. (This meant huge safety risks so tempers ran high quickly.)

            Managers need to manage.

            1. Person from the Resume*

              Management needs manage by creating a vacation policy that doesn’t result in that problem. That could mean staffing up or it could mean a limitation of the amount of leave you can accrue and carry over.

              If the vacation policy is reasonable then the office needs to be staffed up because you can’t expect people to only get sick when no one else has scheduled vacation.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                My husband’s job doesn’t allow leave to carry over, yet they have this issue all the time, and the reason it happens is because they don’t have enough people working there. (And it got worse once they started taxing vacation cash outs as “bonuses” rather than as “regular compensation”, because once they did that, taxes took away so much of that cash out paycheck that everyone uses all of their vacation days now.

                1. Charlotte*

                  All income is taxed at the same marginal rate. But bonuses are withheld at a higher rate. You pay the same amount of taxes in the end, regardless.

                2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                  Sorry, that’s what I meant.

                  As it was, if someone cashed out vacation time, they got the same on their check as a regular 8 hour week. People were encouraged to cash out vacation time to help avoid coverage problems, and lots of them did it because that additional money was nice.
                  They were bought by a new mega corporation a few years ago and they started withholding the cash out checks at the higher amount, and it cut the their cashout checks in HALF.
                  It may end up evening out at tax time (I can’t math well enough to tell) but since the reason people liked cashing out their time was for that extra full check, getting half the amount made it no longer such an appealing option.
                  So no one cashed out vacation time any more and they now have twice the coverage headaches because their policy is only one person on vacation at a time. It’s become unworkable, because there are just too many people taking vacation time.
                  They are Union, so they both have a fair amount of leave plus they can’t be screwed out of using it by management.
                  I don’t know if vacation cash-outs HAVE to be withheld at such a high amount (or why PTO would be withheld as regular compensation if you use it, but as a bonus if you cash it out) but in doing so they effectively shot themselves in the foot as far as scheduleling and coverage go.

                  They also have a great deal of trouble finding & keeping people because they don’t pay enough. They pay higher than industry standard, and have excellent benefits (why my husband stays, I need the insurance), but it’s still not enough because the work is so physically demanding (and they work overtime every day.)
                  We live in a state/area where minimum wage is going to be going up soon, to *almost* a living wage, and it’s going to be interesting seeing what happens, because they don’t want to increase their own wage structure to reflect that (they make billions in profit and can well afford it.) They are hiring new people at top pay and still can’t keep them, so what’s it going to be like when minimum wage actually becomes competitive with their top pay?

          2. Dust Bunny*

            This. If they can’t hire somebody else, ownership/management should be doing it themselves. Otherwise, tehy’re not taking up any of the impact at all; they’re just letting lower-rung employees suck it up for them.

          3. JSPA*

            Exactly. Can’t run without paying less than minimum wage under the table? Shut down.

            Can’t hire enough extra coverage to deal with a crisis? Renegotiate; or shift duties to move people from one mis-bugeted job to one that was budgeted correctly; or apologize abjectly this time and budget differently next time; hit up your insurance or invoke some sort of emergency clause (which you should have, in any case) to cover temp staffing from some other budget. But don’t expect the employees to take up the slack and concurrently do the emotional heavy lifting caused by your misjudgment.

          4. Colette*

            Let’s say you need 7 people to adequately do the work, with enough people to cover for the 3 weeks of vacation each person gets.

            Now one of the 7 people develops a chronic condition that results in them being out intermittently for a total of 13 weeks. Do you:
            1) Hire an 8th person full time, even though they are unneeded for 3/4 of the year?
            2) Hire an 8th person to only cover the hours the sick person cannot work (i.e. intermittently with little advance notices)?
            3) Expect the other 6 people to cover for the 7th person?
            4) Hire an 8th person for a given # of days per week and cut someone else’s role to compensate?

            There’s no easy choice here. Not every job can be covered intermittently by a temp.

            1. Anonymous 5*

              Hire the 8th person full-time, so that the work is getting done better than just “adequately” and so that the 1st-6th people (and the 8th, for that matter) are also cover-able in the event of long-term illness.

              1. Colette*

                That may be an option – but it may not be in the budget, and even if it is, there may not be enough work for 8 people. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a job without enough work to fill the day, but it’s not fun.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              There’s some other options:
              5) Train people from other teams or positions (managers, etc) to help with the work
              6) Hire an 8th person and use the extra time for long-term projects that can be delayed
              7) Cut the scope of work when the 7th person is out (and I mean cut – when I was on maternity leave, a couple of reports just didn’t happen, and the business kept going)

              1. Colette*

                I’d say option 7 would be ideal, if it’s possible. If not, 5 may work, unless it transfers the problems from Jane’s coworkers to another team.

            3. LQ*

              Out of over 200 people we have between 40-60% of them on FMLA at any given time. This is rough on coverage.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Are you running another Hellmouth? That’s an insane number. Half your workforce experiencing some kind of family or medical emergency at any given time?

                1. Perse's Mom*

                  It doesn’t have to be an emergency to be applicable to FMLA. There are a whole host of medical conditions that can potentially be covered and some of them are quite common – migraines, mood disorders, digestive disorders, pain disorders, etc etc.

            4. mt*

              the issue is when you have work for 7 people, and 8 show up that day. when you over higher thats when people’s hours get cut.

          5. Stressed*

            I think this is true up to a point, but but there are limits. It you hire enough people to cover the work including cover for holidays and sick leave, but you then have one or more employees who are chronically ill, there comes a point where the margins you have put in place are not large enough.
            And that point is likely to come sooner with smaller companies. And of course if the company provides good support for its wmployees, in terms of generous paid sick leave etc, then the cost of having someone who is chronically ill, and havingto cover the costs of the additional staffing that requires, is greater.

            I agree that it is up to management to effectively manage the difficulties caused by someone being out a lot, but unfortunately sometimes the reality is that you can’t keep hiring additional staff, so the choice is between firing the person who, through no fualtt of their own, is not able to do their job, or alternatively trying to cover the additional work cuased by the absence by asking other employees and managers to do more.

            I se it from both sides, both as someone with a chronic codition and as a business owner trying to deal with the efects of having employuees who have chronic conditions.

            As an employer, we do staff to a level where holidays and sickness can be covered and there is still some ‘give’ for emergencies, which means we are sometims overstaffed when eveyone is in, but there are limits on how much the extra can be stretched.

          6. Mel*

            Yes! Nobody is entitled to live out their dream of being a business owner any more than they’re entitled to live out their dream of travelling the world – you don’t get to demand other people scrimp and save to buy you plane tickets just because you really really really wanna go to Cambodia and you don’t get to demand that other people work overtime for free/come in on their days off/just magically get another person’s job done just because you really really really wanna call yourself a business owner and feel like a bigshot.

            1. TeacherLady*

              @Mel (not sure of nesting): I’ve worked for that guy who just wants to be a business owner, costs to actual employees be damned, so I can see where this might be coming from.

              However, I know small business owners who are doing their absolute best to run a business and do right by their employees and who are dealing with financial realities such as:
              -downturns in their industry
              -losing a mainstay client
              -shortage of available/reliable workers for their trade
              -being a young business that can’t yet afford a surplus of staff, because they need to grow to become more profitable first
              -learning as they go what kind of profit margins they need to cover costs and also have a buffer
              -being lied to by the previous owner and discovering a much worse financial state than expected
              -of 10 employees, 2 going on mat leave, one having a family emergency and another quitting, all at the same time, leaving more work than can be covered by the owner and/or other staff

              It’s nice to think that businesses should only exist that can take every unforeseen circumstance into account, but the reality is often a hard choice between asking people to take on more work or losing clients/potentially losing the business, in which case those employees become unemployed.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      being called into work early or on my day off at least once a week

      That’s clearly a management problem/lack of stuffiest coverage, but I think even the kindest co-worker would have a hard time not feeling resentful if they were called in unexpectedly frequently because of one person.

      And I really think your co-worker needed to alert her co-workers and explain (at least very vaguely) why she’d randomly leave the office during the work day when she was being counted on for coverage. Resentment is understandable there too.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Yeah, this is unfortunately what did in an ill worker at my last job. She was a single mom who had a whole alphabet soup of chronic health conditions (five at least, that I know of), and so did her kid. Her job had a coverage element, so if she called in sick someone else had to go running in to cover for her. Because of this, she’d use up all of her “spoons” trying not to call in sick, and end up in spoon debt unable to work for a week, so it compounded.

        None of us minded- we liked her and were happy to help- but eventually we as a group just didn’t have the bandwidth and resources to be scrambling to cover that many shifts at the last minute, and it meant customer facing things were cancelled. We needed someone to be reliably there, and she eventually got fired for poor attendance. She was able to return in a different role that was easier to cover, so she could take time off as needed easier for health issues and surgeries, etc.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Jeez. I’m glad “This did in an ill coworker” meant she was only fired! I thought you were going to say she died.

          1. Armchair Expert*

            SAME, like she literally worked herself into an early grave. “Fired and was rehired in a more suitable role” is so much better!

    5. LGC*

      That’s a really difficult thing to manage, though. Illness is still stigmatized – and some illnesses can be really embarrassing just from the details (like Crohn’s).

      I do think a “hey guys, I might need to take a TON of breaks because I’m sick” could go a long way, though. And at risk of dumping the entire comments section on my head, it sounds like your job wasn’t the best fit for someone in your coworker’s situation. But I also don’t think that it’s mandatory, and it’s really up to the team to show compassion, even without a lot of details. (Which is frustrating at times! Ask me how I know!) I guess that part of it is assuming the best of people.

      1. sunny-dee*

        You can only show compassion, though, if the situation warrants compassion, and without any details, at all, you’re just making up a story. That story could be “Jane could have a chronic health condition — let’s support Jane!” But it could just as easily be “Jane is lazy and management is incompetent” or “Jane is sleeping with the CEO” or something else. That’s why having zero details is a big deal — there are far more lazy / incompetent people than there are people with chronic medical conditions.

        1. JokeyJules*

          absolutely. I am happy to help out a coworker who is even just having a rough day if they say so (or just seem to be). I hope that if I told my coworkers that I wasn’t feeling well or having a hard time they would do something similar.
          Jane would come in late, and in the middle of a rush at work just stand up, say “i’ll be back” or something and leave for a random amount of time, call in and just say they will not be coming and hang up, or management would just call and say something really vague to the effect that she is not feeling well and we need to cover for her. it really was the vagueness that left us all incredulous and upset.

        2. Washi*

          Yes, and sometimes it’s both, which really muddies the waters! I had a coworker, who, as far as I could piece together in the end, had an accommodation to flex her hours. But we were never formally told that she was working a different schedule, so it was pretty grating to a) see her roll into work at 10:30 am when the rest of us had been working and covering for her since 8 and b) hear her say things like “ughhh it’s soooo early.” It would have made a huge difference to know straight up that her schedule had been adjusted due to a health condition, because as it was, I was incredibly frustrated at being saddled with what seemed to be just a complaining slacker, instead of a legitimately sick coworker who also happened to be a little tone-deaf in her comments.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Not everyone has a perfectly functioning circadian rhythm, and for those of us that don’t, 10:30 IS early. For *our* bodies, it reads the same as whatever most “day” people would feel is unreasonably early and it’s doesn’t make us lazy or slackers. It might be easier for day people to understand by thinking how hard it would be for them to have to work nights. Imagine all the night people who are bright eyed and bushy tailed at 10 pm calling you a lazy slacker because you cannot completely force your body to acclimatize to the hours.

            Also, if a night person tries to force their circadian rhythm to be a daytime one, they can actually break it. Non-24 hour sleep cycle is a thing.

            1. minuteye*

              It’s not tone deaf to think that 10:30 is early, it’s tone deaf to complain about how early it is to a group of people who came in two and a half hours earlier than you and are inconvenienced by what they see as your lateness.

              It’s similar to the issue where, yeah, you might still be legitimately having trouble making ends meet on your salary, but the co-workers who make significantly less than you do and have just been told they’re not getting bonuses are not the people to complain to about it.

              1. TardyTardis*

                This problem is why our company once paid for a worker to go through sleep training so she could work at least approximately the same hours everyone else did (and then she got caught running a side business on the company computer, oops!).

    6. Franonymous*

      Can I just ask what about “So, readers, if you’ve ever been the chronically ill coworker…” made you go, “oho, time for me to commandeer this to complain about a chronically ill coworker I once had”?

      I think it’s time for you and a lot of people in the replies to your comments to re-examine your entitlement. You claim that everything would have been much easier if Jane had disclosed her chronic illness to you all, but then say yourself that several of your coworkers didn’t seem to believe her when she eventually disclosed, so what makes you think disclosing earlier would have gone better?

      Not to mention that you are never ever entitled to a coworker’s medical information, regardless of whether it will allow you to be more empathetic. (TBH maybe practice having empathy even when you don’t have the full picture.) People may not want to disclose for so many reasons, be it because they’re intensely private or they don’t want the constant unsolicited advice or nosy questions that will inevitably come with it.

      And if you don’t think that’s realistic, consider for a moment the deep irony of you posting the first reply to this post, literally giving unsolicited advice to chronically ill people.

      1. JokeyJules*

        perhaps in ignorance and privilege i felt that offering experience from another perspective might be helpful to others, chronic-illness sufferers or their coworkers. I could have waited longer to reply so it wouldn’t have been the top comment, but I clicked to post 10 minutes after the question had been posed, so my response being the first post in the comments section wasn’t something I was expecting. I explained how my coworkers felt, how I felt, and how we were communicated to as an anecdote and suggestion on what could have been done better. But, since that’s not what happened, none of us will ever know. I only know what did happen and what people said. If my comment and the discussion coming from it upset you, then I hope you know that it was not intentional.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yeah, that is ignorance and privilege.

          When someone says “People of X group, please chime in!” that’s a sign that people who aren’t in X group should step back and not try to take prominent places in the conversation.

        2. Two Tin Cans and a String*

          I really sympathize with you here. Accidentally setting getting top comment and setting the tone without meaning to sucks.

          It sounds to me like you’re honestly engaging and acting in perfect good faith, so let me make an attempt at explaining why people are upset. Up-thread you expressed surprise at the fact that chronically ill people are constantly ambushed with unwanted and unsolicited advice, and with skepticism, which is something literally any chronically ill person could have told you. That’s the context for people telling you that it wasn’t really your place to jump in here. And it wasn’t. We only have very, very limited windows of time where we can express our own frustrations, because the dominant culture leans towards “your illness inconveniences everyone and people are right to be annoyed at you for being sick.” Even Allison asks us to not go too far in our complaints and only be constructive. (Fair, it’s her space, and it’s a workplace blog, not a health blog.)

          Look at it this way: have you ever had a bright red throbbing zit on the tip of your nose? Have people given you a good-natured ribbing about that? Did it become less and less funny as time wore on and hundreds of people made the exact same joke over and over again until you became a little cranky about it? (“Yes, haha, I DO have a zit on my nose. Well spotted! I should absolutely go to clown college!”) And then the damn zit took a week to go away and you picked at it and now you have a scar and people tell you not to pick at it? That’s what communicating about a chronic illness is like. Only the zit doesn’t go away, the zit ruins your life and swells by absorbing every cent and minute you have until your entire head is just a throbbing puss balloon of pure malice.

          “Have you tried Clearasil?”
          “You should lance it, here’s a Youtube video on how to do that!”
          “It’s just a zit, don’t whine.”
          “Whatever you do don’t lance it! Your entire face will fall off!”
          “My doctor… well, by godson’s baker’s daughter has an essential oil for that.”
          “What zit? You don’t have a zit. Your head is just upsetting and weird and actually could you wear this burlap sack around the office?”

          It’s NOT that ill/disabled people aren’t sympathetic to overburdened coworkers picking up the slack for us. It’s actually the exact opposite: we’re so hyper-aware that this is happening, because we’ve been told over and over again that our illnesses are inconvenient for others, that we’re just so sick of hearing about it again and again. WE KNOW. Some of us with mental illnesses literally crack under the weight of that guilt. But our only option to appease everyone is to just not be sick. And we’d do that if it was an option.

          1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

            Also, did you see Kotow’s comment here about wanting to punish “Jane” with bullying and ostracism? That’s very common too.

      2. Louise*

        thank you for saying this. was really disheartened to see that the first comment on a call for chronically ill folks to tune in was from a not chronically ill person complaining about how hard it was on them.

      3. Washi*

        I don’t know, as someone with a chronic mental health condition, I am aware of and don’t mind being reminded that I am often choosing among difficult options, and that not disclosing can lead to problems just as easily as disclosing. Some of the scripts shared on this thread are really great, and I’m glad I got to see them!

      4. UnabashedVixen*

        THANK YOU. I feel like this thread got completely derailed by people talking about the time they had a chronically ill coworker, instead of those of us with chronic illness being heard.

      5. ChimericalOne*

        I didn’t see any comandeering here. JokeyJules doesn’t happen to be chronically ill, but they still offered a useful perspective on the topic at hand. Alison called for thoughts on navigating these scenarios from people with these specific life experiences, yeah, but you can’t expect that zero other people are going to contribute (nor does that actually sound ideal, to me).

        As a person with a chronic illness, I’m pretty comfortable saying we need to know the perspectives of both folks WITH and folks WITHOUT chronic illnesses to tackle the issue at hand, since both will be involved in any scenario in which such things go well or don’t go well. When JokeyJules points out that people without chronic illness are more likely to be empathetic when given a little information, it’s not helpful to respond telling *them* to try to be more empathetic, personally. They’re talking about how people, broadly, are likely to react to a given scenario — which is useful in guiding what we choose to do/disclose, regardless of whether anyone is “entitled” to this information or “should” be more empathetic. (It’s very unlikely that my coworker is going to be JokeyJules, specifically, but it’s very likely that they’ll experience my behavior in a similar way.)

        It’s also perfectly reasonable to suggest that disclosure *before* you do something that might upset people will be received differently than disclosure *after* you’ve done something that’s upset people. People have a tendency to make up their minds early & then not want to change their minds after. There’s definitely something to be said for disclosing up front, and I struggle with this all the time myself. (Balancing “if I tell them now, maybe they’ll be more understanding when X happens” vs. “if I never bring it up, maybe it’ll never impact my work & never need to be disclosed” vs. “if I wait to tell them and then it DOES impact my work, disclosing might sound like an excuse dredged up after the fact.”)

        Anytime we’re talking about how group X interacts with group Y (and the results of that), it’s useful to have input from both groups to hear how various actions are being perceived on both sides. It doesn’t help at all to only hear from chronically ill folks about what they *thought* went well if it were to turn out that, behind the scenes, non-chronically ill folks were judging them, denying them opportunities, refraining from socializing, etc., without them necessarily realizing (or not realizing the extent). Likewise, of course, you don’t want to only hear from the non-chronically ill that you should do X, Y, Z and it’ll all be fine, if it turns out that, behind the scenes, the chronically ill experience the outcome of X, Y, and Z as being as bad or worse than *not* doing them. You really do want to consider the experiences & expectations on both sides if the goal is for group X to navigate in spaces dominated by group Y.

        1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

          “As a person with a chronic illness, I’m pretty comfortable saying we need to know the perspectives of both folks WITH and folks WITHOUT chronic illnesses to tackle the issue at hand, since both will be involved in any scenario in which such things go well or don’t go well.”

          See, I’m genuinely trying to understand your point but this is what trips me up. I feel that pointing out that “hey, your illness is a burden on us” is such a common thing that it hardly needs saying. I know a lot of people with chronic illnesses/disabilities and NOT ONE of them would be surprised to learn this. It’s a fundamental fact of living life with an illness. I struggle to imagine a person who has never had it explained/demonstrated to them that actually them being sick is a terrible imposition on other people. I kind of think that side of the argument has been heard. A lot.

          It reminds me of perfect strangers who feel the need to pull me aside to tell me that smoking is bad for me when I’m outside, reading an article on my phone, minding my own business. Like… duh? How on earth did you think I made it to adulthood without once hearing something bad about nicotine addiction? Did you really have my best interests at heart when you told me that? Did you truly believe that I had never once been informed that smoking is bad? Or were you secretly just frustrated and wanted your opinion heard by the nearest smoker?

          Similarly, how on earth would anyone live with a lifelong condition without being made aware that people sort of resent them for being a “burden”? I just can’t imagine that. Maybe that’s me bumping into the limits of my experience though. You seem to have had different experiences and I’m glad for that! It’s just so totally alien to me.

    7. What the What*

      I just found out I have an autoimmune condition that is not very common. I live in a small town and it is a half of day off of work to travel to a larger town to get medical care every few weeks. My boss has been supportive and I’m thankful for that. I’m having to quit my full time job to manage the condition. I can make it through a full day of work but that is it. My family life and health suffer at the expense of the 8 to 5. My spouse has a good job so I am blessed to have more flexibility, so am not trapped in my job. It is very difficult to find good jobs in my small town, especially part time jobs. I’ve felt a level of embarrassment at having to take so much time off and in the past have been frustrated, thinking to myself “why can’t I make it through a full day like other people?!”

  3. Fortitude Jones*

    I’m chronically ill, but I also don’t take off that much for it (never have). I’ve been fortunate enough to somehow get through a day even when I’m feeling not so great (when I’m REALLY not great, I stay home). I’m also one of the most efficient, most productive workers in every position I’ve ever held – my employee reviews are always glowing. I’ve never had a negative one in my almost nine years in the professional workforce.

    That’s how I navigate it with my coworkers – I get my own stuff done so they don’t have to. I have FMLA leave, and if I know I’m going to be out or think I may be out due to one of my various illnesses, I make sure everything I have to do is done before I leave the office. I’m so efficient that my coworkers often don’t even notice when I’m not around because they don’t get pulled aside by management to complete my assignments.

    Some people are worse off than I am, so I hope people don’t interpret this as me saying what others should do – I’m just saying what I do and what works for me. My work is mine, and I’m very territorial over my things, so I would bristle a bit if someone else did have to handle my tasks and then didn’t do them the way I would. To avoid that awkward situation, I just make sure to work ahead as much as possible, and plan accordingly if I know that my absence can’t be avoided. I’m also very lucky that I went into a role that is almost 90% writing – you can do that anywhere with a laptop, a word processing program, and an internet connection.

    1. T1D*

      Same. I’m a type 1 diabetic with stomach issues. I’m aware that I can wake up any day and have it be a bad day, without warning. So every night, before I leave the office, I make sure I get my stuff done. I make sure I’m ahead of deadlines by a day or two, always. And I never take on too much work – I always leave a bit of wiggle room.

      Like Fortitude Jones, I’m also an office/computer worker, so it’s easier for me to set my own pace and negiotate my own workload and I’m lucky there. The amount of self-management and planning I do – while also exhausting – means that if I need to take a day or two, it does not put me behind or cause any kind of doomsday chain effect on my projects or coworkers. If it does, I make sure I’m compensating by communicating early and often to my coworkers and managers – never disclosing the nature of my illness but instead communicating actionable things, like when I plan to be back or how long I think I’ll be behind and what the new delivery dates is and what everyone can do in my absence, etc etc. I find it helps others to trust in me if they still get a sense that I’m in control of myself despite my unplanned absence.

      1. T1D*

        (I will also add that I proactively inspire goodwill in my coworkers by helping them out a lot, going above and beyond, so I have some ‘brownie points’ saved for those times I can’t be reliable. I will drop everything for you and you will never find a more loyal report. This is not the healthiest attitude and is 100% the result of me growing up disabled in an abled world and absorbing the message that disabled people are too much effort and not worth it, and then shifting my behavior to overcompensate and make myself worth it. But it works, soooooooooooo…. )

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I do this, too. If people on my team need help reformatting resumes, I do it. If they need someone to copy edit or proofread their proposal draft, I do it. If they need help with printing covers, spines, and tabs – well, you get it. Because of this, people are happy to come around on my production days and ask if I need help (I usually say no, but sometimes out of guilt for always saying no, I give people small tasks I don’t mind giving up so they’ll feel needed).

        2. LessNosy*

          I’m T1D as well (so I feel your pain on not knowing if you’re going to be facing a bad day or not!) and I do all the things that you do. Luckily, I now work from home, but when I was in the office it was incredibly important to me to communicate basically what my peers needed to know in order to keep their work going. It’s rare that there’s project overlap between myself and the other members of my department, but I would always let them know if I was going to be unavailable. I have very understanding and concerned coworkers so they never, at least to my face, held anything against me. Communication has been key!

          1. LessNosy*

            Also, FWIW everyone on my team knows about my type 1 diabetes diagnosis. It’s something I disclose when I start at a new job for my own safety – in case I have a low blood sugar and pass out, or any of the myriad of things that can occur with this lovely condition :) I just wanted to mention that because I know there are a lot of conditions where using “medical issues” is the norm as mentioned in other comments, but for me personally, mine is one I feel I need to be a little more specific about!

        3. Washi*

          This is honestly my number 1 strategy: be so amazing at work when I am there that no one bats an eye when I’m out. I work really hard to build up a reputation for being conscientious and helpful, and no one has ever said anything about how I seem to have a lot more “colds” than the average person. (Which is usually what I say when I can’t work due to my mental health condition.)

          This thread is very interesting though, since I think if I worked at a more butts-in-seats place, I might need to disclose.

      2. Busy*

        My son has chronic mental health issues (think intensive outpatient programs) that require A LOT of doctor appointments and some “I need to go get him” situations. I do a lot of this preparing. Like I take my computer with me every day. If I can’t make it, I can email people. I can also work from home as well. I always make sure I am ahead in my work. I have also just been really honest about why. No one has made snide remarks to my face, but I know at least some do just by their behavior towards others. How I handle those people is by biding my time and waiting for the opportunity to publicly kind of bring that awkwardness back to them. They will inevitably make a snide comment, and every place will have this person as well. So I wait for snide comment and slide in “isn’t it nice to be able to go ensure my tween son won’t kill himself? It is so nice that boss and employer can be so understanding about that – and the laws!”

        Some other things that work is to show concern that their work gets done or how much they will volunteer to take over some of those people’s at another time if they work in a place where they would need coverage for their job. Those types of things work really well. It also helps to be an advocate for others when they are going through something and shutting down other people. It helps if you have worked in a place with the same people for a considerable amount of time as well. Then you know that at some point, everyone goes through something where they too will need this accommodation.

        This is not to say that I haven’t worked with people who did abuse this. I have. But you can usually tell because they do not do the above.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I’m sorry about your son. I hate hearing about young people with these kinds of issues. I attempted suicide for the first time at 7, so I know how hard it is. Hugs to you both.

        2. Liz*

          You sound a lot like my former CW who had many chronic health issues, yet was one of the hardest workers in her group. Yes she took time for appts, being sick procedures etc. BUT she also worked off hours to get her stuff done and while she might not get back to you immediately, she always did. We were friends too, so I knew a bit more about her issues than many of those who worked more closely with her. She never let her health issues get in the way of doing her job.

          What’s ironic, is personality wise, she didn’t “fit in” with the rest of her group, and when staff had to be cut, she was one of them. She, who did more work than them all combined, was let go.

      3. Yet another t1d*

        I’ve been at my current place of work for just over five years, and am just now starting to flirt with the idea of possibly wearing my CGM on my upper arm where it might be seen if I wear a short-sleeved shirt. I actually don’t take all that much sick time (I’m kind of germaphobic, which totally works). I’m just leery of being treated differently. A few people have found out — seen me handling my insulin pump, or recognized the Dexcom app on my phone, or really stared hard at the info tag on my watchband. But even those folks — who recognize those things because there’s someone in their life who has diabetes — will get weird. Minor food-policing, extra concern about physical activity, etc etc bs.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I did similar things.
      It’s a big deal to be willing to help a coworker. That does make a difference. I would go in on the tougher problems and try to help as often as possible. I actually did not mind doing that and people did say they appreciated it.

      1. Chinookwind*

        Me too. I was, and still am, willing to help out all colleagues when asked not just for the brownie points to use when I would have to call in sick, but because that is the type of person I am. But, when I did call in sick (and there were a lot of times at my last job when I was in the middle of changing my depression meds), I think people could see that t wasn’t because I was a slacker because I was such a doer when I was there.

        Like the others, I also always made sure I was on top of all my “must do” work and up-to-date on anything in progress. I also ensured that my work process was clear AND documented in an easy to find location so that I could point someone in the direction of what they needed if I wasn’t there.

        I also used Outlook to document tasks and conversations and had it set up so I could check it from my phone even though I rarely worked after hours or from home. Before calling in sick (my boss accepted emails and I would copy a few people on it), I would review my task list and calendar and be able to give a run down on what, if anything, need to be covered or shifted and who could help with which issue.

        Lastly, I gave my home phone to the admin assistant and my boss with permission to distribute it to anyone who needed to get a hold of me urgently. It never happened but they appreciated knowing I was available.

        The biggest factor for this working, though, was that I was in a job where coverage was not 100% required (I went overseas for 10 days and no temp was required). This wouldn’t work as well with my current employer where I am, among other things, the receptionist. Sure, they can do without me on short notice, but it definitely affects other people’s work (as in they hired a temp for me to be gone 5 days). If my condition got that unmanageable again, I do not feel comfortable that this job would be a good fit for me and would understand them letting me go because of unpredictable attendance.

    3. PlainJane*

      I’m in this camp too. I don’t have a chronic illness, but I have 3 immediate family members who do, so I often have to take time off for medical appointments and caretaking responsibilities–and it’s been that way for more than a decade. I try to be extremely productive and reliable when I’m at work, and I plan meticulously so I don’t leave critical tasks for the last minute (because I know I may not get that last minute). I’ve gotten solid to stellar reviews from 3 different employers and have been promoted consistently. It’s hard, but staying on top of things to the degree that I can, plus regular self-care, helps reduce exhaustion and frustration and allows me to maintain a reputation as a solid contributor and effective leader even when I have to use all my sick leave.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, my resume shows consistent and solid career progressions thanks to promotions, so because of this, my employers are usually shocked when I come to them and tell them I’m ill and may need to be out from time to time. They figure, “How can this be? You’re such a high performer.” Then I work there for a while, and it finally clicks for them that you can be chronically ill and still a kickass employee with good time management skills, the ability to delegate less time consuming work, and a solid plan of action. I don’t leave anything to chance.

    4. she was a fast machine*

      This is also one way I handled my illness. I did my very best to make sure I was never the one who needed a lot of coverage. I pushed hard to be the best at my role so that nobody could talk about my job performance, and I kept a high pace so if I needed to leave or came in late, nobody would be left scrambling to take on my work.

      All that being said, it’s effing hard to maintain that kinda pace and suffer from a chronic illness. It very nearly killed me, in the I very nearly killed myself sense, but I managed to get through it. So it’s not the best advice for everyone all the time, but I made it work.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yes to your second paragraph. This is a very real concern. I was in a very high-stress environment for four years (insurance claims), and I was a rockstar, but I had to start going to therapy once a week in my final year there because I was running on empty and my OCD was triggered. I really struggled. Luckily, I was able to find a proposal management job that’s, like, 50% less stressful than claims, so now I don’t have that problem anymore. But it took a loooong time to find a job that a)paid well, b)has decent hours, and c)has enough staff so no one person feels like they’re always drowning.

    5. pamela voorhees*

      If getting all of your work done ahead of time / leaving a buffer on projects / etc. isn’t an option, I’ve found it’s very helpful to leave detailed notes on where you are in the process and what still needs to be done. Best case scenario, the chronic issue doesn’t flare/disrupt, and now you have stellar documentation that you can compile. Worst case, you’re out a great deal, but you’re able when you call in to say “I’m sick and won’t make it in today – can you do ABC for me? There’s step by step notes showing where I am in the blue filing folder.”

      1. Chinookwind*

        “I’ve found it’s very helpful to leave detailed notes on where you are in the process and what still needs to be done.”

        And if anyone asks why you do that, you don’t have to disclose that it is because of an illness. It is best practice to have a “won the lottery/eaten by a bear” manual so that, if something were to happen to an employee, work could still go on without them. Documenting where you are in a process is part of that.

        I think I freaked out my new boss yesterday when I told him I wanted to set up something as task in both our calendars and have a common drive to store documents “in case something were to happen.” I then had to reassure him that I had no plans to leave but that no one knows the future. Also, the hand over from his previous admin. assistant missed a few important details and I wouldn’t want that to happen again in the future.

        But, at the same time, I could call in sick and not have to worry about whether or not a registration was submitted before a deadline or missed because I wasn’t there.

    6. Carbovore*

      I’m the same like you–my condition isn’t so debilitating that I miss a lot of work (though, my husband would say I’m a martyr and don’t stay home as often as I should) but honestly, I would mentally start to feel unwell if I got behind in my work… it’s a double edged sword.

      But like you, I’ve silo’d most of my work and make sure to get things done with enough time that it’s never an issue. If I’m going to be out, I make plans to get certain things accomplished or ask a coworker to take care of 1 or 2 things I can’t physically be there to take care of (mailing something, for instance).

      Again, this obviously can’t work for everyone given the nature of folks’ jobs but I would say it helps to have/find work where you can be mostly independent and aren’t needed to cover a desk/shift where your absences will piss off others.

      1. Lynne*

        My husband says the same thing, especially when I’m debating with myself over whether to go in to work or not… “You’ve GOT the PTO time saved up, why don’t you use it?”

        Funny thing is, last time it came up, he was the one to talk me into calling in and having him take me to the ER to check out what I kept insisting was a little discomfort and I could work through it? I ended up being admitted and kept in the hospital for several days! This has ended up being a whole new chronic illness that I didn’t know I had.
        I guess I’m just (overly) concerned with my boss(es) and co-workers being mad at me for being gone and not carrying my share of the workload. When I really think about it objectively, I think my co-workers take advantage of the fact that a) I’m a hard worker who b) finds it hard to say no to taking on more projects. Oops.

        1. Carbovore*

          Yep! Even before my illness revealed itself, I’ve always been known as a bit of a workaholic–I readily admit I derive a lot of purpose and self-worth from my job (and also readily admit this is not always a good thing….!)

          My husband and I had a similar experience–I’m always quick to sort of shoot down his suggestions or pleas, I know better, don’t I!? Turns out he was right on the money about a lot of things I’d been neglecting to do that was now being told to me by doctors… (Taking vitamins, taking probiotics, reducing or eliminating sugar and gluten…)

          He occasionally points out “I told you so” but luckily hasn’t been a total jerk about it, lol!

          To your last note–my office completely takes advantage of my efficiency and general ability to Know Lots of Things. I’ve learned this is partially my fault–I’ve trained them to think it’s ok to expect more of me. I’ve slowly been disavowing people of that notion and I gotta say, the backlash can be really insidious and unsettling. When you’ve said “yes” your whole life, it REALLY pisses people off when you say no! It’s been a hard lesson in learning who has my back and who doesn’t….

  4. Arielle*

    I’m interested to see if there’s anything I could/should be doing differently at the moment. I’m nearing the end of the first trimester of a high-risk pregnancy and as such I have had TONS of doctor’s appointments, which will only ramp up as I progress. So far I’ve been navigating this by trying to schedule them for low-impact times and giving my team advance notice, but maybe I should be doing more? (I do recognize this is a little different than a chronic condition because pregnancy has an obvious end date and also people tend to be more sympathetic than to a more “invisible” condition.)

    1. glitter writer*

      For both of my pregnancies, I scheduled nearly all of my appointments as early as I could (usually 7:45 or 8:00) and then just went and did my workday as per normal after, especially once they ramp up from every month to every week as you keep going along. For the most part everyone was completely understanding.

      (Congratulations and good luck!)

      1. Arielle*

        Thanks, I’m trying to do that as best I can, and we have “no-meeting Wednesday” mornings, which my manager encouraged me to take advantage of as doctor’s appointment times. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, though, like when maternal-fetal medicine has one ultrasound appointment available in the week I need to go and it’s at noon on a Monday.

        1. WellRed*

          I don’t have kids and don’t particularly like them ; ) I would 100% be onboard to not care about how many appointments you need to take and would support you in any way I could.

          1. JSPA*

            Exactly this. I bemoan the population problem, don’t like kids until they can form sentences, and I won’t stick around if you’re being sick in the wastebasket. But anything I can do from a “safe” distance for a coworker needing help (pregnancy-related or otherwise!), I’m all-in.

        2. glitter writer*

          My second was considered high-risk (luckily, it went textbook perfectly) and that constant scramble to get all the extra maternal-fetal appointments in on to of the regular OB appointments definitely felt so disruptive! But in the end, talking to folks, I realized it mostly felt more disruptive to me than to everyone else. So I hope the people around you are as understanding. :)

        3. Anna*

          I think with those “only this time” situations, the best you can do is be there in the morning and come back after the appointment. I feel like people are less concerned if they know you’ll be back and they can check in with you then.

      2. Liz*

        I did the same – tried to do appointments as early as I could. For me it was extra important because I lived half-way between the hospital/doctor and my job – both of which were a good 15+ miles away. It was SO MUCH EASIER to drive to the doctor and then my job, verses drive to my job then drive an extra-round-trip to my doctor then back to my job… UGH.

        I think as long as your coworkers know it’s a pregnancy, you should be good (assuming you work with nice people).

        One of my coworkers kept having random trips that would get postponed or cancelled entirely. It confused the heck outta me until after one of those trips it was announced he would be staying home for a bit because they had just adopted! I know and understand the reasons behind keeping it quiet, but even if our manager had said “hey, there’s some personal things going on and he’d rather not talk about it but that’s why he’s randomly gone” it would have made SO MUCH more sense.

        IMO, you don’t have to say everything – but even just saying “I’m dealing with something and it sucks and I’d rather not talk about it” can go a long way.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      So far I’ve been navigating this by trying to schedule them for low-impact times and giving my team advance notice

      This is what I do for my doctor’s appointments, though I don’t give my team any notice – just my boss. My team doesn’t need to know about my medical issues. But I schedule my visits either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon so that I’m not leaving during peak hours when someone may need me for something. It works out well.

    3. JokeyJules*

      It seems like what you are doing now is considerate of your teammates! I’d suggest asking them what you could be doing differently, but I don’t think I could look at a colleague I knew was dealing with a lot and say “actually, you could do X, Y, and Z to make my day easier”. Congratulations on your pregnancy and I wish you well moving forward!

      1. Future Homesteader*

        I see where you’re coming from, JJ, but I wouldn’t ask. Maybe volunteer to do specific things to make it easier, but asking implies that you’re doing something wrong or inconsiderate. You’re not, you’re pregnant. And while I don’t think we need to honor pregnant people as living saints or anything, I also think we should do our best to treat it as something that’s a matter of course, not an inconvenience – or something that anyone else gets a say about (obviously this ideal and reality are different things, but I think I we should strive for it where we can).

      2. Arielle*

        Thank you so much! My (all-male) team is pretty great and most of them are dads themselves. Really it’s because they’re so great that I want to be as considerate as possible.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I did IVF and then got pregnant (yay, it worked), and I did exactly this. One thing with my job is that no one has to cover for it — so, I can start at 8 or start at 9:30, and it really doesn’t make a huge impact, because I can just work late or through lunch, and that’s it. So, in roles where timing or coverage is necessary, it may be a different situation. But I just let my manager (and anyone on the core team, if the day would affect a meeting or something) know that I had a doctor’s appointment and when I’d be back, and it was totally fine.

    4. caryatis*

      For scheduled doctor’s appointments, it can help to group them all on the same day–e.g., Friday mornings. That way coworkers who often need you can learn not to expect you to be around Friday mornings, and more often be able to rely on you at other times.

      1. Arielle*

        I’m trying to do this, absolutely. We actually have “no meeting Wednesday” mornings which my manager has encouraged me to use as doctor’s appointment times. It’s just not always possible, like when maternal-fetal medicine has one ultrasound slot during the week I need to be seen and it’s at noon on a Monday.

      2. A Chronically Ill Anon*

        This is a really good idea. The trick would be to give yourself enough lead time in case any one of those appointments runs late, but I like this a lot.

    5. Clawfoot*

      Not pregnant, but I was off work for a month due to surgery, and for the first two months after I returned to work, there was a storm of follow-up appointments of various types afterwards. I did what I could to schedule them all on the same, low-impact day (not always possible with specialist appointments, but I did what I could) and then take the whole morning or afternoon off, with advance notice to my supervisor. It worked well.

    6. Insert Clever Handle Here*

      One thing I did with both of my pregnancies was keep a document in my folder on our shared drive titled “ICHH Open Items” that I updated at the end of each day with the status of my major items. When I was 8 months, I switched to working completely out of the shared drive so all my versions would be easy to find if I just didn’t show up the next day (which happened with one of my kids) and sat down with my backup to do a run down of my open items so I could address any questions. My coworker said it worked great and he was able to step in more or less seamlessly.

    7. Pinky Pie*

      I’ve been there with twice to three times as many doctor appointments, more scans and tests and then the twice a week fetal monitoring in the last trimester.

      I had to be transparent with my boss and coworkers. I’m sorry- I don’t know when I’ll be back from the twice tests. The Tuesday test requires an ultrasound, then another test. If the tech is free and the room is free, this takes an hour. Then I have to wait on the OB to read it and go over everything with me. On Thursday, it’s wait for the room to be free and the doctor. Now, I can kindof control when my absence effects the office- would it be better to schedule for the am, lunch or pm this week?

      1. Arielle*

        Oh gosh, yes, when the doctor was explaining the third trimester twice-weekly monitoring at my first appointment, all I could think was, “Thank goodness I’m salaried.”

    8. CSD*

      I have a chronic illness that’s “invisible” – I look quite healthy and seem to have no problems in my day to day, but it can flare up at any time and end up with me in the emergency room being pumped full of stereoids. I’ve changed jobs a lot in the past few years due to family moves, and something I’ve always taken care to do is to be very up front about my need to be out on a fairly frequent basis for my regular doctor’s appointments. It’s something I say immediately after I agree to accept the position and I work out my accommodations immediately. It’s helpful that I can typically schedule my appointments far in advance, and I take care to be that coworker that’s always willing to jump in and help out on different projects. I think being willing to do that helps me build goodwill when I do have to be out, and having a good relationship with my manager so that they are aware of why I do need to be out is helpful.
      I also take care to be very open about when I expect to be out, and how I can be contacted even when out. I am checking emails as often as I can, between appointments while I’m out, and I’m always available over the phone in emergencies.

      I don’t always share my illness with coworkers – sometimes with one or two if someone has asked – it’s not a secret, but not something I broadcast far and wide. I haven’t found this to be an issue because my managers have been good about managing workload and my coworkers have generally been good people who are understanding. I’m also in a similar situation to you, where I am also a high risk pregnancy on top of my regular disease, so will be juggling even more doctor’s appointments on top of existing ones. I’m hoping to ride that out by scheduling them as early in the morning as possible, and will be taking the advice of clustering them on certain days so that I can be consistently in/out so my team is aware. Fingers crossed it’ll all work out through mat leave!

    9. nonymous*

      When my coworker needed a stint of PT (think multiple times per week for several months), she arranged her regular work schedule for a 6A start time which let her put in 8hrs by early afternoon. My coworker has been vocal that sick leave should only be for child/elder care or overnight recovery, like from surgery. While I don’t think anyone benefits from her level of martyrdom, in the case where one is trying to preserve leave time for baby-bonding/complications, it’s definitely a workable approach.

      1. Fiddlesticks*

        Certainly nobody benefits from “martyrdom” where a coworker comes in with a contagious illness, exposing others to her germs. I expect that your coworker would also be highly critical of those coworkers who caught her illness and then had the audacity to call out sick themselves!

        1. doreen*

          I don’t think the coworker is talking about coming to work when you’re contagious- it seems to me her martyrdom is more about scheduling so that PT and other non-emergency medical appointments don’t result in missing work. I realize not everyone can do it all the time – but I typically make my appointments before work/after work/on weekends and will shift my schedule by an hour or two to avoid taking leave time. Not because I’ll have a problem taking leave – it’s because I don’t want to use it if I don’t have to . So I’ll use it if I’m sick, injured, having or recovering from a procedure but not for my quarterly appointment with the cardiologist and the last time I had PT, I made appointments for 6pm, after work. But that’s for me- it’s not my business what someone else does.

    10. New (working) mom*

      I had a high risk pregnancy with so many appointments, and I gave my team a heads up about the general situation, and then did the following:
      Tried to schedule at either the beginning or the end of the day whenever possible
      Scheduled as far ahead as my providers would let me
      Sent a consolidated list of all appointment times for the upcoming month to my team (so rather than getting an email every time I would schedule an appointment, they had the full list for the next chunk of time – this also helps with perception. Somehow getting a list of appointments feels less “constant” than sending an email every time you schedule one).
      Pregnancy is a relatively easy disability because it has a time limit and people tend to sympathetic and you can also plan ahead for the most part, so it’s easier to make sure your work isn’t impacted.

      My other recommendation for high risk is to bring a laptop (or at least your phone and charging cable) to your appointments just in case. I had a couple of times where my routine monitoring didn’t look great and they bumped me over to L&D for a full day of observation and the first time I was stranded with a rapidly dying phone and I was both stressed and incredibly bored. After that I made sure to have stuff with me so I could work and distract myself.

    11. Burned Out Supervisor*

      You know, I would 100% not care about how many appointments a pregnant co-worker had, especially near the end of their pregnancy. I really don’t think you should expend a lot of mental energy worrying about your team mates, especially if your boss is supportive, and just take care of yourself. I’m sure most, if not all of them, feel the same as me.

  5. Laura*

    I have chronic tension headaches and am currently off work for one day per week on average. I’m a high performing civil engineer, working in the construction industry and managing a design team.
    I try to be honest with my team and very rarely need to ‘dump’ things on them – the severity of my headaches vary, so unless I’m absolutely paralysed with a headache that’s 7/10 on the pain scale or worse, I’ll try to come into work if there’s something very urgent that cannot be postponed.
    I’m generally on top of my responsibilities, precisely because I can’t guarantee I’ll be ok the next day, so try to get things done as soon as possible when they come up.
    However, I’m aware that my headaches are slowly getting worse and I could be close to burning out – I try to keep my manager up to date and just keep trying to push through as best I can.

    1. Liz*

      How much does your team know? Like, do they know Laura has chronic tension headaches, or just that you’re dealing with a medical issue, or just that you need to be gone sometimes randomly for some random reason?

      IMO, as long as they know something it’s ok – my curious butt would be curious and want more details, but I’m just curious how much you’ve told them. ;)

      1. Laura*

        Hi Liz,
        I’ve told them that it’s chronic tension headaches. Mostly people are just sympathetic, but some do try to give helpful advice: have you tried giving up caffeine / swimming helped my friend and so on. I either thank them or say something like ‘the neuro team at the hospital I’m being treated at have already ruled that out’

    2. Carrie Oakie*

      I got migraines pretty regularly, and tension headaches that will turn in to migraines if I don’t handle it. For Christmas this year my BF got me a headache hat off of Amazon. It’s been a huge help! I keep it chilled (it has an ice pack in it) and when the migraines/headaches start, I wrap it around my head and rest someplace cool and quiet. It puts pressure on the right places, blocks the light & eases me out of it. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes, sometimes it’s more, but I highly recommend this!

      1. Laura*

        That sounds really neat. I have a few gel packs that I keep in the fridge and a wrap-thing fashioned out of a pillowcase with Velcro to keep them over my eyes

  6. Lobsterman*

    I quit and concentrated on my health until I could work.

    There was no other option that would have worked for me. I tried to find one.

    1. Yikes*

      I did this, too. It’s almost six years later and I’m in horrible financial straits as a result of all the dominoes that fell from taking over a year off, but I didn’t really have any other options.

    2. caryatis*

      Agreed. I think a lot of people try to stay in the workforce long after it is obvious to everyone else that they cannot handle a full-time work schedule. I sympathize, it sucks, but if you cannot handle your job and there is no possibility of improvement in the near future, consider a leave of absence or quitting.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Unfortunately, in the US we attach healthcare to employment so chronically ill people are frequently stuck working in order to have insurance to pay for their illnesses.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Bingo. My coworker who had Stage 4 cancer had no choice but to keep working to have decent health coverage – she would have died much sooner than she did without it.

        2. Carbovore*


          Surgeries needed for my condition are often deemed “medically unnecessary” so I’m having a hell of a time saving up this year….

        1. sunny-dee*

          Depending on the condition, you could probably go on disability and Medicaid. We pay into the system when we work, so use it if you can’t.

          1. Less Bread More Taxes*

            Anyone who has actually been on Medicaid is going to have an issue with this logic.

            I needed surgery once upon a time for a broken jaw (so pretty serious and life-impacting). It took four months for me to be able to schedule it and a year afterward to get the cost of the thing actually covered. Medicaid should be avoided at all costs, and if you can work, you should for the healthcare.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Eh, I have a very different experience with Medicaid (my son is on it through a disability waiver) and am incredibly grateful for its existence. It’s highly state dependent, generally – as states run Medicaid (with lots of federal funding). I’m sure in some places, it is as it was for you – nightmarish. But that is not by any means a universal sentiment.

              However, “just go on disability and get Medicaid” isn’t hugely practical advice, because it simply is NOT that easy to qualify, and takes a lot of time to boot. (And SSDI and SSI provide very, very little – not everyone can make life go on those amounts!)

          2. boo bot*

            It can be extraordinarily difficult to access either disability or Medicaid, though. There’s a very wide gap between “able to work enough to support oneself” and “eligible for disability” that a lot of people fall into, so I wouldn’t want to encourage the idea that someone with a chronic illness always has that option and is choosing not to take it.

          3. Pinky Pie*

            It takes usually two to three appeals to get SSDI, if you are lucky- that’s a 2-5 year process.

            1. JSPA*

              Not to mention that along the way they may well offer (say) 25% disability, but with the risk of losing that 25%, if you contest it to ask for more. If you think regular medical coding is arcane, the coding for disability (at least, seen from outside) seems to be one of the black arts.

              Disclaimer: this may well differ by state (or even local region or individual intake office or officer), so if the experience of your friends differs from that of my friends, let’s not fight.

              From where I sit, there are a lot of people whose status is dropping fast, due in significant part to the anxiety and frustration of dealing with a system that’s currently working to squeeze people out. The claim is that they should magically squeeze out the top end (into full employment), but I’m more frequently seeing them squeeze out the bottom (to an early grave).

            2. rubyrose*

              And, if granted, Medicare benefits do not kick in for 2 years! At least that’s the way it used to be.

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              The ACA came along just in time to give someone I knew an additional 5 years they would not have had without it.

              However, if the US had had some sort of Universal Healthcare system to begin with, they would most likely have caught their condition early enough to *still be alive*.

            2. FoxyDog*

              Seriously, me too. I was diagnosed with my chronic illness the year after it went into effect. Being a poor freelancer at the time, I was on Medicaid already (the first time in years I’d had health insurance) and was (fortunately?) able to be hospitalized and diagnosed. My state has an excellent Medicaid program, I’m very thankful for that.

            1. Grapey*

              I don’t think it’s heartless – many people want safety nets like this to work even if we don’t use them, because someday we might (and probably will, as someone that refuses to have children just so they can take care of me in old age).

              It’s heartless that these programs are underfunded and dismissed in the first place, but to suggest using them in the first place is not heartless at all.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                It’s heartless because so many people who think this way end up assuming that the many, MANY people who need these safety nets, but can’t access them, really just aren’t getting them because they are lying faking lazy shirkers, not because the system is broken and needs an overhaul. Political interests of course love to play up this narrative, and the end result is that people believe the safety nets need to be cut & restricted even MORE.
                If people realized these systems really ARENT working, and that people truly in need are falling through all the time, then they might start to think, oh shit! That could happen to me or my loved ones! and actually work towards making a system of safety nets that DO work the way they should.

                1. Grapey*

                  I still don’t see it as heartless. It’s not a good idea to travel in life with the worry of “what will other people assume”, including the fear of being assumed a lying fake shirker.

                  I guess I’m on the side of your last sentence where stuff like this HAS happened to my mother growing up and I’m a direct benefit of tuition “handouts” to children of poor single parents.

                  The other option is basically going “That sucks, but thoughts and prayers to you anyway!” to sick people which I don’t want to play a part in.

                2. biobotb*

                  But sunny-dee didn’t suggest that they think people who can’t get access are shirkers, so you can’t say their personal response is heartless.

          4. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I know someone who is totally disabled due to a serious, life threatening, incurable, and very rare chronic illness.
            They used to work in TV news and broadcasting and were making 80k a year in their early 20s (this was late 90s-early 2Ks)

            On disability they make 12k a year. In a state where the CoL is so high you cannot even get a studio apartment for less than 1k a month. You cannot even find a room for rent in someone’s house for less than $600 (which would be considered dirt cheap.) This person may have their medical care paid for, but they also have an extremely difficult time finding the needed specialists for their rare disease that take their insurance. Their condition means they take fairly frequent trips to ER, where they are immediately labeled as a “drug seeker” simply for the fact that they are on disability and needing serious pain relief (a feature of their illness is severe pain.) This even when they bring with them a huge binder with their past medical records, treatment plans, doctors instructions, etc to show that yes, this IS the standard procedure and accepted first line treatment for a flare up of this condition.

            I know far too many people who have serious (and OBVIOUS) medical issues, I mean conditions that are NO BRAINERS that should have been green lighted without a fuss- that they had to fight tooth & nail to get disability for, to the point they needed to get disability lawyers to get it at all. And NONE of them get enough in disability money to actually survive on- some of them get as little as $500 a month. This is for people who quite literally CAN NOT WORK, even part time.

            I know others who have been permanently denied for reasons like “your husband makes too much money” (because making under 50k in a high CoL state makes you too fabulously wealthy to need it, I guess.)
            And I myself am the poster child for “has a serious, lifelong chronic illness that requires daily medication to be alive, but cannot get insurance through work, cannot afford private insurance, and is completely ineligible for all forms of government and all other aid”. Even though I generally only made minimum wage or slightly above it, I made “too much money”, that I could work *at all* made me ineligible, even though working was only possible when taking medication that I could barely afford. And those were the old-fashioned, substandard, no longer much used Rx, as the first line ones were so far out of my budget they might as well have been made of solid gold. (My health is permanently affected because of it.) And I wouldn’t have even had THOSE if it weren’t for having an especially compassionate specialist who did whatever he could to help me (saw me without insurance for a pittance, gave me samples, etc) and loving & generous parents who also did as much as they could to help me out.
            Oh, and the reason I always had low paying, no benefit jobs? I have invisible disabilities that went undiagnosed for decades because I didn’t have health insurance!
            I’m gearing up to apply for disability myself this year, and I’m going STRAIGHT to a lawyer, and I still get knots in the pit of my stomach knowing what a fight it’s most likely to be- and I have *multiple* conditions that make me eligible.
            And I live in California! I have friends & acquaintances in other states where it’s even WORSE. Much more difficult to be accepted into the programs, no local doctors at all take Medicaid, needed meds aren’t covered or are made nearly impossible to get, etc.

            1. It's mce*

              Same. A friend of mine is engaged to a man who has MS. They want to get married but he would lose benefits like this, so they have decided to be life partners.

          5. atalanta0jess*

            So, as others have pointed out, it can take years to get federal disability. That’s the rule, not the exception. There is a waiting period of two years from when you are determined to be disabled to when you are medicare eligible.

            This advice is just not based in reality. It should work that way. It really really really really doesn’t.

          6. twig*

            It takes about 1 year to get on disability in my state — and that is if you are accepted — we have a 66% rejection rate for disability applications.

      2. AMT27*

        While I agree in theory, I don’t think not working is an option for most people. If I wasn’t able to work I’d have no health insurance or healthcare, and no money to live on. Disability can be a long difficult slog to qualify for, and without an income I’d be in serious trouble within a month. I find this terrifying as a single parent with no support, I honestly don’t know what I’d do other than literally work myself to death.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          What you can do is start creating financial margin in your life and start saving aggressively. Working yourself to death is just not a viable option. There are people that are probably making it work on half of what you take home. Probably not the lifestyle you aspire to, but better choosing what to cut then being forced to cut or die trying.

          Rain will always come, don’t build a house without a roof.

          1. INeedANap*

            Where in the description of “single parent with no support” did you see room for this person to start creating financial margin and saving aggressively? How on earth would you have any idea what this person takes home?

            What a judge-y, assumption-filled, and unhelpful comment.

            1. AMT27*

              Thanks INeedANap, I appreciate it. I am much better off than many people are, but its still fairly impossible. I dont know what I could be doing differently really – like yeah, I could do without Netflix or my weekly latte, but that’s not enough savings to actual build a safety net with. And when its a matter of ‘this small thing that keeps me sane and is often the only thing I look forward to in the week’ vs. saving an extra $20 this month, well, sanity gets top priority frankly. As for living the lifestyle I aspire to…..yeesh.

              It’s not like I am not constantly stressed and worried about what ifs and terrified by the possibilities. Right now I need to schedule a colonoscopy; because of my family history I am high risk of colon cancer – but even that is incredibly difficult, I have to take time off work for it, potentially line up extra child care, and I guess Uber to the hospital? If anything actually goes wrong I am totally completely screwed. Just as a huge percentage of people are.

              1. Fiddlesticks*

                AMT27, I recently took the fairly new FDA-approved at-home Cologuard test as an alternative to my first colonoscopy. My doctor was supportive of my decision, since there is no colon cancer in my family and I know more than one person who has experienced colon perforation during a colonoscopy (horrible!). The test reveals blood in the stool and also searches for cancer DNA markers. If either of these things had been found, I would then have had to have a colonoscopy anyway. I know you said you are considered high-risk, but could Cologuard be an initial compromise for you with your doctor’s agreement? Also, there was no co-payment required by my insurance for Cologuard, whereas I would have been paying out of pocket for the colonoscopy. I can redo the test every three years under insurance, as well.

                And yes, it’s kinda gross to do the at-home test if you’re put off by the idea of pooping in a jar, packaging it up and sending it off to the lab – but I was a lot more ok with that than the prep, experience, inconvenience and expense of a colonscopy, at least at this time.

                More info:

                1. AMT27*

                  I’ve seen the ads for that, but I think as I’m high risk I have to do the actual scope. I had one five years ago – at least its considered preventative and is therefore free. Its just the take two sick days for myself (a thing i think most parents dont do – I save my sick time for when my kids are sick), find child care in case something goes wrong or just takes forever at the hospital and I cant pick the kids up from daycare, not to mention just having to go and do it all alone – that’s the part that is just sort of mentally exhausting right now. But being high risk its definitely a thing that has to be done (I am not even going to think about what a bad outcome would mean).

          2. AMT27*

            That is really unhelpful. I have been trying for years. Divorce means I can now live on the income I bring in, rather than going further into debt each month – a HUGE improvement. But paying a mortgage, food, healthcare, childcare, etc for myself and two kids? I mean, I spend almost 20% of my income on child care so that I *can* work. I have no family, so no one to ask for help caring for any of us and no one to go to for financial help. I have no local friends. I am happy when I can pay my bills and still have enough cash left to get me to the next paycheck.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Sympathy, AMT27. I have some family / friends in similar situations – surviving, but not comfortable. BAs in science (bio, chem) with no attendance problems so they ought to be easily employable, but between an unemployed stretch during the Great Recession and / or student loans / child care / health care / rent eating up everything, they’re struggling.

              We have a system problem, where the cost of basic requirements of working in the US (education / child care / rent) are higher than the wages people are getting.

              Chronically ill people are also not supported in this system, because we follow the fallacy that work = worth. We should be recognizing that Alive = Worth, and support the most vulnerable simply because they are here, and alive. Lobsterman, Yikes – internet hugs if you want them, I wish there was more I could do right now. I am voting / speaking / writing / protesting for system changes (YAY MEDICAID EXPANSION! Thanks, Obama!), and helping my fam/friends.

            2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              I’ve never had a lot of income. My standards of success have always been completely different than those of most people.
              Do I have a roof over my head? Can I feed myself and my (all rescued) pets? Is there gas in my car? Do I have a little bit left over so I can shop at the thrift store now and then, or spend $5 to go to a local underground club or concert? If all those questions could be answered yes, then I was succeeding with flying colors! It didn’t matter that I lived in a shithole, that my cars were all old junkers (hey, no car payments!) or that I couldn’t afford fancy food or eating out (even the cheapest of fast food was a treat), I was happy and content and felt like I was doing great*.

              And if someone had tried to lecture me about trying to save aggressively or the “lifestyle I aspire to” I would have laughed in their face.

              *And as decades later I was diagnosed with severe ADHD and other disabling neurodivergencies, I actually WAS doing great, all things considered.

            3. Iris Eyes*

              Necessity is the mother of invention. It sounds like you may be making enough that you can be strategic about your spending. (based off childcare only representing 20%, mines’ equivalent to a mortgage payment for 1 kid) Can you get it so your insurance payments can be lump sum instead of by month? Is there a cheaper cell phone service out there? That’s usually a savings of $100 a year or so. Could you rent out a shed in the backyard or half of a basement for someone else to store things?

              There are a lot of personal finance podcasts and blogs that can help spark ideas and give you inspiration amidst the daily grind.

              Maybe most urgently though is to find your village. I’m better at saving money than building relationships so I don’t have a lot of help to give you there. The extent of my success in that area is a childcare swap for one night a week. I know its almost impossible to do it alone.

          3. boo bot*

            Yikes, you probably didn’t intend it this way, but this comes across as a bit cruel. I’ve been the kid of that single, working parent with no support, and while there are always exceptions, I don’t believe for a second that the most likely cause of financial instability here is a failure to consider the possibility that saving money might be a good idea.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              You mean Iris Eyes, not Yikes, right?

              Yikes just said they were also still struggling from a period of being unable to work. It was Iris Eye who recommended building a ‘financial margin’.

              1. boo bot*

                OMG, I meant “Yikes” as in “Oh, my goodness”, not referencing the poster! So sorry, Yikes, I absolutely did not mean you – I didn’t see there was someone with that username. Thank you, Jules the 3rd, for pointing this out, I did indeed mean Iris Eyes, and I’m glad you were able to glean that from the content of the post.

            2. boo bot*

              Also – in terms of things that are often suggested as “cuts” – Netflix, the ubiquitous Starbucks latte – can we be realistic about the numbers? Netflix basic plan is $8.99/month. A grande latte is $3.65 at Starbucks (Manhattan); if one were to drink one a week, that’s about $14.60/month.

              Netflix + weekly latte = $23.59/month = $283.08/ year.

              In one sense, sure, that’s a lot of money. In another, truer sense, it’s not enough to pay another month’s rent; it’s not enough to deal with a surprise medical bill; it’s not enough to cushion the blow of a serious crisis, at least for long. So, sure, obviously it’s good to save if we can, and I’m pretty sure everyone who struggles financially is fully aware of that. But we should be realistic about how big a margin that kind of cut-to-the-bone saving can really create.

              TL;DR: Nobody’s climbing up past the poverty line solely by cutting out lattes.

              1. General Ginger*

                This. Plus, poor people need self-care, too. And occasional treats. Because drudgery without any light is utter hell.

                1. AMT27*

                  Absolutely. Sure, I didnt need to buy a latte today. But for $3 I got to take a walk outside the office and was able to get something I actually enjoy; my alternative was staying in the office during my lunch break and sitting at my desk trying not to cry. If that $3 gets me through the week without falling apart there’s huge value in that; I can’t do my job, or take care of my kids, if I fall apart.

                  *Also, my situation is not that bad, comparatively speaking. Yes, I have about $300 in the bank. But I feel like I am doing fantastic-just not buying groceries on a credit card is miles ahead of where I’ve been. I may not have any cushion, but I am far better off than many and am grateful that I at least have some breathing room at the moment.

                2. Iris Eyes*

                  That’s progress and that’s great! Just don’t give up on the future being even better.

                3. Veracity*

                  Poor people also have crises, too. And that Netflix/Starbucks money that they are trying to squirrel away might be needed more urgently for food or the phone bill or little Johnny’s birthday.

              2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                And as what not-financially struggling people always suggest the financially struggling people cut out are usually the things that make a hard life *bearable*, it’s actually an extra shitty suggestion. It’s a terrible mindset to think that “poor people” should just put their nose to the grindstone and bootstrap their way through life without any pleasure or enjoyment until they’ve reached some arbitrary level of success where they finally “earned” the right to be happy. NO NO NO NO NO!

                I could live with articles that said something like “if you are looking for small ways to cut you budget, get Netflix/go to the second run $1 theatre/ find one with cheap monthly passes” or “make Starbucks 1 a week treat, not daily”, or that had suggestions for larger savings that some people *might* be able to consider (would it make more financial sense to rent rather than own? Buy reliable older model/used cars for lower payments? Etc) but I despise the ones that act like poor people are just poor because we are wasteful spenders that have never even considered the idea of saving.

              3. professor*

                I don’t know what medical treatment you think a chronically ill person is gonna pay for with less than $300…I mean seriously, my insurance considers me responsible for $2400 of my meds a month (they pay half of specialized meds). You better believe I have a Netflix because I need something to keep me sane when I am bed bound….

                Frivolous spending is really not the problem in almost all cases…

            3. Fortitude Jones*

              I too was that kid with that mom – trust me, if she could have done it, she would have. She was raising two kids solo in the early ’90s on $10 an hour. Good luck trying to save anything, even back then, on that salary.

          4. Lynn*

            All that aggressive saving would likely be wiped out by one big medical event or one year of chronic treatment without health insurance.

            1. Iris Eyes*

              So what? That’s precisely what the savings is there for, so you can spend it in an emergency. Its not so you die with a dragon’s hoard of money its so that a car repair or hospital bill causes an inconvenience not devastation. Better to end a health tragedy with $0 than -$X.

              1. Lynn*

                So what? Once the savings are gone and you have no job, no money, and no health insurance, you’re right back to having nothing. It just got pushed down the road a few months. It’s not a sustainable goal.

              2. chronic rare diseases are super fun*

                My daughter’s emergency health care needs over the last six years would have run to at least $200K without insurance. I *would* need a dragon’s hoard to survive financially without insurance.

          5. Lilly*

            I think you aren’t considering that “aggressively saving” is a privilege afforded only to people who earn enough to do so. Assuming that people who can’t save are at frittering away their spare money by making poor choices is both patronizing and unkind.

            1. Iris Eyes*

              And that lie is what keeps people trapped. Please don’t spread unhelpful untruths.

              I’m not saying anyone is “frittering” away money. Adults no matter their income get to choose, the choices sometimes suck but such is life.

              1. TassieTiger*

                You have to be making a certain amount of money to set aside savings. I mean, that’s facts. I make $12,000 a year. :/

      3. It's the Internet. Stuff Happens.*

        I reacted to these comments with a really visceral sense of outrage and “you’re basically telling them to go die of poverty, how awful” before I remembered that other countries don’t tie healthcare to employment and have a social safety net.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I’m fairly certain that poster is in the US. They also have a history of making terribly fat-shaming comments from what I recall.

      4. Lobsterp0t*

        And how are those people then supposed to live? This is exactly why the setup in most countries is entirely unsustainable. It’s not necessary for everyone in society to work; yet we make it an obligation if you don’t want to starve or live in abject poverty.

    3. AngelicGamer, the visually impaired peep*

      As someone who has been unemployed since 2008 due to the job market tanking and a disability… I don’t recommend it. I’ve only survived this long because of being able to live with a relative and being a lucky bastard who did the minimum of being employed before getting fired/quit from Borders. Rules for the blind are looser than any other disability in terms of being able to get SSI, SSDI, and Medicare, plus I was diagnosed and got on everything before I turned 18. That was back in the late 90s. I haven’t been able to get a job, not from lack of trying and this website, mostly because retail is hell for me. I’ve got mental health problems on top of the blindness so it’s not an option.

    4. Chaotic Neutral*

      I had to do this to. My job at the time I *had* to be physically present to do, there was no way around it, and at the same time, I couldn’t make it through the day. When I learned I would need surgery and that it was a six week recovery time, I just opted not to renew my contract for the following year. Turned out to be the best thing because it’s taken four years to get to the point where I can work again.

  7. glitter writer*

    This is me, unfortunately. I have a chronic condition that can cause serious challenges and while I’m lucky it’s been staying quiet and lying low for almost two years so far, I also had a pregnancy and a baby during that time and now have been sucked into the constant “someone in this family, possibly me, is very sick and needs to stay home” cycle that comes with having one kid in school and one in daycare.

    (In fact, I am typing this comment from home, as I work from home, because this week I was the one with the high fever, and I need to go see a doctor for a strep throat swab this afternoon.)

    I’m very lucky to have a job that can be easily done remotely, with a very, very understanding manager who more or less doesn’t care how often I work from home so long as the work gets done. And even so I’m still incredibly apologetic about it, and try to be communicative, especially because I’m in a male-dominated environment where I’m also one of the only people in my age bracket (almost everyone else is either under 30 or over 50, strangely) and I have that extra guilt about potentially making other working moms look bad if I look bad.

    Mostly, though, I earn the capital to be accepted despite the constant time away by really, really, really kicking butt at my job. I’m very good at what I do, and I do it on deadline, without complaint.

  8. hamstergirl*

    Not personally chronically ill, but had a coworker that had their illness really go downhill over the course of their employment.
    What really made a difference was when they made sure that a couple people in their department were fully briefed on the exact status of all of their projects and had access to each and every element so that if someone else needed to step in and pick it up they could do so very easily.

    1. raktajino*

      Seconding this (also not personally chronically ill but have coworkers with relevant situations). Having lots of communication–including documentation, status updates, and CROSS TRAINING–has been key at my workplace.

      Communication also helps ameliorate feelings of bitterness, though there’s only so much you can do if someone is generally resentful by default.

  9. Oregano*

    I would especially love advice for when it’s mental illness, because I’ve gotten an incredible amount of prejudice that it’s “just being sad” and that I could get over it “if only I’d try harder” and they can’t believe I’m letting this “get in the way of my potential.”

    1. Librariann*

      I’d be interested in this as well. I’m in the same boat, with the additional stressor that I can’t get professional treatment as often as I need due to the cost.

    2. Future Homesteader*

      First, that blows. Those people suck and I’m sorry you have to deal with them.
      Second, can you do what Alison has suggested w/r/t mental illness in other contexts and not specify? Just let people know that you have a chronic condition and are having a flare-up/working on it/trying a new treatment. Because that’s the truth and you shouldn’t feel like you need to disclose more (although I understand feeling like you do. But please be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that it *is* an illness and not a choice).

    3. CR*

      Mental illness is a big one. I know there have been big strides towards talking more openly about mental illness and recognizing it as a legitimate health problem and so on. But I’m still terrified to tell my employer about it because I don’t want to be known as a crazy person or the weak link and have it affect my career.

      1. JSPA*

        Mental illnesses are (broadly and primarily) physical, though. You have a physical illness that probably can (like many other more obviously physical illnesses, e.g. arthritis etc) be triggered by stress. Which is also a physical state, biochemically-speaking. Pass through “owning it by naming it,” to owning it by…even more fully owning it. You’re not somehow morally responsible for (say) your neurons’ rate of dopamine release or uptake, anymore than you’re responsible for any other cellular process.

    4. Fortitude Jones*

      One of my illnesses is OCD, so when I signed up for FMLA, I just had my doctor be very vague about it since mental illness is still very stigmatized. I also don’t tell any of my managers about it – when I needed to go to once a week (then once a month) therapy sessions, I just said I had to go to the doctor and ended the conversation. There was no need for me to provide any additional detail – people don’t really need to know your business like that.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Advice I Want to Give: Punch people who say such ignorant things.

      Advice I Will Give: There are two ways you can handle this. One is to be obnoxiously outspoken about your mental illness and how it impacts your daily life and work, giving no fucks what anyone says in response. Educating people about mental illness helps reduce the stigmas surrounding it. That being said, if you are not in a position to do that for whatever reason, the other option is to be vague about the nature of your chronic illness and not mentioning that it’s mental.

    6. Data Analyst*

      I’ve taken FMLA to get intensive treatment for mental health. I did not tell my boss a ton, although I tried briefly to explain the sort of anxious, paranoid thought patterns I was getting stuck in at work, with one specific example. His response was overall very kind and thoughtful: take the time you need, no problem, your health is the most important thing…but then in regards to my example he said “you shouldn’t be anxious about that.” Yeah dude, that’s why I need help! In the moment I was irritated – ugh, why doesn’t he get it? But then I reframed it – I don’t need him to get it. It’s not my responsibility to make him understand mental illness. My responsibility ends with making sure I have provided enough information to get the help that I am allowed based on law/company policy, and done my best to minimize the impact of my absence (note that that’s “done my best to minimize” not “found a way to completely mitigate” the impact).

      1. JSPA*

        Eh, it’s a “limits of language” problem.

        What words do you use to assure someone with anxiety (clinical) that they are being exempted from any cause-effect blowback that might otherwise legitimately come to someone who misses time from work?

        We use the same words for “being unhappy due to having a legitimate expectation of consequences” and “the sensation of feeling terrible consequences hanging over you, and of responsibility for it all.”

        It would sound pretty flip and cruel to say, “I can’t stop you from feeling anxious if you’re having anxiety issues, but any anxiety you have about consequences from this will be delusional / pathological, because no such consequences exist.”

        1. atalanta0jess*

          This is ridiculous. You use these words:

          I want to assure you that you will not be retaliated against for your use of these benefits.

          And then, you don’t tell them how to feel about it. End of story.

          your comment is really offensive JSPA.

          1. Chinookwind*

            I disagree that JSPA is being insensitive because the phrase you recommend (which would be awesome for me to hear) is much more blunt than most supervisors would think necessary.

            If you haven’t lived in the mind of someone with anxiety, it is hard to understand how clear you need to be. And to a person with a clear mind, such blunt speech could feel patronizing and/or harsh because there are no empathetic words in them. To most people, showing empathy means using kind, empathetic, emotional words which, ironically, just makes an anxious person more anxious about when the other shoe is going to drop (or at least that is how it is in my case).

            I also find that have the modified job expectations put in writing helps because then I can go back and double check that I didn’t imagine it and can even use it as proof if something did go sideways.

            1. atalanta0jess*

              Maybe we are reading his comment differently. I did find it a bit hard to parse, but understood it to say that the limits of language make it hard to communicate with someone with anxiety, because you would by necessity be dismissive of their feelings or implying that they were “delusional/pathological.”

              In any case – agreed, using clear language is great!

    7. Heaven*

      I can speak a bit about being mentally ill in an office, with the caveat that I’m in the UK, which seems to have a slightly more forward-thinking approach to mental illness compared to certain parts of the US. That’s not a diss at anyone here! Just that I’ve been very conservative with details regarding my mental illness in the past and when my line manager found out she was a little horrified I’d kept it so completely to myself per the standard AAM advice.

      I am diagnosed with moderate-to-severe depression and anxiety. Primarily due to working with a fairly awful fit of a supervisor for the first eight-ish month of work (she’s not an awful person, per se, but we’re very different people, she didn’t have much management/supervisory experience, and was quite a brusque person), I ended up having a minor breakdown, was put on long-term sick leave, and stayed with my parents for about two months.

      I nearly didn’t go back. I was absolutely convinced I had now ruined my reputation at the office, that nobody would have any respect for me, and I would be That Crazy Woman who was either pitied or disdained, and whispered about behind my back either way.

      Instead, I came back to a restructured office, a new supervisor who had worked in the business since she was at my level and so was much better at helping me settle into the role, and a manager who was extremely sympathetic to my mental illness and let me know that I could ask her for anything I needed, up to and including WFH days, flex time to work around doctor’s appointments, and the ability to redistribute some of my tasks if I was getting overwhelmed. Despite this, she has not attempted to hold me back from advancement out of any fear I won’t be able to handle it – I’m due for a small promotion this summer, with a larger one on the horizon in a further year – and has, basically, been the dream manager for someone in my position.

      My supervisor has also been extremely kind and sympathetic since finding out (along with two other women on the department who all have similar issues after they found me crying at an after-work party and we all had a heart-to-heart… long story), and has even offered to run interference for me in the office if, for example, I manage to get into work on a bad day but realise once I’m there that I Just Can’t. I’ve never had to take her up on this yet, but it’s a massive relief to know that the option is on the table.

      So, I guess my advice is that, if your manager and coworkers seem like good, decent people, try to swallow your fear and be honest. I totally understand wanting to keep things vague, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I know I personally feel better knowing that at least a few people in my office know what the real deal is and don’t judge or think any less of me because of it. I feel less like I’m hiding something or walking on a tightrope trying to pretend there’s nothing wrong with me. I also found out that, while I might be the most severe, I am by no means the only person on the team with mental health problems of some kind – which, when you consider the statistics, makes sense, sadly.

    8. Jimming*

      I just say “I don’t feel well” which isn’t lying because I don’t. I have a combo of depression/stomach issues that’s mostly managed now but my boss doesn’t need to know if I’m depressed or on the toilet! Both are TMI. You should be able to say “I’m working with my doctor to resolve medical/health issues” and leave it at that.

    9. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

      Me too! I’m lucky I have pretty generous leave and don’t get asked a lot of questions, but this is my biggest user of sick time.

    10. Anax*

      I tend to be pretty open about my diagnoses, though it definitely helps that people tend to take PTSD pretty seriously, and that’s the main one which affects my work.

      My usual script is something like, “Hey, I’m not feeling great, and I’m going to take a sick day. I’m doing okay; I just really need to get some rest, the PTSD is acting up and I didn’t get any sleep. I’ll be available from home if anything comes up; please call my cell if there’s an emergency, and I’ll check my email a few times during the day. Sorry about that! I expect to be back in tomorrow.”

      (Actually had to crash out early yesterday, and felt pretty guilty about it. Triggers are a pain, y’all.)

      In general, my formula if ‘not feeling well’ doesn’t feel like enough is:
      – Name the easiest-to-explain issue – depression, anxiety, etc.
      – Give a brief description of one symptom to demonstrate severity – this helps cut through any ‘oh, it can’t be that bad’. Say, “Sorry, I’m having a tough time with depression today, I’ve been crying for four hours and I really need to do some self-care.” Or, “I’m having bad anxiety today; I took my meds, but I’m still hyperventilating every time I try to leave the house.”
      – Name the things you’re doing to try to get to work or recover quicker, like therapy, medication, etc., if there’s something convenient – like, “I already tried taking my medication, but it’s not helping much today.”
      – When will you be back at work, and how available are you for work stuff while absent?

      Obviously, tailor that to personal comfort; I’m pretty open, but all those things are obviously optional, they’ve just worked for me.

      I’m not sure that’s the best plan, and I definitely still feel really guilty when I need to take time out for Brain Stuff – I actually had a bad day yesterday and ended up working from home. Advice plz, lovely people.

      1. Amber Rose*

        That only works when your boss isn’t a jerk. If I named anxiety as my illness, I’d be penalized for being too lazy to come to work.

        1. Anax*

          You’re not wrong. I’m lucky enough to be able to be choosy about where I work, and that definitely helps.

        2. Chinookwind*

          I understand. But remember that reasonable explanations are for reasonable people.

          Since your boss is a jerk/will use it against you, “my chronic illness is flaring up and, as per my doctor’s recommendations, I am taking care of my symptoms today” might be a better choice.

          I look at my depression like diabetes – most people with it have a version that can be caused/cared for with lifestyle choices but some of us have one that requires effort and medication and will not be cured over time. The first group (and those who only think of the disease as it applies to the first group) are often unsympathetic towards the second group because they don’t understand that it is a completely different disease that has a similar name and symptoms but that is it. But, just like a boss shouldn’t tell a diabetic to stop “shooting up” in the bathroom, neither should a boss tell a person with severe depression that they are just being lazy for not being able to get out of bed.

    11. Amber Rose*

      It’s framed here as “just not feeling like working.” Which is appalling to me, but there’s not much I can do about it.

      Frame it like a physical illness, because the symptoms are usually physical anyway, and don’t tell people what it’s called. That’s the only way I’ve got around needing days off when my anxiety is running overdrive.

      1. JSPA*

        “I was up sick all night” is both specific and vague (thanks to the multiple meanings of “sick”). Ditto, “I’m too sick for you to want me there.” Or, “I checked with the doctor, I’m to stay home until my current symptoms improve.” And, “An old condition started acting up out of the blue. I’m tracking down my old doctor to see if I can get a new prescription for the meds that worked so well, years ago.” Or, “they put me on some new meds, and I’m borderline hallucinating. I need to get this sorted before I can safely come in.” (They may draw cause and effect from meds to visions, but…that’s their interpretation. You’re not lying if it’s the other way around.)

        1. Rainy*

          I had a bad reaction once to a painkiller that’s since been black-boxed, and I did have hallucinations from it. It was terrifying and I had to have a friend in the room with me at all times until the med wore off to reassure me that the hallucinations weren’t real.

          It was an extremely disconcerting experience.

    12. Salty Sam*

      I have moderate depression + anxiety (though much more under control with medication now) and really feel you on this. I have to go for appointments with my psychiatrist every few months and refill my prescription, however as I am very young (20 something) and the rest of my team are between 40-60 and don’t need to take as much leave from work for medical things, I feel a bit awkward about it. I have a coworker who has gout and will freely talk about his “bad days” when his gout flares up or he needs to go to the doctor, and I kind of wish I had that same freedom as all I can say when I take time off is “doctor’s appointment.” I did have a coworker ask me why I had these appointments once and all I could say was that “I have a long-term health condition that needs medication which I am not comfortable sharing.” I live in a country that is still very backwards in its views on mental health so I keep it to myself.

    13. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t disclose that it’s mental illness, because in my experience (1) people vastly misunderstand how mental illness works, or they think everyone with the same diagnosis has the same experience; (2) it’s stigmatized; and (3) people without mental illness often fail to develop the empathy necessary to “get” how accommodation might work for someone going through bouts of badtimes.

      Instead, I keep it slightly vague and call it a chronic illness that sometimes affects my productivity and ability to be in the office. If I’m in talk therapy and need regular time off work to go to appointments, I frame it as ongoing treatment for that chronic illness. I focus my messaging on what I need instead of what I have, and so far, it’s worked for me. But I’ve also chosen employers and work that allows me a lot of freedom to work from home or be out of office in order to mitigate speculation or concern about my “absences.”

    14. Lobsterman*

      I legit suggest just calling it PTSD if you live in America. Causing or enduring violence is very American and people will back off.

      1. Oregano*

        That has been the opposite of my experience. People *deliberately* send me stuff about my triggers because they think it’ll help me get perspective/get over it. This has happened on more than one occasion, and I could have died from it. I can’t risk being open about having PTSD any more.

        1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

          Same here. Some people just don’t believe psychological disorders are a thing and bootstraps and whatnot, so they’ll try and “prove” you’re being a big whiny baby by triggering you. And if you have an aggression trigger (like I do) that’s… yeah, that’s like super bad.

      2. JKL*

        Please don’t encourage people to lie about having PTSD. It de-legitimizes the condition for people who actually have it.

        1. Anax*

          It’s also… not super helpful. The kind of accommodations that are useful for PTSD aren’t necessarily those which are useful for other conditions – for instance, someone with PTSD might really be helped by having a desk with their back to the wall or the ability to work from home when needed, while someone who has depression and just doesn’t have the energy to get work done might find those accommodations entirely unhelpful.

      3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        “Causing or enduring violence is very American”

        Oh COME ON now…

        For sure we have big issues with certain TYPES of violence, but it’s not like “violence” in itself is some kind of American pastime that everyone approves of and engages in on a daily basis. It’s not some type of ultra violent war zone with droogs and war boys wreaking havoc every street.

        I have never lived in white bread suburbia and have actually lived, worked, and hung out it many places considered “bad/dangerous areas” by many, including a major city, so I’m not “clueless” or “blind” to the world around me.

        1. Anax*

          Violence is also not the only reason people have PTSD, and that’s an uncomfortable stereotype. A lot of folks seem to think that only PTSD caused by violence (usually in warfare, sometimes also sexual assault) “counts”.

          (Illness is a common non-violent trauma, for instance – say, having a parent go through years of cancer treatment and slowly decline, never knowing if they’ll be okay. Experiencing a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina is another.)

          I’ve had some gnarly stuff happen to me – but none of it was stereotypical physical violence.

      4. Two Tin Cans and a String*

        Please do not do this! I’m reminded of the people I know who have deathly allergies who can no longer trust restaurants to serve them food that won’t kill them because everyone started using the word “allergy” every time they wanted to customize their meal.

        Also, yes, there are people who will intentionally try to set off your PTSD to “prove” you’re lying about it. Hell, to stay on the allergy analogy, my cousin disclosed her strawberry allergy to her students once and they straight up didn’t believe her, slipped strawberries into her food and sheepishly watched her be wheeled out on a stretcher.

        It’s tempting, but no. DO NOT DO THIS.

        1. Anax*

          Emotional support animals have also gotten this treatment, and it’s really frustrating. A lot of folks seem to have come to the conclusion that ESAs aren’t a reasonable accommodation at all – they’re just a special snowflake thing.

          1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

            Don’t even get me started on how much more difficult my brother-in-law’s life with Celiac Disease became when gluten-free diets became a trend.


            1. Anax*

              God, I had a roommate at one point who was celiac, and finding somewhere to eat was aggressively difficult. It was astonishing how much they had to rely on word of mouth and hope to find a place that wouldn’t make them sick.

              tl;dr: Being generic is fine, but outright lying about your condition can have consequences!

              (I think there may be an exception for the culturally-accepted white lies – stomachaches and headaches – which a lot of people use to cover for equally valid but more TMI ailments like period cramps or diarrhea. But even that is probably culturally-specific and variable.)

    15. SuspectedDragon*

      My go to in the past has been “I have a migraine” when I needed a mental health day. This sort of backfired on me though, as this past winter I had a pretty bad stretch with seasonal depression on top of regular depression, and my supervisor starting worrying about my increased frequency of migraines and asking if I had talked to my doctor about it, what medications am I taking, etc. Oops.

      1. Janie*

        You could probably reasonably blame the weather for that, actually. On top of having a low in January, I also had some really bad sinus issues and they were very much linked to the weather. Fog got me especially. And my really bad sinuses caused a couple migraines that wiped me out for like the full day.

        I have no problem with you blaming sinuses for that personally.

    16. Polaris*

      I just got reprimanded at work for repeated tardiness – which I absolutely have been. The problem is that the tardiness is a result of the sleep issues I have which are a result of my depression, and I’ve been going through a very bad depressive episode over the past few months. And being exhausted and sleep deprived absolutely makes that worse. And I could hand my boss a note from my doctor that says “Polaris has depression, and anxiety, please accommodate her,” but I don’t know what that would look like. I could absolutely work from 10-6 every day, but part of my boss’s reprimand was that the optics of me getting in so late, repeatedly, was demoralizing to other employees. Which is totally reasonable! But I also can’t fix my brain chemistry, and meds only do so much (like stifling the anxiety attack I definitely would have had otherwise at this talk). I was told that I need to make it work, or be let go, and I really, really cannot afford to lose this job.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        Trying to fight my natural night owl sleep cycle so I could work daytime jobs (and I NEVER had early morning jobs because, LOL good luck with that!) ended up destroying my circadian rhythm so that now I pretty much don’t have one (known as non-24 sleep wake cycle.) My bedtime, by which I mean the time I can get my body to go to sleep, tends to cycle around the clock on a regular basis. No fixing it (please nobody mention melatonin or I will SCREAM- it has ZERO effect on me.)

        1. Polaris*

          I find any sleep medication I take is either completely ineffective, or gradually loses its effectiveness over time. I also refuse to take anything habit forming. My “natural” circadian rhythm is about 12:00am to 10:00am, and I’m most productive from 11:00am to 7:00pm. I’ve never had a chance to actually work to that schedule. Temp jobs weren’t particularly forgiving, and now I’m at a steady job and there’s this.

      2. Kerr*

        Same – I could have written this. I’ve always been able to keep my mental health conditions under the radar, but a flare-up caused attendance problems and management handled it poorly (and so did I). What I would do differently if I could do it over:

        – Ask your doctor ASAP about what accommodation would look like for you – a flexible start time? Later start time? – and have them write a note.

        – Be aware of your legal rights, and get formal accommodations if you need them – sooner rather than later. Make sure they know it’s medically related. You don’t have to get into exact details at once, but ask to start the process.

        – Go through HR if you can to handle the paperwork, so it’s all formal and your boss may not even need to see the actual note.

        – As part of those legal rights, “optics” isn’t something your employer can use as an excuse to not accommodate you. Check into ADA, FMLA, and any state protections you may have. (IANAL, but I’ve done research and this is my understanding.)

        – If I could go back, I would be more open about it being a medical issue with coworkers. I absolutely wouldn’t share details, but people are often more understanding when they understand you’re sick. YMMV by workplace.

        All my sympathies and well wishes!

    17. Jules the 3rd*

      Given all the overlap, I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned the Captain Awkward column on it . Google or DuckDuckGo Captain Awkward 450 depressed , should be near the top.

      OCD here. I discussed it with my last manager, whose daughter also has OCD, and with the manager before, who was also under treatment for anxiety. I do not talk about it with the current manager.
      – It was worse before, and I had regular (2x/month) appointments and needed some extra time for wfh.
      – My new manager does not seem to have the time to deal with me individually / see my work without the lens of ‘oh, it’s just OCD’. The last two managers had teams of 10 or fewer, the new manager has over 20. We already struggle with clear direction.

      How do I deal? I set expectations on how much I’m going to get done, rather than on hours worked.

    18. Gymmie*

      I’m fairly open about my depression and anxiety, but I do NOT disclose my eating disorder. Somehow I feel there have been some strides with the former and not the latter? It helps that I’m wildly successful at my job so I kind of want to be like…yeah I have this but clearly it doesn’t affect my decision making ability. I think the shame with the ED is so much, and so I have used Alison’s advice “i have a chronic condition that ocassionally has really bad flare ups”.
      But I feel like everyone has something. You have someone who has an aging parent that needs to be out of work, you have someone going through legal issues, family, etc etc etc. Seasons of life are hard, and workers are human. Even when I was out on maternity leave I remember people talking as if I was on vacation or something. Um, I’m recovering from major ab surgery and am trying to take care of a newborn on zero sleep at the same time. I’m guessing most people would rather be working than struggling with whatever they have.

    19. Chinookwind*

      For work, I have been lucky in that no one questioned why I had so many sick days. And that was what I called the days when I was too depressed to move or hallucinating due to side effects of a new drug (but only fuzzy bunnies, so no worries but definitely not to be trusted with data entry). If anyone had asked, I would have told them the truth even though it would then jade every action I have with them.

      As for dealing with the stigma of disclosing when you wish you didn’t have to, I can tell you about the panic attack at the kickboxing gym. I had to be upfront about why I ran off the floor and locked myself in the bathroom. DH explained too the poor guy who triggered it that the did nothing wrong (because he hadn’t) and then I got to deal with the awkwardness of revealing my mental illness to people. What I discovered was that people were more understanding than I expected. It has just become part of a new normal for them. If I had to leave in the middle of a workout (and I think I may be the only one at the gym that has ever done this), I let a trainer know that I am not injured and not to worry about me. If a new trainer asks me or an experienced trainer what is going on, one of us explains that I sometimes have episodes but that I know how to deal with them. I may get initial weird looks, but it soon becomes just like any chronic injury. Because I don’t make a big deal out of it, I feel like others take my lead and don’t either.

  10. Marty*

    Kindness and patience is critical in this situation. There’s no set path to life and you never know when this issue might happen to you. I spent well over a decade being the person who always helped catch up for chronically ill coworkers. Later on when I gave birth to a disabled child, the understanding and compassion came back to me. The reality is that unless you’re the manager it really isn’t your business anyways. You need to do your job regardless of whatever curveballs life throws at you or other people.

  11. Ms.Vader*

    I broke my ankle and leg a couple years ago and obviously had an abundance of time off relating to that but once i returned to the office, I still had over a year of follow-up appointments and to this day, I still experience pain and discomfort (and has been explained that’s my new normal). What this means is i take more medical appointments and I am not always dressing to our dress code – I have days where I have to wear runners as it provides more support. I have been upfront about this and about how difficult the recovery has been. I felt that by openly acknowledging that I have taken more time than normal and that I definitely am dressing a bit more casual in terms of footwear, my team has been way more understanding and hasn’t felt the need to complain. I don’t feel like they resent me. They even ask about how I am doing more and are more accommodating. I think the trouble lies in what has been alluded – the secrecy. Obviously you don’t have to disclose exactly what your illness is but sometimes being a bit more open can help you in the long run. I understand though this may be harder if it is something that people deem to be a bit more ’embarrassing’ or if you don’t feel as safe with your coworkers. But i think openness can go a long way in limiting resentment.

    1. K.A.*

      I broke my ankle and was repeatedly told by my orthopedist that the pain was normal, even a year later. He’s take an X-ray and tell me I’m fine.

      It took over a year for me to drop him and go to another practice. Another year of appointments, physical therapy and appeals to my insurance company to approve an MRI to reveal the ligament and tendon that needed surgical repair.

      I wouldn’t accept “the new normal” because I knew plenty of people who had broken a limb and healed without continuing pain.

      1. Schmitt*

        I had pain after my broken ankle that kept getting better microscopically slowly although the MRI showed arthritis that “wouldn’t improve” and “it won’t get better, it’ll just get worse, you should get these expensive shots for it”. I gave up on orthopedists at that point. 4 years on & I can hike a couple hours on it and it doesn’t hurt when I’m just sitting around hardly ever. It was a pretty awful four years and I didn’t think it would have an end.

        I hope yours turns out the same way, Ms.Vader, because I never thought I’d have a normalish leg again and here I am.

  12. Mary Kay*

    Unless you’re a party to another employee’s agreement with an employer, you don’t have all the facts. My sister suffers migraines and has workplace accommodations. She would LOVE it if she could lead a normal life and work traditional hours. Perhaps chronically ill people use all their time off and aren’t paid if they miss work. Perhaps they work from home anytime of the day or night and weekends to try and out in work hours. Please focus on yourself and your work if you can’t have compassion for someone that has a chronic life changing illness. Chances are they’re concerned about their job and it’s bringing them worry and anxiety that is making their life worse. If you just want to be cold and clinical about it, they could be covered by the ADA Act as well.

    1. Rezia*

      Migraines are tricky. I’ve had people tell me things like, “Oh I think I’ve had a migraine before, I had a really bad headache last month” and I worry about how they think it’s “just a bad headache”.

      My migraines can be totally debilitating, especially when I don’t take my medication fast enough (and sometimes I don’t get much warning). But I often don’t want to use the word because I don’t know what my colleagues think about migraines.

      1. Kj*

        Ugh,this is so true. My migraines are what I lovingly call “puking migraines” since I throw up to the point of dry heaves when they hit. I have taken to calling them puking migraines since that graphic term seems to help people get how serious they are. They are also triggered by stress, which makes it extra fun. I’m sorry people don’t get it.

      2. Ali G*

        Migraines are also so completely variable. I get ocular migraines, which in and of themselves are rather mild, except I go completely blind for about 10-20 minutes. The after affects on the other hand, are awful. Brain fog to the point where I once tried to drive into work after one, and I basically blacked out making a left turn and almost drove into on-coming traffic, I’m a walking Pepto-Bismol commercial, and there is not enough food in the world to sustain me.
        So yeah, I can “work”, but I prefer to do in the privacy of my own home because the rest of my day is at the mercy of my digestive system and my fuzzy brain.

        1. JanetM*

          I had an ocular migraine (at least that’s what the docs decided it probably was) once, and thought I was having a stroke. I suddenly lost half the vision in my right eye — I could see fine at shoulder level or above, but nothing below. Not grey and fuzzy, just *nothing there.* A quick trip to the ER, and it resolved on its own with no aftereffects, but man, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Scary as heck.

        2. JSPA*

          I normally only get the sparkling, jiggling jagged outlines, followed by the stoned effect. Seems to correlate with hormonal shifts, dehydration, low blood sugar and stress. So when any one or two of those are in play, I set warnings on my phone to make sure to get plenty of water and a few bites of food.

          That’s another sort of prep, actually; instead of digging deep every day, practice self-awareness (including explicit self-assessment breaks). Sometimes you can figure out more triggers and more early warning signs than the obvious ones. The longer people have, to find out that you’re going to be down for the count (and the better a guess you can give them, for how long it’s likely to be), the easier it is for them to accommodate.

          I only recently noticed that a very mild version of the “post vis-migraine brain fog” often hits half an hour before the main attack (or maybe I’m noticing the disturbance when it’s still very, very tiny, before it starts swelling to take up a fair chunk of the visual field). From there, I can predict, more or less, what the time course will be.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I get the same thing. My migraines used to be of the puking variety in my 20s, but in my 30s they dwindled down to being mainly an aura preceded by a bad, but not ridiculous, headache if I left it untreated. These days, if I slam a couple Advil, a glass of water and some caffeine within a few minutes of seeing the aura, I often won’t even get a headache.

            That’s why I always raise an eyebrow whenever people are like “Migraines aren’t normal headaches! They’re horrible and painful and debilitating!” No, not always. A migraine is a type of headache, it’s not a measurement of severity.

            1. Rezia*

              I agree, not always debilitating. I’ve gotten much better at managing mine as well. But I still think that it’s overall unhelpful when you have a boss who thinks “Migraines = a bad headache” and doesn’t have an understanding of the range.

          2. Ali G*

            Oh yeah – dehydration is a biggie for me. Also I always end up realizing that I slept like crap the night before the migraine (I usually wake up with them). IDK if the bad sleep causes the migraine or the on-set of the migraine is actually so long it causes the bad sleep.
            For the OP I should add that I have been fortunate to work for people who recognize that people need to be out for things beyond their control. My migraines are less than 1x/month and I am upfront it. I will email anyone impacted by my absence and let them know what I am doing and what I can’t do that day (i.e. I can print stuff and review it, but I can’t cross walk those spreadsheets for you), and where they can find me.

      3. CommanderBanana*

        Newp. I’ve had two migraines in my life, one as a teenager (they apparently can happen during puberty?) and one during an extreme pressure drop. The first one hit as I was walking up the stairs. The world turned into a kaleidoscope, I got so dizzy I collapsed on the stairs, and then threw up. The second one hit when the pressure was plummeting due to a low pressure system moving rapidly in, and it felt like someone was pounding a railroad spike into the side of my head, the left side of my face stopped working, and I had to spend several hours in a dark room before I could stand up without falling over.

        There are headaches, bad headaches, and then there are migraines.

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          Same. I’ve had three or four migraines in my life and they are hellish!

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Indeed they are tricky! I’ve been getting “silent migraines” for a couple of years — the kind that will come in clusters, giving me a semi-blinding aura for a week before I get to the dagger to the head puking in a dark room stage. Which means there’s absolutely no way I can stay home for all of them, so I do my best. And then I had a co-worker snottily tell me that I don’t have a migraines because when SHE gets migraines she’s puking in a dark room. Yep I get those too, usually at the end of a week-long cluster…imagine the fun of looking forward to that stage. She stomped off so I told our mutual manager just in case she stomped off to send an annoyed email.
        (Huh. Two years ago and I’m still bristling. No wonder I try not to work with her on projects. )

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Separately because it’ll go into moderation…
          Art is the best way I’ve found for explaining the auras (occular effects) to people who’ve never experienced them. More than one colleague has said “Oh wow!” and acted more understanding when I wear sunglasses indoors.
          This is the first painting I’d seen, so I always share it first:
          The main one on this page shows how my migraines are starting to vary as I get older:

          1. only acting normal*

            Ooooh. Those are really accurate, so much so I feel a like nauseated by association.

          2. CanadaTag*

            Nice (and informative) links! Thank you for posting them.

            (I would get – and still occasionally have – tension headaches that are so bad, I feel nauseated and need darkness. No idea whether they’re migraines or not, still – I never got the aura, just the “pain to the point of nausea or actually throwing up” – but my mom used to get nasty migraines with auras, needed darkness and silence. She may still get them, in fact, I’m not sure about that.)

      5. Rainy*

        I get two types of migraine and one of them comes with aphasia.

        Even if I could “work through the pain”, given that my aphasia is both receptive and expressive, spoken and written, I don’t know how I could work.

      6. Iris*

        That is so true. I’ve had both super mild “migraines” that go away in 5 min with Tylenol and also daily cycles of cluster/suicide type headaches that come and go in cycles.

    2. Gypsy, Acid Queen*

      I am actually leaving a job where my boss doesn’t believe migraines are a real detriment because two people she’s interacted with didn’t *look* sick, so therefore it is fake. I would lie and just say I was throwing up/sick. I’m seeing a neurologist and taking tons of preventative medications because I am blacking out during my migraines. I will still operate and function normal-ish, but I will have a 3-hour or more gap in memory where I don’t remember what I did at all.

      1. Rezia*

        Yes, I would also say I was throwing up, which is true but only half the picture, but the accepted part.
        I’m sorry you had a sucky boss. I hope you find a better one in the future.

      2. TacoTsunami*

        My supervisor got to witness the migraine black-out first hand recently: I think it actually scared her. She’s usually incredibly accommodating anyway, but I left a meeting with her where a migraine was coming on, and returned two hours later, hat-in-hand, asking her to review everything we had gone over because I had zero recollection of it. Given that I’m usually insanely reliable with note taking, she was more than a little concerned that I knew we had had a meeting, but could recall nothing we had spoken about.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The memory loss is the part my family has trouble with. My daughter gets angry for not remembering something I learned at a school event, even though I can remember getting to the event _with a migraine_.
        So far at work I’ve kept up by scrupulously recording everything I produce and saving all emails.

    3. Queen of the File*

      I am also a migraine sufferer who finds that often disclosing to my coworkers why I am out more often than the average person is not always helpful. I guess “migraine” became a common fake excuse people started using at some point. So explaining to a couple of the more nosy/gossippy people exactly how bad the symptoms are (sometimes losing vision, throwing up, etc.) has helped lessen the amount of back-talk I get about it.

      I do also try to stay on top of things so an unexpected absence for a day here or there does not often tank anyone else’s day, but I know that’s not possible for all types of work.

      1. ElspethGC*

        A friend talks about “Ugh, I’ve got a migraine” and I try very hard to avoid saying “No, you *really* don’t” because I don’t know if she’s just really good at hiding pain. But my mum and aunt both suffer from debilitating migraines, bedridden for 12+ hours and incapable of coherent speech without meds, throw in some occasional ocular and hemiplegic migraines (those ones that make you think you’re having a stroke), and I have a very low tolerance for faux-migraines.

        My mum isn’t given to exaggeration or hyperbole, so when she told me that she wanted me to cut off her head and throw it down the mountain (we were skiing and the altitude had made it worse than usual), I know she really, *really* meant it. Sumatriptan is a life-saver.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Thank you for not saying “no you don’t”… I just commented above about the silent migraines I’ve been getting off&on for a few years. Sort of a week-long onset with vision problems and mind fog, plus the added fun of knowing I’m on the hook until I reach the hours-long puking-pain episode. :(
          I had bad side effect number one with sumatriptan… “stop taking this immediately and call your doctor” level of heart palpitations. I’d had such high hopes for it when it was released, too.

          1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

            I also can’t take sumatriptan – I don’t get the heart issues though. They like almost every major pain medication I’ve been given turn me into a human puke volcano (from an urgent care nurse who treated me after the second time I took the stuff). My mom, a retired nurse ironically, doesn’t believe me because that was the only thing until menopause, that gave her any relief.
            Only about 20 more years to go if I follow her menopause history. My migraines come when my hormones hit their low point. The constant hormone level preventing migraines was the only pleasant part of my two very complicated pregnancies.

        2. A Chronically Ill Anon*

          Some of mine I can work through. It’s not optimal. I feel like a total wreck, but I can do it. Then there are the attacks where I curl up in a fetal ball and lie in the dark hoping the meds will do their job.

        3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          I had to take some of my husband’s when I developed a hormonal migraine a few months ago (on the brink of menopause and things are getting real screwy LOL). I was desperate at that point because nothing else I tried had worked. OMG! The Sumatriptan was amazing! I don’t know where I would have been without it.

        4. StrikingFalcon*

          I mean, I get chronic migraines that vary in severity from “light and noise sensitivity sometimes coupled with dizziness and nausea” to “curl up in bed because my head feels like it is exploding.” I can function through the former – and I have to, because they have been as frequent as every other day for months at a time. That doesn’t make them not migraines though, and they still make me feel like crap and it’s difficult to focus. I’d equate it to a mild cold in loss of function. Sure I can make it through the work day or keep a lunch date, but I don’t feel fine. The latter I get about once a week, but can usually head off with medication to the point that I’m functional again. But I’ll still get the “migraine hangover” effect for the rest of the day. Some days the meds just don’t work though, and then I have to take a day off. I’m fortunate that I don’t actually throw up though.

      2. Not Australian*

        There’s a saying that goes something like ‘a headache in Hoxton is a migraine in Mayfair’ – i.e. some people believe that ‘migraine’ is just a posh way of saying that you’ve got a headache. I’m a sufferer too, and I’ve encountered this attitude often; it implies that you think you’re too good to work, so you’re exaggerating mild symptoms into something that sounds more impressive. I wish the people who thought that had seen me on some of my middle-of-the-night hospital admissions.

    4. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

      Also a migraine sufferer, though blessedly after my second pregnancy they became slightly milder (unfortunately my trigger is hormonal, so I spend a week every month with migraine meds in constant close reach). Every person is so different in their symptoms that it can be hard to differentiate between a really intensely bad headache and a migraine for those that don’t suffer from them. When I have a really bad one I just tell by boss I’m dealing with stomach issues or vertigo and can’t make it in today (but should be back tomorrow). Unfortunately I’ve also found that going with the symptoms works better than saying migraine.

    5. Contracts Killer*

      I suffer migraines as well, but my reply is specifically directed to your comment, “She would LOVE it if she could lead a normal life and work traditional hours.” SO MUCH THIS! Alison’s advice often centers on reframing your perspective. It is very helpful when coworkers don’t view my sick day as a “day off” but rather “a day my coworker is too ill to function”. My sick day isn’t some bonus, fun day. I would always rather be at work than have a migraine [or fill in your respective issue here]. Maybe it’s overkill, but if any of my coworkers comments or joke about my “day off” I’m pretty vocal in telling them that I spent the day in a dark room and full of heavy meds, and that I would rather be at work. It seems to change opinions.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        Lots of people also seem to think that being too ill or disabled to work is like a permanent fun time vacation. I would give ANYTHING to be able to work again, even part time. I *loved* working, I loved being independent, having my own money, supporting myself. It was crushing to have to accept that my life had reached a point where that was not possible anymore.

  13. Didi*

    At a former job, I was out of the office for two months with mononucleosis. I was incredibly run down from stress and finally went to the doctor when the lymph nodes in my neck visibly bulged out. I got a note from my doctor and went on disability.

    My manager and people in the office were real jerks about it. I was friendly with several people at the office, but only one person called me one evening the entire time I was out to see how I was and to wish me well. It was an incredibly busy time, and I was in a key role, so In understood the huge burden it placed on others, but I could not help it.

    I gained about 20 pounds over those two months and when I returned the rumor mill churned with many nasty untrue stories about what I had been up to. Including – I was pregnant, I was “drying out” from alcoholism, you name it. Literally no one welcomed me back or asked how I was.

    As soon as I could, I got a new job.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      WOW. That’s ridiculous, and I’m glad you got out of there. People really need to learn to mind their business and stop being nasty in the workplace. If they had lives of their own, they wouldn’t be so concerned with the lives of others.

  14. Working Hypothesis*

    I have severe fibromyalgia. I don’t know that I’ve got any good answers to this, though I’ve been the chronically sick coworker all my life.
    Some of it is saving days off for the fibromyalgia — I never take my full allotment of vacation days because I know that I’ll run out of sick days, and I never take sick days unless I’m either contagious (which in my field is an ethics matter — I could lose my license if I came in with an infectious disease) or incapable of functioning due to pain.

    But I do still need extra accommodations sometimes anyway. Best I’ve ever come up with is to try to be the Really Good Coworker in every other respect I can, and try to pace myself so that I have to ask for as little as possible.

    What does that look like? Spending my weekends mostly recuperating instead of doing fun things which will sap my energy and lead to my going in tired on Monday and maybe missing Wednesday or Thursday because I run out of steam. Asking coworkers or bosses how they want to prioritize for the use of the energy I’ve got, so I make sure to spend it on the things most useful for everyone. Taking on chores most people dislike, if they’re not going to give me more pain, because “disliking something” isn’t a luxury that I have… that gives me something I can do for the people who are helping me when I can’t push my body any harder. Thanking everyone who helps me with something that’s more than I can handle, always. Studying what I can do to adjust the ways I do my work to conserve energy as much as possible and limit the pain, so I’m there and functioning well a little more often than I otherwise might be.

    It still never works out perfectly. But it keeps me able to work effectively at all, and the people I work with seem to appreciate the effort. These days, I work in a field which doesn’t do 40-hour weeks (an average “full time” schedule is usually about 18-25 hours), and that really helps me. Even though it’s hard physical work, the amount of rest time that gives me helps me recover before the next work week, so I’m not missing nearly as many days as I did in 40-hour jobs. So if all else fails, sometimes a career change to a field that’s a better match for the health issue can work wonders! I know that’s a pretty radical step and wouldn’t work for everyone with chronic illness anyhow, but it can for some of us. It helped me a lot.

    1. EDS Here*

      yes, this. I hoard all my vacations days just in case. If I get a cold, it will be bronchitis in 3 days and I will be out at least a week, sometimes two with two rounds of antibiotics and steroids.

    2. Solana*

      My fibro and depression and anxiety symptoms have definitely gotten better since getting out of retail and getting into lab animals. The job is definitely more physical, but I’m not dealing with scammers and shoplifters or impossible standards from corporate anymore. (Or catching colds from when parents would bring in sick kids to shop, ugh.) I told them at the interview about my illnesses, and they actually work with me. Plus, handling animals. :)

  15. Amber Rose*

    I wish I had advice. But I’ve already talked about how I got shit for asking to use my sick leave for surgery.

    I’m begging every not-ill person out there to have some compassion. You know what sucks more than being too busy at work? Being sick all the time and knowing that almost everyone you come across thinks of you as a burden, and also somehow having to earn money anyway because being sick don’t come cheap and the rent still needs to get paid.

    1. JokeyJules*

      I recognize the privilege that I have in not knowing what that feels like, and I am sorry that you are dealing with this huge obstacle!

    2. Bostonian*

      Hear! Hear!

      I actually think the person who has the most important role in these situations is the manager. The manager needs to do a combination of:
      1) Finding a way to redistribute work/find coverage to minimize the effect the sick coworker’s absence has on the rest of the team (I recognize this is sometimes easier said than done)
      2) Manage expectations of the team: If a team member comes to you complaining about sick member’s lack of contribution, tell them it’s none of their business.

      I know it sucks to have to do more work because someone isn’t able to do their part. But remember that it could always be you next week, next month, or next year. Nothing screams “foot in mouth” more than complaining about a sick/injured coworker, and then getting injured yourself and needing the same accommodations.

      1. AKchic*

        All of this is great… until the manager is the one making complaints because the manager is a butts-in-seats kind of person and the job isn’t necessarily a butts-in-seats kind of job, or you actually *have* the leave time banked necessary for your condition, surgery, or even just some time away and they use the “I don’t want to play favorites” or “I don’t want to hear the others complain about you being away from the office” (I heard that when I asked for a day off, and was denied. All work was covered and I had plenty of leave time available)

        1. Bostonian*

          Oh God, yes, I have had a manager like that, so yeah, if that’s the case, then everything just kind of falls apart!

      2. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, managers absolutely have to step up here. That’s part of what it means to manage.

    3. Chronically Illest*

      “Being sick all the time and knowing that almost everyone you come across thinks of you as a burden, and also somehow having to earn money anyway because being sick don’t come cheap and the rent still needs to get paid.”

      PREACH. People don’t seem to understand that no one is going to cover costs of living for you just because you’re sick, and disability assistance is both difficult to qualify for and extremely low (immorally low– it leaves you at BELOW the poverty line) where I live.

      Don’t get mad at your sick coworkers, get mad at the system that forces them to work while sick!

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        I know many people on disability who barely make enough to cover the cost of renting a room in someone’s house- and I mean JUST the rent, not counting food, clothing, toiletries, etc.

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          I mentioned above a friend who gets 1k a month in disability (and who was very highly paid before they became ill.) Calculated as a year of 40hr work week, it comes to slightly over HALF of my states MINIMUM WAGE…which is already damn near impossible to survive on.
          But disabled people are supposed to get by on HALF that amount?
          I know totally disabled people who make LESS than that per month.
          I don’t know how they think people are supposed to actually LIVE like that.

    4. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

      Not me but my co worker who was laid off last July. Older lady, many medical issues – macular degeneration, legally blind in one eye, intense asthma, months of gallbladder trouble before its removal, severe back pain… list goes on and on. She tried hard to keep up but in the end she was chosen to be the lay off. While I truly was the better choice to stay between us, I am sure that her constant absence (pretty much every week) played a huge role. I am also acutely aware that I too am getting older and this may well be me one day.

    5. JustaTech*

      Thank you for the reminder. I was getting irritated by a coworker’s absences and was about to start making note of all the days they didn’t come in when I thought “what would the AAM commentariate say about this?” and I stopped.

      Besides, what’s the point of sick days if you don’t take them when you need them?

      Going forward I’ll try to remind other coworkers that we have sick days and we should use them, and so-and-so is getting all their work done, so why are you policing their in-office time?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Thank you for that!
        I hope Alison sees this because it’s flat-out proof that she’s making a difference in the world.

      2. Two Tin Cans and a String*

        Thank you! The value of an ally in the trenches can’t be overstated!

    6. Eleanor*

      I have a coworker who has had several health emergencies at work requiring hospitalization and just seems to be generally unwell all the time. They are the only person doing their job where we work, so when they are out, it really puts a strain on the workflow of the unit. This person uses up all of their sick leave as soon as they earn it, but they also take many elaborate/expensive vacations throughout the year so they use up their vacation leave as well and have very little left to use if they need it beyond their sick leave allotment. I know this person is not always being honest on their timekeeping reports either, saying they worked whole days when they were out sick or out for personal reasons, instead of taking unpaid time off or applying for FMLA. The manager seems to let this person get away with doing that, which leads to resentment and suspicion on the part of the other employees in the unit. It’s not an easy situation for anyone in the workplace when someone is either honestly (or unhonestly) chronically unwell.

  16. Master Bean Counter*

    In cases like this I’ve found that a little understanding can go a long way.
    First off make sure your coworkers now that you are dealing with a long-term chronic condition. You don’t have to give details, but a little sharing can go along way to helping your coworkers understand what’s going on.
    Second if your illness is making an undue burden on your coworkers, that’s a management problem. Obviously things need to be shuffled so that if you end up missing a good chunk of time work loads for other people don’t become unbearable.
    I have an employee with a chronic condition. This is how I manage the situation:
    1. Make sure the employee has enough flexibility to manage the condition to begin with. Preventative care goes a long way to not having her absent for ling periods down the road.
    2. Flexible scheduling is a must. If the employee can’t do 8 hours a day during the week she can make up hours on the weekend is she wants. Arrive late, stay late if necessary and able.
    3. The ability to work from home. It’s amazing what some people will accomplish if they have the option to take an hour or two to rest up between work periods.
    4. We actually moved this employee from a position that was prone to overtime and not much flexibility to one that has no overtime. She’s also in a less stressful position. The side benefit of all of that is that she’s gone from missing weeks at a time to barely using any sick leave.

    So if you are that employee, start looking for ways to flex your work and possibly transfer to a position that has less stress and more flexibility.

  17. Marge*

    Isn’t this something a manager should do? When I needed intermittent leave for a medical condition, it was my manager who helped redistribute work and deal with my co-workers. My leave days were somewhat predictable, but not completely. (I tended to know when I’d need to be out for a little, but wasn’t always able to accurately predict how many days.)

    I think it also helped that I had one team member in particular who I was pretty close to, and who I could count on to be an advocate for me if shit was being said. That gave me a psychological boost, because I knew there was someone on my side emotionally, in addition to having managerial support in an official capacity. (Said friend was not my manager.)

    In my case, I had been a high performer, and as it turns out the office grumblers had been much lower performers in terms of workload and efficiency. Going on intermittent leave was a great way for my manager to understand how much work I had been doing. In fact, it precipitated a sort of informal internal audit of workload on my team, such that once I returned to full time my workload was partially redistributed to equalize workload among team members. And the kicker is that it wasn’t my manger who introduced the idea of this audit. It was the co-workers who said they had too much to do. Turns out that before my leave I and another co-worker had been doing close to 50% more than them, and doing it well. It caused a moment of panic when I got an email while on leave about a redistribution of workload. At first I thought it was because they weren’t confident in me. Turns out the whole situation caused them to re-evaluate things, and make things more fair for everybody. I know that’s a very specific situation, but I think it’s a good illustration of how one’s absence can result in an understanding of how much of a positive impact they have.

    1. Dadolwch*

      That’s a really interesting angle I hadn’t thought of: that the grumblers might be cranky because it means they actually have to do their fair share of the work and risk being exposed as low-performers. Again, it really comes down to poor management if that was happening, but glad there was some positive result eventually.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      And it’s also a lesson in caution. I know that I tended to take on a lot because of feeling bad about missing time from work. I lost my sense of proportion, I took on way more than I should have. Working that hard only added to my problems and my misery. Like you show here, I was doing more than my “healthy” coworkers. (I don’t believe that many people are totally healthy, we all have something to some degree.)

      I think that is good to think about sustainable pacing. Avoid the roller coaster of working super hard, then having to take massive down time at home to compensate. Set a personal goal of finding a work pace that can be followed most of the time. This can work into a huge topic, including how you organize your work area, to how you chose what order you do your tasks and so on.
      Organizing: For what I was doing, keeping everything well labeled and grouped with similar items was hugely helpful.
      Order of tasks: I did the hard stuff in the morning when I was fresh. The last three hours of my work day were mundane tasks I could do in my sleep, usually my last half hour was organizing my tasks that I would do the next morning. This last half hour was probably one of the most helpful things I did for myself. I knew where I was going to start when I came in and I could get right to it. Because I had spent the 2.5 previous hours doing easier stuff, I had recouped enough that organizing tomorrow’s work was doable for me.

  18. Tom*

    Not for myself – but my son was diagnosed to be on the autistic spectrum (I might be, no formal diagnosis though).
    I have been open to my coworkers and my colleagues (i`m in a wide spread IT team – on my own in one office).
    The people in my office were wonderful (one send me a mail saying the world will make it harder for my son, than he will be for the world) – and my team mates / coworkers are supportive as well.

    I think it helped being open (though, only one colleague asked if i am on the spectrum too – others haven`t ‘seen’ it) about the need for flexibility – and trying my best to not miss any hours (in IT, this never is a problem though).

    So for me – being open, and communicative about what is going on made my company flexible, accepting, and supportive even.

  19. Staying Anon This Time*

    I’ve found that the more open I am, the more patience people seem to have. I don’t love saying “Thanks for covering the daffodil project while I was in the hospital”, but reminding people that I was *in the hospital* usually softens any frustration they may have. I also generally try to stay a day or two ahead on my work, when possible. Sometimes that means working a little OT, which my manager is fine with. Beyond that, my organizational standard is “if I got abducted by aliens tomorrow, would the rest of the team be able to figure out my work?”. I think the fact that my coworkers don’t generally have to pick up my slack for the first couple of days I’m out, combined with the detailed notes I leave about work in progress, help to mitigate some frustration.

    That said, there are just times where people are pissy and I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that my health issue is not my fault, and that if the choice is between me missing a few days of work and upsetting my coworkers, or me pushing myself to come in anyway and potentially risking death, well…we’d all prefer I stay home than that I die at my desk, if only because of the amount of paperwork I assume is involved if I die at the office.

    1. carolyn*

      I like the “abducted by aliens” rule. I feel like that should be a widely used business term.
      “Well, if we go by the old abducted by aliens threshold, our continuity strategy should look like this…”

      1. Lucy*

        At ours it’s referred to as going under a bus, but I’ve learned that it’s more sensitive to choose a phrase which implies “suddenly, unexpectedly unavailable” but is overwhelmingly unlikely rather than a (globally) daily event.

        One part of it is keeping correspondence tidy – which for us means all case-related correspondence is saved to the cloud case file in real time, so that everyone can be confident of being thoroughly up to date without needing to sift through someone else’s inbox.

        1. Electric Sheep*

          I stopped using that expression after I made a friend whose mother had in fact died that way, and I only knew because she told me as it happened before I knew her. I have been saying “won the lottery” instead but I like the abducted by aliens suggestion too, will have to keep it in mind.

  20. Ladylike*

    I’ve had bouts of severe anxiety that have affected me in more than one position/organization. Fortunately, a lot of my work is independent, so I don’t think I posed much of a burden to my teammates. I also somehow pulled myself together for major events when I was the primary person in charge. In one company, I flew under the radar and spent a LOT of time in the bathroom talking myself down from panic attacks.

    In a more recent position, I had a lot of physical symptoms due to the anxiety. and I left work early a lot and took extra time off. I cannot express how incredibly grateful I was for the kind, flexible manager I had, who allowed me to work from home when I needed to, and verbally expressed support and empathy for my illness. I’m by no means a slacker and I hated that I couldn’t get it under control. But it would have been absolutely awful if my team or manager had been impatient or unkind.

    Life is hard. People go through stuff. If at all possible, I try to be flexible, patient, and give people a lot of grace. You just never know when you’ll need to be on the receiving end of that grace!

  21. Alice*

    Interesting question.

    When I was the person out a lot, I made a point of sending a lot of email early in the morning, to convey to my colleagues (with whom I didn’t want to share much personal information) that I was still around electronically, even though I wasn’t in the office much. My boss and my boss’s boss knew more about what was going on, and I knew that they were on board with my schedule and mix of remote and in-person work.

    Now, I’m the person in the office in this equation. I wish that my colleague (who theoretically serves on a working group that I chair) had let me know that he was taking a leave, or that his boss had. Because I don’t know anything beyond his email autoreply (with no date and no info about ), I don’t know if I should recruit someone else to fill out the roster of the working group or not. I don’t want him to come back from leave and be disappointed that he lost this role because of his illness.
    A little more information — not details, just “I don’t have bandwidth for this” or “I’m going on a leave until X; I want to stay on/leave the working group” would have been useful.

  22. LoSquared*

    I am speaking of a place of privilege here as my health condition is not stigmatized in any way (I have a heart condition), and by the time it cropped up I had been at my job for 2.5 years and had a track record of good attendance and good work.

    I have a good relationship with my boss and have been totally honest about what’s been going on, so when I’m out more than usual or have to duck out for an appointment, everyone has been understanding. I think the best thing has been I have setup for when I’m out to know who is covering what for my work. If the employee’s condition is not that predictable, I think the manager needs to have clear communication with the team to say “this is the plan for when Jane is out”. You don’t have to know anything about the nature of the condition to communicate a plan. And also being sure that other employees are not working unwanted overtime, taking on projects outside their scope, etc. That is what breeds resentment. Not “poor Jane is sick”, but “Jane’s sick which means I’m working til 9pm and getting twice as much work dumped on me as everyone else”. Even though it might be management who is doing a poor job- Jane is the one taking the blame.

    And I think if you as the ill coworker are noticing the resentment, bring it to your manager. And say “hey, I appreciate all the accommodation I am getting, but it seems like something isn’t working for my team.” It all boils down to a manager doing their job to accommodate the needs of ALL employees.

  23. KatieHR*

    I think it is so difficult to navigate. As someone who has an auto-immune disease that I am being treated for, I am always at work and hardly ever call out. But I find it so frustrating when you have people who call out frequently for unknown reasons. I am the kind of person who feels guilty when I have to call out sick but I know there are other people who will call out for a little sniffle. I really try not to judge but it can be hard when others seem to get preferential treatment. It is especially difficult when the person calling out’s work affects the work you are doing. Just being open and honest and communicating is always the best answer.

    1. Iruk*

      I have multiple chronic conditions, and tend to work through/around being in significant pain, but I will take the day off “for a little sniffle” because if you have a cold, you are contagious, and you will wipe the rest of your team out one by one if you come in. Additionally, a cold can easily make me very sick, and I wouldn’t want to put any of my colleagues at risk of a similar outcome.

  24. Archangels girl*

    My daughter has a rare autoimmune.

    She shared.

    Was told she must have “done something” to contract it, that it’s a lifestyle issue.

    In case anyone is wondering why people don’t share with coworkers.

    1. Dadolwch*

      That’s terrible! More evidence that ignorance is the real problem in these situations, and lack of empathy too.

    2. Bostonian*

      Yeah, I have seen this firsthand. There are PLENTY of legitimate maladies that people don’t accept. Some people don’t think migraines are real. Some people stigmatize mental health issues. Some people don’t believe in fibromyalgia or similar conditions.

      It all sounds good in theory to be upfront with people and somehow that will help with compassion, but… often times it doesn’t. Often times it opens the door for people to judge and misunderstand you even more.

    3. Huluallday*

      This is common for those of us with autoimmune diseases, rare or not. The amount of people who will give advice or make judgements: do you do yoga, my middle school friend’s counsin’s uncle cured his by the keto diet, yes I have arthritis too from sports… etc.
      And then on the rare occasion that you drink a soda, eat fast food for lunch, or go to happy hour after work with your colleagues you see the look in their faces say “yep, I knew it, it’s their fault, they’ve been lying”. I don’t share with hardly anyone anymore-but especially at work.

      1. General Ginger*


        “Should you be eating that thing? My cousin had Something Sort of Kind of Vaguely Similar To Your Illness , and she was told not to eat this thing, but you’re eating this thing? That can’t be making you feel better.”

  25. Dadolwch*

    I’m One of Those employees who does end up using a lot of sick time because I have a chronic autoimmune disorder. It’s a Catch-22 type situation, as the medication I take for my condition makes me highly susceptible to getting sick easily, but not taking the medication means I would essentially be disabled and unable to work. In previous jobs, I was hesitant to let my manager and close coworkers know about my condition, as it’s always in the back of your mind that people will think you’re exaggerating the symptoms just to claim more sick time. But the reality was that I was still taking a lot of sick time, which made people wonder just what was going on with me… and my manager assumed I was unhappy in my position.

    I started my current job just over two years ago, and “came out” to my manager about my medical condition just a few weeks in. I was frankly tired of worrying so much how others viewed my frequent sick days, and I didn’t want to make it seem like something I was hiding or ashamed of. My manager was very understanding and asked if she could share that I do have a chronic illness with our department head, to which I agreed. I’ve also since brought up that I do have this condition in casual conversation with most of my close coworkers, and they’re all really understanding. I also have worked out the agreement that I can work from home on occasions when I’m feeling a little under the weather but not full-blown knocked down. I do burn through most of my sick leave pretty quickly, but so far it’s been manageable and I haven’t heard anyone make negative comments about my availability or being unable to meet deadlines.

    My take on these situations is that, while no one should have to divulge the personal details of their medical issues, there is merit in sharing when you do have a chronic medical condition. People are generally caring when you give them context, and if you don’t exploit their compassion and make an effort to do your job well, I think most folks will be able to see past the immature “s/he gets to take more sick time than I do!” attitude.

    1. Chronically Illest*

      I can totally relate. My immune system is normal, but when I do end up catching something it can render me hospitalized for weeks. As a result I’m a stickler for hand hygiene and am extremely cautious about sharing food if I can’t guarantee that no one else has touched it. I have no idea how to bring this up with co-workers. There’s no polite way to say “I really appreciate you offering me food, but I also don’t trust that you wash your hands properly” lol.

      1. Non profit pro*

        I address it matter of factly. “Due to the medications I’m on, my doctors have advised me not to eat communal food.” That way the restriction comes from The Doctor, not you and it isn’t construed as a dig at their food, but a tough restriction you have to live under.

        1. Iruk*

          Oh yeah, I blame my doctor and physio all the time. Also helps with the, “Have you tried yoga?” when I can tell people my physio has literally banned me from doing yoga!

  26. Crivens!*

    I dealt with this just last year. I had some sort of stomach issue that caused me to feel very ill (as in, constantly feeling like I needed to throw up or actually throwing up) for most of my mornings (and no, I wasn’t pregnant!). It was my first year at this job and I missed a fair amount of work, I think 9 days missed and 8 work-from-home. My boss was very accommodating and I’m lucky that I don’t really have any teammates to be frustrated by this: my work is individual. But I was constantly worried that this would be the last straw or that this would count against me. I was really relieved during my review when the absences were acknowledged, but with a “but it’s obvious she is a dedicated and excellent employee” note.

    I was transparent, but not TMI. I told my boss that I was trying as hard as I could to get the issue diagnosed and treated, and made it clear I was frustrated by having to miss work, too. I would give him vague updates like “the doctor is hopeful about this next test”, so he know I was still working on my treatment plan. Note that I don’t think this should be required, just that it helped in my situation.

    I’ve found a treatment that works for me for now.

    1. Anon for this one*

      Oh our stories are oddly similar. I had similar symptoms from an undiagnosed stomach issue and would struggle to get to work because I was so nauseated and my public transit commute made it worse.
      I ended up taking a week off and then intermittent leave while I figured it out. My boss was understanding only to a point at first, but I actually feel like he “got” it when I asked for FMLA (at the advice of a great mentor, who told me that I should make it official so I would be protected, and not rely on my boss to just be understanding/flexible).

      1. Crivens!*

        I’m glad your boss eventually got it, though I’m sorry it took having to ask for FMLA for him to get there. Whatever my issue is remains pretty much undiagnosed, but we found a medication that works that is expensive but not impossibly so (for me) so I’ll take it for now. Can’t really afford to do more work towards diagnosing it this year.

  27. TV Researcher*

    I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with it. I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and went through surgery and treatment that took about six months. I worked it out where after five weeks disability leave post-surgery, I took the day off for chemo and worked from home the rest of the week(office job, so not a big problem). Then I was back in the office for two weeks before it started over again. At the time, I was really the only person who did what I did, and did not have a backup in place, so there was a lot of pressure on me to be there even when I wasn’t at my best. So, mistakes were made. Lots of mistakes.

    I was in remission for almost 18 months and kind of clawed back the respect I had earned previously, only to have the cancer come back about six weeks ago. So, back into treatment I go. This time, having learned from my mistakes, I have backup, so if I need to take time off, I can without guilt. Though, it’s somehow ingrained in me to soldier on, which as I should know, it’s not great for my health, nor is it good for my work product. I’m trying to better about it.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been re-orged, so the work I do above that necessitates a backup isn’t even for my actual work-group. My current group is two people (me and my boss), but the work I do, while important, isn’t nearly as time-sensitive as my old group. So, that helps. Plus, my boss is West Coast based (while I’m East Coast based), so if I roll in at 9am or 9:30am, which would be very late in my old group, my new boss wouldn’t even know about.

    The treatment I’m currently undergoing has a quicker (for now) recovery process, so I take the morning off the day of treatment (normally every third Thursday), work from home in the afternoon and then either go in on Friday or work from home again. By the time Monday rolls around, I should be feeling much better. The problem is, this treatment gets cumulatively worse, so I may start taking sick days or personal days as the treatment rolls on. So far, my boss and grandboss both seem like they’ll be fine with me taking this time. Hopefully, that is true.

    1. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

      Thank you for sharing. Since I was recently diagnosed and am in an office job as well, your story is very helpful for me.
      I did set up coverage, but unfortunately the person who can cover for me is also out on FMLA, so I am desperately trying to work out a coverage plan when I’m out for surgery and part time for chemo.

      1. TV Researcher*

        Ooof… Unfortunately for me, it was the combination of the mistakes that were made by me when I was working (thought admittedly, not at my best), along with the work that just didn’t get done when I was on leave that made my (former) boss finally realize that yes, TV Researcher needs backup. So, I’m going on vacation next week confident in the knowledge that the one thing I still do for my old group will still get done, as not only do I have backup, but if for some reason, she’s out; she has backup. If at all possible, stress to your boss that you should pick a person you work with who can pitch in with at least your most important tasks.

  28. blink14*

    My employer provides extremely generous sick time (our insurance is also great), so I take the time I need, when I need it. At my old job, my sick time was minimal and I forced myself in many days when I should’ve stayed home (I was also younger which helped). I’m also very upfront with my current boss about what’s going on, and I always get a doctor’s note in case it’s needed (usually anything past 3 days needs a note, anything past 5 requires HR approval). If I know I’m feeling ill or I’m going to need to take sick time, I try to get as much done as I can, and make myself somewhat available by email, unless I’m very ill. If taking sick time comes up unexpectedly, there’s not much one can do, things happen.

    I’ve had two surgeries since being with my current employer, one of which required being out for 6 weeks. I followed the HR policy, prepared as much as I could beforehand, and worked half days and then a week of full days before returning. Again, I was very upfront with my boss (I actually knew surgery was likely when I accepted the job), so we both knew it was coming and prepared the best we could.

    I have a co-worker who is frequently out, and I have to say, even as someone with chronic health issues, I find the amount of time they take off to be frustrating, because I’m not totally sure they really need to take all the time. It seems to frequently happen at some very inconvenient or too coincidental times. And if that’s a frequent thing, I can understand how frustrating is it for the other employees. I try to be as accommodating as I can be for other people, knowing my own problems, but I think there is a line where it becomes detrimental to the workload, and that’s a hard thing to balance.

    1. Enough*

      Yes, when the employee also seems to be ‘sick’ when deadlines look or they have to be at an important meeting. My husband had one of those. Not good for the employee and just puts more pressure on those truly sick trying to actually do their work.

  29. MEL*

    My advice is to be upfront and transparent. Not that you need to share details, but if teammates know there is something going on, it is less likely to fester in whispers and grudges around the office. (and while it shouldn’t in a perfect world, in a pragmatic one, it often does). In addition, acknowledging that you know this has an impact on your colleagues is helpful. You’re not to blame, and it’s not your fault. You don’t owe them that but there is a lot that can be neutralized through directly addressing the “elephant in the room.” I have a chronically ill and absent employee and she avoids it and often doesn’t keep me in the loop on her attendance, and that challenges me far more than actually managing the work imbalances that result.

    1. your favorite person*

      I waited until I was at the job two months (luckily without any issues) t0 share with my boss and team that I have Cystic Fibrosis. CF manifests in so many ways that I wanted to let them know I have some of the issues they might know about (lung infections, etc.) but not others. I didn’t go into great detail for my boss, but I did say something like, “I have CF. In the past I’ve always been able to get my work done on time and well and haven’t had issues. However, it is degenerative and as I get older it may get worse. I do the best I can with managing symptoms but I will likely have to take time off for doctor appointments, recovery times (especially after travel) and the occasional hospitalization.”
      He asked really good (and appropriate) questions about what kind of assistance I might need and how/if I should tell co-workers. It was my first job out of college and I was used to being really transparent about my illness in school so it translated over to work.

  30. Seifer*

    I have mental health issues that have gotten worse since the beginning of the year, and I’m terrified of taking time off because I’m literally the only person in the office that does what I do. Which of course makes the anxiety even worse. It’s not being physically chronically ill, but I mean. I end up taking sporadic, unexpected time off work too.

    What works for me is that thankfully, my current boss used to be my coworker, and I had shared with him my mental health issues before. So luckily, I was able to go to him and be like, hey I’m struggling and I don’t know when it’s gonna get better. I didn’t really have a plan or an intended outcome, but I told him that I might end up taking more abrupt time off. He told me he understood, and that if I billed out all my sick time then we could re-evaluate as needed. He suggested work from home, and told me that he’d give me top cover if anyone started talking shit. And honestly, being able to talk about it and have some kind of a plan in place and being able to communicate openly with my boss has made so much of a difference. I’m not as anxious about having to take the time off, which makes it easier for me to recover when I have one of those days. But in terms of leaving the team in the lurch… I don’t know if we’ve gotten that worked out yet. Most of the stuff I do can wait a day, but some people just don’t get it, but my boss has been pretty good about nipping those comments in the bud. I think that’s what helps most of all, that he’s in the know and he’s on my side.

    1. TiffanyAching*

      I struggle with that sometimes as well, being the only one on my team who does what I do. My boss technically has the ability/authority to do basically everything I do, but she doesn’t have the knowledge. There have definitely been days where my mental health issue is acting up and it would be beneficial to take a sick day, but I go in because unexpected absences in my role can throw a monkey wrench in critical processes. My role is also the back-up for several other functions on my team, but nobody else has been trained to be my backup, due to time and funding constraints. Definitely a source of frustration for all of us — I end up feeling burned out/anxious about taking time off, everyone else is worried about how things get done if I take time off, and an inability to really do anything about it, at least until financial things change.

  31. Jennifer*

    I didn’t say anything to my coworkers. I just made sure to stay on top of my work so they weren’t constantly picking up my slack.

  32. Andrewssister*

    I have a couple of chronic issues that have flared up over the past couple of years, and (according to the feedback I get from seniors, at least) the way I’m managing it is working okay for the rest of my team and not creating additional burdens.

    The main thing that has made this possible is that my employer is very flexible about working from home (we have such a shortage of space in the office that everyone is encouraged to work from home 1-2 days a week, regardless of health status). This not only means that I can keep up with work when I’m not well enough to be in the office and avoid an increasing burden on others, but also means that I’m not visibly getting a ‘perk’ which is denied to healthier colleagues – they can also work from home if they want to. My employer is also good about providing workplace adjustments for everyone who might need them, which again keeps the pressure/resentment down. People are less likely to resent the fact I have specialist tech equipment and don’t have to hotdesk if they know they could also get those things if they needed them and it’s not a specialised perk that only I can have.

    The other thing that has made this work is that I regularly request feedback on how my chronic illness management is affecting the rest of the team and our workload. So far I’ve only had one occasion where the feedback has been negative (I was told a project had been slightly slowed up by my absence), and because I asked I was able to speed up my work in that area to compensate before there was a serious problem. Of course, this depends on having bosses that don’t mind providing this sort of targeted feedback regularly, which isn’t every boss – I’m lucky in my employer here as well.

  33. TacoTsunami*

    I suffer from chronic migraines, made worse by a change in healthcare plans which meant I lost access to my longterm team of trusted doctors. Prior to this year, I’d been managing them well enough that I kept my sick days to a minimum. This year, I’m home sick once a week or every two weeks or so – often enough that it’s noticeable.

    I’ve been really open about my battles with the people who work closest with me and are most likely to be impacted by my absence. When I’m going to be out sick, I don’t just email my supervisor, I loop in all pertinent folks (anywhere from 3-7 people on a given day). I also make efforts to monitor my email for emergencies or timely requests that just can’t wait and try to power through them. My supervisor has been very accommodating by letting me work from home when I can: most of my “sick” days are a combination of working from home and laying in a silent, dark room. Not everyone’s role has that flexibility, but I’d say the things that have helped me maintain the goodwill of my coworkers has been 1) Being completely transparent about how migraines affect me, 2)Setting clear expectations for how much I will be available on a given sick day, 3)Being absolutely reliable when I’m healthy, 4)Having designated backups for areas of my job that have overlap, and being enthusiastic about taking work off the plates of those folks and covering for them whenever they need.

    1. Super Dee Duper Anon*

      Another migraine sufferer here. This is exactly how I deal with mine as well – though after being burned by one boss who just didn’t believe in migraines I’m a bit cautious about naming them, but I do explain that I have a recurring health thing and then try to be very clear about what I’ll be able to do/when I’ll be able to do it, etc. I feel out the office/boss/co-workers for a bit first – if I feel comfortable eventually I might disclose that its migraines. If not, and I can tell its becoming an issue with my boss then I come prepared with a Dr’s note and have researched how to go through the accommodation process before disclosing, just in case it goes poorly.

      Your #4 is really critical I think. I try to step up whenever I can to cover for others, stay late, take on undesirable work. I try to remember that in addition to covering for me, I’m also “out” of the rotation for that sort of stuff when I’m out sick, so its only fair that I take a larger share of it when I am available to. Basically I just try to build up as much goodwill as possible because I know I’ll need to cash in on it.

      1. TacoTsunami*

        Yes – exactly! I always try to make sure I have enough capital on deposit in the bank of goodwill. And, baked goods tend to go a long way. Anything that says “I absolutely appreciate your help and while I don’t expect it, I’m truly grateful”.

  34. Erin*

    At an old job I had a lot of fertility related doctors appointments, most of them happening around my cycle and when they were willing to do certain stuff, so I had little control over them. This was a pain in the butt because I did a lot of the phone coverage and had to make sure that was covered.

    I gave my managers and teammates a heads up that I was going to be having some doctors appointments coming up with little to no notice and I would have no power to reschedule them. I was more than happy to take over phone duty when it would normally be their turn to cover, so we did a lot of trading off with the phones and it worked out great.

    I understand my situation isn’t applicable for all chronic illnesses but here’s my advice:

    -To the degree you can, give them a heads up on when you’ll be out. You don’t have to go into details.

    -To the degree you can, hit them back when you come back. “Thanks for covering for me when I was out last week! As I’m catching up with my work, is there anything I can take off your plate?”

    -Branching off from the above, when you’re feeling healthy and great and you’re not overworked, let them know! You could say to your boss something like, “Thanks for being understanding when I was under the weather last week and shifting some of my work to others. I’m actually feeling much better this week and wanted to let you know so if you had anything you wanted to send my way please do.”

  35. anon today*

    I have had a coworker go through a series of health issues long term. (pain, surgery, then complications, then another issue possibly triggered by surgery/recovery or meds or possibly unrelated . . . this took a long time to resolve) She was incredibly open about it (possibly a little too much detail???) and extremely apologetic, to the point where it was uncomfortable, because she’s sick, she doesn’t really need to apologize for it so much! The reality is though that it is inconvenient and sometimes made things difficult around the office for the other people, and it’s hard to have that kind of compassion for the long term (think: it took probably 2 years for her to really be back to normal again). Several things really helped my perspective on it: 1) she is incredibly hard working and clearly felt sincerely like she was slacking and letting us down (seriously, we are like please take care of your self, stop answering emails!), and 2) how it was handled by the employer was really just fantastic! plenty of options for accommodations, (take time off, work from home while recovering, dr appnts no problem, etc – it was really up to her what she felt like she wanted to do). It made me feel very good to know that if I (or anyone else) had a similar issue that my employer would handle it with understand and compassion, and that my coworkers were willing to step up and do different and extra work. The security of knowing this, from seeing it happen, cannot be overstated. This might be an unusual situation, because it’s a small company (fewer than 10 people in our office), and also all long term employees (5-15 years at this point). Which to me makes it all the more extraordinary, since with so few people every person is pretty vital, and there isn’t really anyone who could be moved over from another dept or team to cover.

    I guess my advice is to be as open about it as you can (without sharing details you are not comfortable with sharing), and especially sharing things like what you are up to doing and not doing, or when you are having a bad time and won’t be able to do something. Giving as much notice as you can about when you will out or unavailable (knowing that things might change of course), and being realistic about it. Scheduled surgery obviously: plenty of notice! Coming back to work 2 days after: maybe not realistic??? Chemo/radiation/PT, etc: it’s on a schedule, you will probably know the schedule and what time you will need after for recovery – let people know and adjust as needed (once you find out that you really aren’t up for anything the day after a treatment). Chronic illnesses with unpredictable flareups: so much more difficult, and obviously not something predictable. I think people appreciate knowing what to expect, as much as possible (I did). Thanking people directly when they help you is also gracious, but apologizing for your health issues I don’t think is necessary.

  36. Samwise*

    I myself have not been ill like this, but I have been the primary caregiver for a child with a years-long medical problem that necessitated huge amounts of time out of the office, often unpredictably, as well as for a spouse who had an incapacitating back/nerve injury (bedridden for several months).

    1. Get FMLA if it is possible with your employer and stay on top of the paperwork for renewing it. Press for intermittent FMLA if that is appropriate.

    2. Work closely with your supervisor on what they can expect re you being in the office and/or working remotely. Be clear on the most optimistic, most pessimistic, and most likely scenarios. If you can’t be sure from week-to-week when you will be in or out, make sure they really understand that this will happen and clarify what you need to do to notify them. Ask if they need documentation from medical professionals when you have to be out — my supervisor trusted me and only asked for the documentation needed for the FMLA paperwork, but not every supervisor will do that. Get everything in writing.

    3. Be honest with yourself as to what you can and can’t get done. You may not know initially, but if it becomes clear that you are not going to be able to keep up with your work, let your supervisor know and work out how you are going to solve that. That means both with respect to addressing current projects (“I will not be able to make the deadline for X”) and overall (“I can’t fulfill the requirements of this position”). I figured out about a year in to my child’s illness that I could not do my job well at all (it was evident sooner, but I’m stubborn) and I asked to move down to the position I had previously held.

    4. Be really on top of everything, make sure that at the end of every day you have everything set up so that someone else can cover for you if you suddenly can’t come in tomorrow/the rest of the week/the rest of the month.

    5, You do NOT have to share any personal medical details with your co-workers. In fact, you don’t have to share details with your supervisor either — they just need to know that you are going to be out for medical reasons and, if they require it, get the documentation they need. My feeling is, it’s on a need-to-know basis. If I’m supposed to be at a team meeting to share X, of course I make sure the team leader knows I may/will be out and will give X to her ahead of time. It’s exhausting to have to repeat over and over and over details that are really distressing; for me, work was a blessed relief from the stress and sadness of taking care of my loved ones, I shared that with everyone and nearly everyone in my office respected it. I only had one asshole colleague who bitched at me about how much work my being out was causing her (in actual fact, it made zero extra work for her) and how I should never expect her to “pick up my slack”. I always just referred her to our manager. (She’s been retired for years and I STILL hate her with a white hot hate for how rotten she was about it! I run into her around town every so often — I cut her cold every time.)

    6. You can change your mind about any of this. Revisit it periodically with yourself first, and then with co-workers and supervisor.

  37. MaureenSmith*

    I’ve suffered from migraines for many years. At a previous job, I had negotiated to work an extra half hour every day to bank up paid time off for migraines and other illness. My function there was in a bit of a bubble and didn’t immediately affect my coworkers. A day or two here and there didn’t cause issues.

    Now that I’m a manager, I do understand and have sympathy for ill employees. It happens and I’d rather they get better and keep their germs away from me. I’ve been able to implement 5 paid sick days/year in addition to vacation, instead of 0. Anyone who goes over has a choice of making up the time (or banking time in advance) or taking time unpaid.

    One area I need to improve is communicating with the other employees that some people need more time off, likely unpaid, without causing resentment. We’re a small shop and that’s a challenge, especially when some of the work may land on someone else unexpectedly.

  38. M*

    I am following with interest. I have a chronic illness that would require me to be out 2-4 days a month on average (unpredictably) and when I couldn’t find an understanding employer or coworkers after several jobs in different industries at rapidly declining salaries, I had to go on disability.

    I now have a unique family situation and a child that has inherited my chronic illness, but I dream of being able to be back at work. I have an advanced degree, current technical skills, and I still can’t find anyone who would be interested in hiring me, even part time.

    On the flip side, my SSDI attorney told me before my hearing that if you have a disability, for which you’re missing at least 2 days of work per month, consistently, even if you’re covered by FMLA, in his experience if you lose your job, that is enough for most U.S. judges to grant you disability after your application has been denied more than once.

  39. Bend & Snap*

    I went on FMLA last year when my daughter was seriously ill. It was a relatively short leave, about 3 weeks, but I came back and literally nothing had been done. At all. My work just sat collecting dust and I was screwed when I got back.

    It’s not just hard on coworkers to deal with an illness. You really need good managers to help everyone handle it.

  40. Higher Ed EA*

    My sister has a number of chronic conditions that make work challenging for her, so although I am not experiencing this first hand, I’ve been pretty close to someone who is. As an observer, I would say that if you’re able to do this, be very careful about the types of jobs and the benefits packages of organizations you apply to/accept offers from. My sister was working in an organization that was in some ways a really bad fit for her (long commute, boring work, contracted so no long-term certainty, bad culture fit) but in other ways was actually decent (allowing work-from-home and other flexibility when she needed it for appointments or slow-start days). However, she wound up getting so frustrated and unhappy with the things that weren’t working for her about that job that she applied for and accepted a new job that (from my perspective) wound up being WAY WAY worse, just from sheer desperation to get out of the previous situation! The new job was a receptionist/phone type job that wasn’t able to provide her ANY flexibility in terms of arriving late/staying late or working from home (although the commute was much shorter). It also had one of those PTO systems where sick and vacation days come from the same pot (this is ok if you’re generally healthy, but for my sister, in the whole year+ she worked there she took every hour of PTO she accrued as sick and had to take unpaid time as well!).
    My point here is that if you have a long term condition and if you’re able to be somewhat choosy or selective when accepting jobs, please consider what benefits or work set-ups might make the job work better for you and avoid ones that aren’t going to work well. I definitely know that not everyone can be choosy (and it doesn’t solve the problem if you’re not in a position to change jobs), but I hope this consideration might help someone avoid a situation like the one my sister was in.

    1. blink14*

      Great info – I chose my current position largely based on benefits and work hours, due to poor health. I knew I needed much better benefits to deal with my health issues long term, and so far it’s really worked out. The actual salary isn’t amazing, but the benefits included are top level. Makes a huge difference in reducing stress, knowing I have plenty of sick time to take and great insurance.

  41. Jessie the First (or second)*

    My youngest has chronic and life-limiting illnesses and so I take a lot of time off. Besides dozens of doctor visits every year, there is time of for the inevitable hospitalizations, and when his day nurse calls out sick then I also have to call out sick, because he can’t go to school without a private nurse.

    I think for most jobs, my level of out of the office would be unworkable, frankly. I handle it at my current job by sharing way more than I otherwise would – no vague “medical appointment” or “not well” call outs; I overshare, not just with my boss but also any colleague I’m working on something with. Basically, all the detail you should generally *never* have to share, I share. My thinking is that I need people to know this is not me taking days because my son has the sniffles – this is me taking days because my son may actually die. I assume/hope that knowing the stakes involved should help.

    Also, it probably helps that I work remotely a lot – I can do a lot of my work from home. so if I am not at the hospital, I can log in to work once my child goes to sleep. And the quality of my work is quite high. When I do have advance notice of appointments coming up, I make sure to arrange my work so that no one else is left picking up slack.

    There is zero good way to this, really. I don’t relish sharing as much as I do, even though there is no stigma to my son’s illnesses. But I just don’t think reasonable people would be anything but resentful if I called out this often without explaining that the shit going on is serious.

  42. Bigglesworth*

    We think I have an autoimmune condition (non-R Factor RA) and my spouse has ADHD, anxiety, and depression. I’m in law school right now, so taking a day off doesn’t affect anyone outside of myself. When I was working prior to law school, my team was very understanding as I was in the middle of trying to narrow down what was wrong (it’s scary when it could be anything from lupus to RA to bone cancer to advance osteoarthritis and none of the tests are coming back with anything…). Although I still don’t have an official diagnosis, this seems to be the most likely option and I know it’ll influence which jobs I decide to take after graduation. Law can be cutthroat and I know I need to work in an office that provides good healthcare benefits and with a culture understands that life happens.

    However, my spouse deals with the immediate effects of his disabilities. Although his company has been great with FMLA and his stuff overall, he does get comments from his coworkers about not being there all the time. Right now they’re in the midst of a project and have mandatory overtime. Between that, taking his apprentice classes, and a second job that he loves, he ran himself ragged and had to take time off because everything flared up all at once and made life hell. Management understood – many coworkers did not. However, as he’s gotten to know some of his coworkers better, he’s shared bits and pieces about what he deals with. Depending on the person, some of them have come to him for advice on how to deal with anxiety, depression, or ADHD.

    The only advice I can give from both my experience and my spouse’s is that clear and open communication is key. You don’t need to share the nitty-gritty or specific illness/issue you’re dealing with, but don’t leave you’re coworkers wondering where to pick up on a project. Also, if possible, make sure your work quality is great when you’re able to work. Life is hard and it’s not fun being the coworker that’s out all the time and it’s not fun being the coworker left in the lurch due to an absent coworker. Mitigate the difficulty caused by being absent as much as possible and show grace to others when you can.

    1. Huluallday*

      It all depends on management on whether people should share or not. I’d go for clear and open communication as well (not oversharing, some don’t recognize the difference) knowing that you don’t have to give specific illness details. Also people should be advised that anything shared can’t be put back in the bag. I’ve done this both ways and have had managers who were supportive no matter what, and have had management not follow FMLA guidelines, not be willing to put anything in writing regarding FMLA, and retaliate with fake discipline in writing that couldn’t be disproven and a cut in hours when given information and paperwork from doctor’s. These examples are obviously at both ends of the spectrum.

      My dx journey sounds similar to yours: osteoporosis, Lyme disease, RA, lupus, bone/blood cancers… After a couple years they were able to definitively diagnose Psoriatic Arthritis through imaging and X-rays. Btw bring up PsA with your rheumatologist, it can be that when these other issues are ruled out but since there’s not a specific test (other than ruling out the other diseases and seeing the specific degeneration in images) it can take awhile for a dx.

      1. Bigglesworth*

        Wow! Thank you! I’ll bring it up the next time I see my doctor. Non-R factor RA runs in the family, but I’ve been discouraged recently by the fact that I still don’t have an official diagnosis but live with pain everyday.

        And I also agree with your comments about oversharing and being careful. I’ve always had a good experience when providing paperwork and sharing enough to explain why I might need a day off here and there, but I don’t typically share my whole journey. That said, my spouse’s previous workplace effectively terminated him upcome his disclosure and request for FMLA which they then shared with his journeyman who started harassing him at work (stealing his stuff, fudging timecards, etc). It was a toxic place for many reasons, which is why he’s so grateful to work where he is now.

        1. CanadaTag*

          As an aside re auto-immune arthritis – my mother has non-R Factor RA (I didn’t know that was a thing until I read your comment; I knew she didn’t show the rheumatoid factor, but there’s another blood test, the ANA-something or other, can’t remember the exact name, that she does have), and I have psoriatic arthritis (just flared up last April, and I was lucky to get diagnosed in September). The symptoms definitely resembled RA, but I had neither of the aforementioned factors, and have had both psoriasis all my life and psoriatic nails on my toes since I was a teen. So if you have psoriasis at all… yeah, could be. :)

    2. Kotow*

      It’s not just about a culture understanding that “life happens.” If you’re out sick constantly and I’m the one double-booked in court and unable to catch up because I have to keep covering for you, the resentment will build up fast regardless of whether it’s for a medical reason. Especially if you do it during a time when you know everyone else is swamped. Disclosure will probably help to keep people from complaining about it, but quite frankly, it wouldn’t help my opinion of you. The reality is, you are inconveniencing coworkers when you’re constantly calling out.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        So what’s your alternative scenario? Sick people work themselves to death? Sick people don’t work, and starve to death? Sick people magically become not-sick people?

        Seriously, what are you suggesting that a chronically ill person do so as to never ever inconvenience any one else one tiny little bit?

      2. A Chronically Ill Anon*

        Exactly what should someone with chronic illness do then? Really curious.

  43. Laura H.*

    Not a chronic illness, but something from a different perspective. (I do have a chronic condition that will be with me lifelong, but it’s my normal- not something that set on.)

    Part time retail- I had been working 4 days in a row (Fri-Mon inclusive) for a while for consecutive weeks (that 4- day sprint usually only happened once- the week before Xmas.)

    I had a fall* that necessitated HR to look at fixing my schedule. Four days in a row was a little much for me week after week. Three days I could do. I was at first indignant-ish, but I privately ate my hat and realized it was for the best. And I could still do that 4 day pre Christmas sprint.

    *For most of my falls, aside from the expected aches and minor embarrassment that’s par the course, I was ok.

  44. phira*

    To all the people *without chronic illnesses* saying, “You should be transparent and up front about it early on!” I suggest trying to be a little more compassionate and understanding. It’s not that your sick coworkers are inconsiderate or willfully ignorant of their impact on you. It’s that we’re *sick* and it can be difficult and stressful, and the last thing we need is to be required to give you lots of details so you’ll give us the benefit of the doubt. Workplace discrimination is still a major issue for many of us; I’m hired on a per-semester basis and am constantly stressed out by that, since maybe this semester will be the one where my bosses no longer want to deal with me being sick.

    Telling coworkers about my illness when there’s no pressing reason to can be really embarrassing. Health isn’t just personal: it has to do with our biology, and biology can be messy, whether we’re dealing with mental illness or physical illness.

    I had a boss who was just extremely not understanding about my illness. He got increasingly frustrated when I would work from home or needed to come in late, but he also was grossed out by any details of my disease and got irritated if I tried to explain that I came in at 10 because I was stuck in the bathroom until 9:30 and couldn’t leave my apartment. Because my illness is “invisible” (I look and seem healthy most of the time, even when I’m incredibly sick), I had to resort to forgoing any kind of make-up on my bad days just to “look” sick and have him believe me.

    So listen: if you have a coworker who seems to be taking a lot of sick time, but they seem fine, just believe that they’re taking the sick time for a good reason and don’t make a stink. If there’s something they can do to make it easier when they’re out, just frame it as neutrally as possible to them and make it more about your needs than what they’re doing “wrong.” They shouldn’t have to disclose personal medical information to you to prove that they deserve your compassion or that they aren’t faking.

    I’ve never really had a job where my health had too much of an impact on my coworkers–the boss I just described was my boss in grad school, and my research was independent of everyone else’s so no one was relying on me. And in terms of my current work, which is teaching part-time, I just force myself to go in and teach. Otherwise I’d need a substitute every week. It sucks, and sometimes my students get a little curious when I’m running to the bathroom 5-6 times during class, but I manage.

    1. the Viking Diva*

      >>>It’s not that your sick coworkers are inconsiderate or willfully ignorant of their impact on you. It’s that we’re *sick* and it can be difficult and stressful…

      Hear hear. Also – there is a lot of time and stress involved in just *figuring out* if one is sick. Maybe some day I will get to the point where I can say, Here’s what I have and here’s what I can do and not do, but for now I am spending a LOT of time on investigations and phone calls and acquiring records to show to someone else, and I don’t have any certainty, which is in and of itself a stressor. I sure don’t want to share the ongoing twists and turns. Could be treatable, could be chronic, could be fatal ?? still to be determined. All I can say for sure is it hasn’t been fatal yet!

      1. Huluallday*

        Both of these comments! It can take years to get a dx for some of these chronic illnesses, causes stress, which exacerbates illness. And I too question all of the coworkers who just want a little bit of information so they can tamper their feelings of resentment… invisible illnesses have so much stigma associated with them. People have a hard time believing that a person who looks fine, especially a young person, could be ill. And so even when we do share we aren’t believed and then are treated like liars too. Some of us a legitimately hard time getting family to accept it, which is crushing. Imagine how hard it is to then be vulnerable with coworker?

    2. Bigglesworth*

      I wish I could upvote this! Both my spouse and I have chronic health issues, but we also both look like healthy young adults most of the time. Based on the performance reviews, we both also generally kick butt at work (which helps with the sick time if needed).

      If either one of us takes a sick day, please don’t view it as an extra “vacation day” for us to do whatever we want. If I’m out, I’m generally in a lot of pain and am finding it hard to move. If he’s out, one of his mental illnesses making his life heck. Trust me – no one wants to live in our shoes.

      Compassion costs nothing and can mean the world to a chronically ill person.

  45. Schnapps*

    We had someone transfer into our department and all my manager said was, “It’s a medical accommodation.” When our nosy nellie coworker asked for more detail, my manager looked her in the eye, and said firmly, “It’s a medical accommodation.” And that was the end of it.

    I have another coworker who has been to rehab (twice now) for alcohol. The first time it happened, my manager (a different person than the above), said it’s a medical leave, it’ll take a couple of months and it’s up to coworker to explain (she did, she’s quite open about it). Hopefully this time it will stick.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      What I can’t get over is all the people pressing for people’s personal details! I am naturally very nosy, but I am also a kind and polite person and can take a hint! So as much as I would love to know all the details, you tell me someone is on medical leave, that is that! Team member out for surgery? Sure, of course, let me know when your doctor says you can come back. (I still have no idea what kind of surgery it was — nothing visible, certainly.) On the other hand, when a team member told me they needed to take leave for mental health issues, I told them very clearly that while I appreciated the openness, they didn’t have to tell me any of that!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      From the supervisor’s perspective: Don’t keep telling me that you know for a fact I fired your friend because your friend is no where to be found.
      The situation went this way- Friend suddenly became ill and had to leave. Coworker could not find her friend and became antsy. I was not going to explain what happened to Friend. So all I said was, “When she comes back she will explain it to you. It’s not mine to explain.”
      This went over like a lead balloon.
      “You fired my friend and you just won’t tell me.”

      Fortunately, I liked both these people very well. So it made it easier to see through the accusation and rise above it. I said, “I am not going to talk about other people’s personal problems behind their back. If you do not believe your friend will be back then you will just have to wait and talk to her when she comes back. I can’t keep discussing this with you because I have nothing else to add to the conversation.”

      It was tense for a bit. And then Friend resurfaced and there was peace once again. In a nice turnaround to the story BOTH women changed their tone with me. They agreed that I had made the right choice and we never revisited that mistrust again. They decided it was okay to trust me even in situations where I could not explain what was going on.

      It’s super important for employees to take the boss at their word UNTIL they find a very strong reason not to.

  46. Mandy Rae*

    For those of you who are hiring managers — if you are hiring someone who has a chronic/intermittent condition, that will require unpredictable absences and work-from-home, what would be helpful to know up front to maximize their success in the position, but NOT keep you from hiring them (or give you reason to get rid of them before the end of a probationary period)?

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Well, I need to know that they have a chronic/intermittent condition that requires unpredictable absences and work-from-home. After that, we can talk details– about how frequently does it occur, do they need/use FMLA, does it fall under ADA, do they have accommodations that have worked in the past or do they need to explore. Would they be able to make up work later, or would doing so just exacerbate the condition?
      I don’t need to know the details of the condition itself, just how it affects their work. From my point of view, I’d like to know it as soon as possible after I made an offer, so I can re-configure assignments, work spaces, get remote work set up, etc.

      Of course, I work in the public sector, in an area with very strict policies that would make it hard for me not to hire a person based on a medical condition alone, or to let them go based on the medical condition, unless I’ve shown that it prevents them from doing essential elements of the job and we’ve been unable to reach reasonable accommodations. (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but we do try to prevent it happening.)

      What I hope someone with a chronic condition will do, is ask about sick leave and work from home policies earlier in the process– they don’t have to disclose why! There are so many, many reasons why people would be interested in those policies. And yeah, there’s a risk that if you ask the hiring manager will worry about why you’re interested. But frankly, a hiring manager that is so worried about how much sick time you’ll take or really can’t accommodate work from home is probably not a great fit anyway.

    2. 867-5309*

      I believe Alison has suggested in the past that a candidate disclose this after receiving an offer.

      You could say something along the lines of, I have a recurring health issue that is generally well managed. However, I might need to work remotely on occasion when it comes up. Can that be accommodated?

      1. Huluallday*

        As a Director of HR, but also someone with an invisible (so far) autoimmune disorder I’d recommend that people not bring it up at all until at least the offer letter stage, and then use the language you and Alison have suggested. I’ve met too many people in HR and managers in general who have no qualms discriminating and basing hiring decisions on many arbitrary things, as long as they can document that it wasn’t discrimination. ie: I’m not going to hire the woman that noted she was a single mother in her interview, even though she was a better fit for the job, because on paper the other top candidate was more qualified, so we’re safe and we all know single mothers miss too much work-wink wink. It’s disgusting. And it happens a lot.

    3. LinesInTheSand*

      The best thing you can do is be prepared with strategies to minimize the number and severity of fire drills that would result from unexpected absence. That’s not the same thing as minimizing the absences. What it means is that we find some way, through a combination of setting expectations, managing workload appropriately, responsibilities, and so on, to minimize the impact to other coworkers, particularly last minute. Anything else isn’t fair to them. That means being realistic to yourself about the severity of illness and its impact on your ability to work. I don’t need details, beyond what would help me help you. But if you tell me you’re out about once a month and it turns out to be more like once a week, that’s a problem. If you’ve only got the strength to work 4 hours per day, again, let’s collaborate on that earlier rather than later.

      But ultimately, as a hiring manager, it is my job to hire people who will add value to the team I’ve already got. I have to balance your interests against theirs. Value comes in many, many forms and my company does a pretty great job of accommodating these sorts of issues, but there are some jobs where unexpected absence is much more disruptive than others. I expect you to understand that, and I expect a bit of self selection on your part to apply for roles that you are reasonably confident you can do, given your current constraints.

      1. LinesInTheSand*

        And also, be prepared for failure. There are a lot of mediocre to bad companies and managers out there, as many people point out.

    4. Manders*

      I’m still pretty new to hiring and management, but I manage a fair number of people who do remote work with flexible hours, so this is something I’ve been thinking about recently. This kind of work can be really great for people with some medical issues, but a terrible fit for others. The folks with health issues I manage have told me I’m unusually flexible and easy to work with, so I think I’m doing a decent job although there’s still room for improvement. The top things I’d like to know:

      1) When you need to take time off, is it a couple hours or days at a time or is it potentially a week or more of absence very frequently? In this particular job, it doesn’t matter that much when during the week the work gets done, but if someone’s going to be out for a week straight I need to be able to arrange coverage for them.

      2) Can you maintain a high level of attention to detail while working during health problems? This job is really flexible in terms of working hours but if work slips through the cracks or goes missing it can become a huge problem.

      3) Is the amount of work you can do roughly consistent week to week? This job requires several weeks’ worth of other processes happening first before work ends up on this particular employee’s desk. I have some ability to adjust for planned absences and cover for unplanned absences but there’s not much I can do to be flexible for someone who has low-energy weeks frequently and unpredictably.

      This is just one very specific type of job, though. It doesn’t require any physical labor at all, but there are some other trade-offs people with long-term chronic conditions may not be able to work with (like: this is part-time work without health insurance, the company’s structure and priorities have a risk of changing rapidly, I honestly am not sure if certain projects will look the same a year from now).

      1. Manders*

        I should add that I never ask for or expect any kind of medical information when I’m hiring, I just lay out the requirements of the job very clearly. I think that’s the part that’s 100% a manager’s responsibility: you have to make what you need completely clear during the hiring process, and hopefully most people who can’t handle the work will self-select out.

  47. Sleepytime Tea*

    I found that it was actually best to say as little as possible as far as the details of your illness. The thing is that when people know what the illness is, they start having all sorts of judgments about what is reasonable for you to take care of yourself even though they are far from experts. Not to mention that depending on the illness there are stigmas that can go along with it.

    I had ADA accommodations and FMLA for my illness at a previous job. I didn’t even tell my supervisor specifically what my illness was, we only talked about my accommodations and practical things like how he wanted me to call in or record my time or whatever. I did mention to him that I knew the optics of the situation could be… awkward, since my illness wasn’t something visible. It’s not like I had a cast on my leg and it was obvious why I needed to work from home more often. We discussed what the best way for me to explain to my coworkers might be if it came up. (Honestly, this conversation was more as a way for me to tell him, without telling him, “hey, I’m not interested in discussing the specifics of my illness and I don’t want it speculated on.”)

    I had coworkers who asked if I was doing ok, and I just said “I’m doing alright, thank you for asking. I have good doctors and we’re working on some things.” Honestly, I think that being vague was better because if they assumed it was something highly personal (which it was) or “serious” (which it is) then they didn’t make assumptions that I was gaming the system or something.

    One thing I did do was always make sure to communicate to my team if I was going to be out and tell them in advance as much as possible. If I had a doctor appointment, I made sure they knew and it was on my calendar for them to see. I offered my cell phone number for any time they had questions and invited them to call or text me if I wasn’t there (which I think only ever happened once). Essentially, I was open that I was having health issues, but I made it clear I wasn’t open to discussing the specifics and I made sure to try and lessen the impact by keeping them in the loop as far as what my work load was and any time I wasn’t going to be available.

    It went really well (with the exception of my ass supervisor who decided that because he couldn’t “see” my illness he didn’t have to follow the accommodations agreed upon, but that’s a different issue). I learned that taking care of myself was better for my coworkers overall. If I didn’t, I could end up not able to work for a long stretch of time, versus having accommodations where I had to take a day off more often then other people or work from home more often and I was actually able to get work done. The burden on them was much less overall that way.

  48. Non profit pro*

    I’ve got an autoimmune disorder that will straight up knock me on my ass some days. I had to move from a more high stress travel heavy job to one that is more officework in the past year as my symptoms got worse and worse. Luckily I’ve got a good team who gets it and my boss is pretty good about flexing my time/WFH. I’m also very lucky to work for a company with extremely generous PTO policies and have a ton of time saved up from my years here.

    I’ve handled it by being very proactive and open about my condition and sneaking in as much work as I can when I’m “out sick.” I have email on my phone and will try to respond quickly when I can and call into meetings as needed. I usually come in to work a little late (between 8:30-9am when technically our start time is supposed to be 8), but I tend to stay late too. I try to visibly be in the office when I can and make sure my optics scream hardworking so they are less likely to get upset with me. It helps that most of my work doesn’t overlap with others so it’s not like they are waiting on me for things.

  49. MonteCristo85*

    Whether it is a chronic illness, or just slacking, I personally don’t think we should be blaming/annoyed with/etc the person in question, but rather the boss. It is their responsibility to ensure that everyone is pulling their weight, and to make sure there is enough staff that the work all gets done. I don’t think an ill person “owes” it to their coworkers to tell them what’s going on so that they are more willing to help. A chronically ill person would presumably negotiated their needs with the boss. At that point the onus is on the boss to make sure that appropriate resources are available to make sure the work gets done, either by requiring more work of the others or hiring a temp or other measure. That’s part and parcel of being a manager.

    1. MonteCristo85*

      Missed the point of this a little. As an chronically ill person, I don’t think you owe anything to your coworkers, because that’s not how the responsibility of work should work in my mind. You need to take care of yourself, and the only person you owe an explanation or to work with is your employer. This whole situation of holding coworkers responsible for the duties of managers needs to go away.

      1. LinesInTheSand*

        Depends on who you’re making commitments to. In my job (programming), we do project planning in a way that requires the team, collectively, to estimate what they can complete in a given time frame. In that environment, it is each team member’s responsibility to be honest with themselves about how much they think they can get done. I don’t need details, but I do need realistic estimates.

        1. Manders*

          Yes, this can be a management problem in some workplaces, but there are a lot of situations where work flows through people without moving down a hierarchy. I need to know how much work the llama shearing team will be sending to my wool cleaning team so I can plan for the types of wool we’re cleaning a week or a month from now, but I don’t manage the shearing team and I can’t fix coverage issues for them.

  50. Jaybeetee*

    Honestly, it’s never occurred to me to resent someone who seems to have a sporadic schedule or is out-of-office a lot*. I tend to assume that whatever is going on, management is in the loop, and it’s not for me to police when other people are at their desks. That said, for several years I have had the luxury of jobs that usually require little in the way of collaboration. If I had projects being hitched up due to someone else’s frequent absences, or if I was having to cover/take on extra work, perhaps I’d be more annoyed.

    *One exception was a previous Toxic Job with some awful managers who were known for wandering in around 10am, leaving at 2, working from home a lot, claiming they had a lot of “off-site meetings”, in conjunction with a lot of other poor behaviours. So in that case, yes, we speculated that they really just weren’t working that much. And it turns out that was correct, and Ringleader Toxic Manager (who was influencing other managers to behave the same way) was eventually let go.

  51. SickHead*

    I recently started intermittent FMLA for a severe mental health condition that had been majorly exacerbated by some tough life circumstances. I am really glad I have it, but I also feel like my boss passive-aggressively makes me feel guilty (which adds to my severe anxiety). She does it from the perspective of wanting to protect her team, which I get, but when I try to come up with solutions (such as sharing my daily OneNotes so she can tell what I’m working on in case I’m out), it is like she doesn’t really care about the team so much as just making me feel bad. My flare ups are inconsistent and I have okay days and I have really bad days. I also scheduled a month’s worth of recurring appointments to deal with it and two fall when my boss will be on vacation. I am careful to schedule at the end of the day so I won’t have to miss much, and can just go home and decompress as my appointments are usually upsetting to me. My boss made a “thing” of that by telling me not to schedule any MORE other than the existing while she is out. I tried to explain that I am on FMLA and if I need an appointment for that, I will take it. She got defensive, and I also explained that I know not to take unecessary time off, especially when she was out.

    I know it may be beneficial for me to move from “up to 3x off/week” to a more consistent “off 8-1 M-5 to attend Intensive Outpatient” but I am very reluctant to do that because it’s so hard to come in and focus on work after hours of intensive group therapy. Basically, I feel very depressed and stuck.

    Additionally, a woman in another department who seems to ALWAYS notice who is in and who is not asked me last week if I was “still sick” or on vacation. (I’d been physically very sick a few months ago.) I told her I was on FMLA and just never know when I’d have a bad day, and that shut her down.

    1. anon today*

      Ohh I’m so sorry to learn what you’ve been going through! I can relate, though folks I work for/with have so far been more supportive than it seems like your judgy boss :(

      For the last 1.5 years I’ve been really burned out and, looking at it now, struggling with my mental health. I didn’t see it this way until recently when a parent died and that’s brought the mental health stuff to the forefront again. I’m realizing that I’ve had aversive reactions to new problems/challenges and been pretty intensely disengaged. My reactions to some of these things have felt like triggered trauma (I have experience with this from other parts of life) and have been really difficult to navigate.

      Outside of these mental health challenges, I’ve always been a really high performer who excels in any variety of positions. I’ve never had a bad review in my 10-year career, and looking back I can see now how inconsistent my mental health struggles have made me. I have been flailing at tasks and workstreams that I would normally excel at. I also think my self-perception is worse than others’ perception of me, which I keep having to remind myself of.

      Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of career conversations with my boss and had a really challenging conversation with him yesterday where he was compassionate, but due to the recent death of my parent I was really emotional and cried several times. In retrospect, I should’ve asked for us to have the conversation in a few weeks when hopefully my mind will be a little more settled. The result was two things: 1) that he encouraged me to take more time off to grieve and 2) I learned that multiple execs are waiting for me to tell them what I want to do and they’ll make space for me (so I guess I haven’t burned bridges with this too much).

      I’m going to pursue working with a therapist to figure this out and see if I’m on track with my self-diagnosis ;), but wondering how did you bring this up with your boss/HR when you started to need the FMLA support more actively? I’m hesitant to talk about mental health too much per Alison’s usual recommendations.

      Further complicating things is the fact that I’m not sure I want to stay in this job since it’s been so difficult emotionally. I’m contemplating leaving to unwind all of this and get my head on straight (and am fortunate to be in a financial position where this wouldn’t be super risky)… but it’s hard to know what’s up and what’s down right now…

      1. SickHead*

        I’m sorry for your loss, and for your struggles. We are all doing the best we can. Keep reminding yourself of that.

        Since I’m anon, I’ll say my diagnosis is Bipolar II. In 2011, I had a severe psychotic break and dissociation, which caused me to be hospitalized inpatient for 10 days. It was upon my follow-up (an additional 4-6 weeks off totally, then half-days in the PM as I went to Intensive Outpatient in the AM, which is why I know how hard it is to try to work after attending IOP) that I was correctly diagnosed began getting steady and correct treatment. (I was incorrectly diagnosed w/ Depression for nearly 20 years.) Two years later, I went through a breakup and handled that incredibly poorly and began IOP again, this time after work. It helped a lot.

        My most recent bout of depression/anxiety was also triggered by a breakup. It was the man I thought I’d spend my life with. It came up with my boss b/c I was crying/tearing up and despite Alison’s advice, I finally told her I struggle with bipolar and may need to schedule more appointments as I deal with it. HOWEVER, I also got a severe case of bronchitis, which caused me to be out a lot over a few weeks. The drain on my body caused the depression to worsen, and I reached out to my doctor to discuss intermittent FMLA. She’d been reluctant to OK it for me in the past, preferring I just “push through it” and get to work, but agreed this time. I happened to be out for the bronchitis that day, and sent a note to my boss that I’d be submitting paperwork for it. I also talked to my org’s HR to see what I had to do.

        I submitted to my boss the stuff on my end, she got it all signed by her and her boss, and scanned/sent back to me. I then had to go to the public library to print it out, sign, and send to HR. HR held onto it while awaiting the portion that my doctor completed.

        If you have a diagnosis and a doctor you work with about it, talk to them. Any mental health conditions you may have are certainly exacerbated by grief. Even if your boss is understanding (which is great), FMLA is, IMO, a good protector for you. I hope you will be able to figure out what course is right in your situation. I am still considering going to IOP and working half-days even though I don’t really want to simply because it’s been two months and I’ve only seen nominal improvement.

        IMO, I think it’d be better to utilize the FMLA option to help you unwind and get your head on straight rather than leaving the job altogether. I find that even on days where I have to take off with FMLA, I wish I had the structure of work to help me through the day. Those are my 2, but of course you are the best determinant of your situation.

  52. CommanderBanana*

    COMMUNICATION. And this doesn’t mean anyone has to know the medical details. But if someone’s negotiated a lot of time off for a chronic illness, management needs to let their team know this. And the sick coworker needs to either communicate or work out a plan for communicating being out in a consistent, and if possible, timely manner. I will never understand why managers take a situation that could be handled to cause a minimum of illwill and make sure that it’s handled to cause maximum confusion and anger.

    I worked with a manager that was horrible for a lot of reasons (because she sucked) and one example was that we had a very stupid and inconsistently applied telework policy. She hired someone and gave her one telework day a week, which no one else had…but she didn’t TELL ANYONE that this new coworker would only be physically in the office four days out of five, because she was afraid that we’d get mad.

    So the new coworker had no idea that we didn’t know, we’d go by her office looking for her and she wouldn’t be there, but we had no idea where she was, and in this office people usually sent an email before a planned day out or letting us know about a sick day. And when we asked our manager where she was, our manager lied to us and was like well, she must have stepped away, just email her.

    If she had just said at the beginning that “X is getting one day a week to telework per our hiring agreement, email her on Fridays” or whatever, people may have been miffed at her being wildly inconsistent with the telework policy, but no one would have been pissed at the coworker.

    As it was, the coworker got a reputation for absenteeism that actually wasn’t true, we just had no idea for nearly two months that she was teleworking!

    So if you’re the chronically ill coworker and you have a plan worked out with management, don’t assume they’re also communicating this to your coworkers. Ask what their plan to do that is or have one yourself.

  53. Sara M*

    I’m the chronically ill coworker. One thing that has helped me is to be clear with people that my energy level is up and down, BUT if you give me enough lead time, I am 100% reliable.

    What this means in effect is that my boss will give me longer deadlines, but know that I will absolutely do what I said I will–plus, when I’m feeling good, I pick up extra last-minute work that has to be done right that second. So I get bonus points for that.

  54. cactus lady*

    I have crohn’s disease and for a few years my symptoms were really bad and I missed quite a bit of work because of it. I was in a really high-stress job (with NO backup, so it didn’t become someone else’s job when I was out – it was me having to do it later), and my flare-ups were stress related, and at the time my preferred coping mechanism to deal with all of this was… alcohol. Which also triggered flare ups. It was a nasty cycle. I was always up front with my bosses about having crohn’s disease and they were generally very understanding when I needed to take time off. Eventually I changed jobs (same industry, different work) to something that’s a better fit for me and the reduced stress (plus going to therapy to help me cope in healthy ways) has helped immensely. I haven’t had to take a crohn’s related day off in almost three years.

    I realize this isn’t applicable to everyone with chronic illnesses, but I definitely think that if there is a correlation between your stress level and your illness it’s worth looking at that. When things were really bad for me, it often felt like it would Just Always Be That Way, I would always be sick, and changing the direction of my career wasn’t on the table because I had worked so hard to get where I was. When I left the really stressful job for a different one, it was a step down, which initially felt like a defeat – but it gave me my life back, and in retrospect that was priceless. And since I knew it was a short-term move (I was there for just under 2 years), it gave me time to explore other career options that I had never really thought about before because I had been so focused on one thing. Now I work in a senior role (senior to what I had been doing before I took the step down) that is better aligned to my strengths and in a supportive environment and I am happier and healthier than ever. Did it cure my crohn’s disease? No. But it has become manageable.

    I got a lot of advice that I just needed to figure out how to deal, you can’t leave your job/industry after you’re 30, etc etc. It’s all garbage. Your health is top priority and if you can make adjustments in your career to better it, you should.

  55. birch trees*

    I’m the same way in terms of efficiency as Fortitude Jones. That definitely makes a difference.

    I have chronic migraines and bipolar II (plus my immune system is generally not-awesome so I catch every cold that comes my way) so I actually end up taking time off for those pretty frequently, think at least 2 days/month. But when I’m in the office I’m extremely productive. Even when I apologize to my supervisor about falling behind on my work, his response is “Okay but you’re not actually behind because look at all of this stuff you’ve accomplished.” Working from home is an option, but I need dual monitors for a lot of my work so it’s not an ideal solution while I don’t have that functionality at home.

    I also supervise a small team of part-time employees, so I wonder if/how much they’re impacted by my absences. We use Slack so I’m still available to communicate when I’m home, which hopefully helps.

    My boss and coworkers know about the migraines, but not the bipolar because of the stigma and I don’t want them to think I’m being hyper-productive just because I’m manic or staying home just because I’m depressed. I also get worried because I typically get migraines in my sleep so they’re there when I wake up, normally the first day of my work week so I’d hate it if people think I’m “faking” or trying to get an extra day of weekend in when I’m actually stuck in bed with an ice pack on my face!

    1. OG Karyn*

      Hello fellow bipolar person and migraine experiencer!

      My bipolar reared its head when I was 19, but went untreated til I was in my late 20s. Because of a very weird circumstance in my life, there is very, very public (think internet searchable) evidence of my disease, and I can’t ever get it removed. Given that, when I applied for my last full time job, they were able to find out my diagnosis before I ever got hired. Meaning, they knew about it and still hired me. There ARE places out there where the diagnosis isn’t a stigma and where people are understanding. I ended up going full on public (I give lectures to law students about mental health now) with my disease to reduce the stigma and to show people that there are ways to cope. I hope that someday you are able to find support in your work environment as well.

      FWIW, I think we bipolar sufferers (I’m type I) tend to be hyper-aware of our symptoms, even when they aren’t evident to others. I was always worried that my mania or depression was becoming a problem, even when my bosses told me what a good job I was doing. The only time it DID become an issue was because my boss had suddenly had a mental health crisis of his own which caused him to become paranoid about his own work, which caused him to micromanage me when he didn’t need to, which caused me to start making more mistakes because my own mania was triggered by the constant barrage of requests/demands/micromanaging. We both had a come-to-Jesus moment with each other, and once we understood what was going on in our own brains, we were able to manage ourselves better.

  56. kdub3*

    I’ve been on both sides of the situation and they both frustrating. I took a maternity leave, at a very small non-profit. I searched high and low for an intern and couldn’t find one to cover my work. My boss didn’t offer to farm out my work to anyone while I was gone. So I worked from home when I could during my leave. It was truly awful. I had a colicy baby so I didn’t get much done. I was literally behind in my work almost 6 months, catching up and doing current work that came in when I got back. It was honestly one of the worst times of my life and sent me spiraling into PPD/PPA. I ended up leaving before I even finished my work, bc of the awful environment.

    At the same place I had co-worker take nearly a month off. There was no replacement for her either. And her work, effected mine. I tried my best to be understanding, and never gave her grief over it. it was still frustrating nonetheless.

    Really it was all reflection over the poor management of the organization

  57. this way, that way*

    – Be upfront with your co-workers
    – Be overly organized
    – Stay home when your not up to working

    I’m not chronically ill but I used to work with a woman that was and what worked well for our department was that she was up front that she was going to be out more than she would be in the office and wanted us to let her know if we had any issue or things she could do to help us when she was off. This included that we were welcome to email and text when she was out of the office and she would attempt to answer questions like where things were and small questions. The best thing she did was stay very organized, she kept a schedule on our shared drive that she updated consistently and even hyperlinked instructions for reoccurring things, She kept notes on where she was in projects and what she was waiting for She kept folders named by her schedule so that we had no trouble identifying what we were looking for. She also stayed home when she couldn’t work at 100%, this is a big thing because we were doing a lot of her work for her but when she would come in and not be on her game things would go downhill because we were on a schedule and we can cover when your gone but not while you are in the office working.

  58. CommanderBanana*

    And honestly, how workplaces handle life events like chronic illnesses is part of the workplace culture. There are workplaces that handle it well and ones that don’t, and that might factor in to where you want to work and/or stay. My previous Terrible Job also liked to fire people when they had health problems, including firing someone who was going blind and a woman that had a stroke.

    They sucked. They also can’t hire/retain staff because their culture is so toxic.

  59. What's with Today, today?*

    I have severe to debilitating Crohn’s disease and take Humira twice monthly and Immuran daily. I just fight through it and work. I’m in an industry (media) where it just isn’t feasible to be sick. I’ll be in pain at home too, so I just deal. I know that is not the answer for most people, but in my industry, it just is and I’m not ready for disability(though I would qualify). I work through flares. I get mild C-diff about every year or so, and I’ve worked through it (the whole office knew I had it and that it was contagious, but I was needed and it wasn’t hospitalization bad,) and I’ve worked while doing colonoscopy prep (again, the office was aware, but I was needed.) It’s part of my life, I just deal with it. Again, I know that won’t be popular and I’m not looking for criticism or pats on the back, it’s just what I do.

    1. Wells*

      Hey Humira buddy! I’m on it for ulcerative colitis. I was on Imuran, but dropped it after it made me so constantly nauseous that I dropped 40 pounds.

      1. What's with Today, today?*

        Oh wow! I love Humira but HATE Imuran. Well, I just don’t like the twice a year lab visits that comes with it. But I have never heard of a side effect like that. I hope you are well (relatively speaking) now.

        1. Wells.*

          Yes, much happier now. Regained all the weight and enjoying food again! Thanks for asking.

  60. Queen of the File*

    I’m often the person who is out of the office more often than my coworkers, but I’ve been in the left-behind shoes as well. From that perspective, a few things I wish my chronically ill coworker had done (to the best of his ability):
    – Be realistic about the work you expect to be able to complete, and ask someone to partner with you as a back-up before you accept non-essential work. My coworker would regularly volunteer for huge projects outside his regular workload, then be out of the office for 2-3 weeks. He got credit for taking on so many projects, but others did the bulk of the work.
    – Work as if you may need someone to take over at any time: Save work files in a location that others can access. Write down the processes and contacts that only you are aware of.
    – Set an out of office message that lets people know who to contact when you are away.

  61. isthisGhosting*

    I have chronic headaches, and want to share a situation where my first line manager handled a performance-tied-to -health situation well:

    I had recently started taking a medication known to cause brain fogginess, especially in the first few weeks while your system is acclimating to it. My co-workers didn’t know about my medical situation in this much detail, just that I dealt with chronic headaches and was trying new therapies and seeing new doctors. When I turned in a work product with a really obvious mistake — think a teapot with two handles instead of a handle and a spout — my manager called me to his office to talk about it, but started the conversation with “how has your health been?”

    This was an opportunity for me to tell him about the medication, and allowed both of us to save face in the exchange of him asking me to address the issue that shouldn’t have been. I think I have a pretty conscientious manager, but if he had not idea about my chronic issues, there wouldn’t have been a place to start.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      That was an excellent way to handle that situation. Your boss didn’t come at you with an accusatory tone, but instead, expressed concern first. It should be concerning when a previously high-performing employee does something out of the norm, but a lot of people don’t have the emotional intelligence to ask, “How are you feeling?” when they feel like their time is being wasted or if they somehow take your actions as some sort of slight towards them. I have a very self-centered manager who approached me in the absolute wrong way about some drowsiness I was experiencing (due to a new medication my body hadn’t yet adapted to), and I did not respond politely, lol. Had she said, “You know, I’m very concerned because you’re usually very alert, but lately I’ve been noticing that’s not the case. Is everything okay?” I probably, no I would have, been much more receptive to talking about it. So kudos to your boss for getting it right because a lot of people don’t.

  62. NW Mossy*

    I can speak to what this looks like from the manager’s point of view, having managed people with a range of serious conditions, including cancer, mental health issues that went crisis-level, diabetes, and chronic pain.

    First and foremost, it helps tremendously if you’ve got a strong and trusting professional relationship with your boss (assuming your boss is decent-ish rather than a sucks-and-will-never-change type). Cultivate trustworthy behaviors in yourself, with the biggest being candor about your work and any changes to it – its quality, your progress towards deadlines, and any places you’re struggling. On the other side, be receptive to olive branches your boss may extend to you. There’s lots of reasons you might be scared of trusting your boss (your condition itself, a past bad boss, family history, etc.), but unless the reasons are coming directly from your boss’s behavior, you’re probably safer than you may think to talk with them.

    Following from that, be clear about what you need/want from your boss in support of you. Some people prefer to have a “like it never even happened” approach after a health crisis, while others want to ease back in. If there are specific adjustments that will help (going remote, working from home, schedule flexibility, etc.), ask directly and work it out. This really helped me as a boss when working with employees who needed approval from others (HR, senior leadership) for certain adjustments, because I’d already worked out a plan with the employee and could truthfully say “I support these changes and think this will work fine.”

    And finally, give consideration to telling your teammates/close colleagues. People don’t always take up that suggestion, but I’ve consistently seen teams rally in support of team members when they know someone needs some extra care and consideration as they deal with health issues. If you’ve gotten along with your teammates in the past, there’s a strong chance that they’ll support you.

    1. Eww David*

      Please let go of the idea that employees lose their right to privacy when they are ill. We do not have to to disclose our medical information to anyone. As a manager, you should be able to manage this situation without expecting your employee to give up their legal and moral right to privacy. This sounds a lot like “it would be easier for me if everyone knew how sick you were”.

  63. Katie the other Fed*

    That’s been me. I was super healthy until my back went out when I was 27 (!). One month that year, I worked 4 FULL days. Then when I was 33, my brother was in a horrible motorcycle accident and I was out of the office for two weeks. I also was in a very toxic workplace at the time so I was having constant migraines, so much so that I used up all my sick leave and had to start taking annual leave and leave without pay. Now, I’m in a better workplace and I go to therapy every two weeks to try to move on from toxic job, among other things. I try to schedule my appointments on my telework days so it’s not so noticeable that I’m out. However, I’ve only had one coworker ask why I’m gone all the time. I just joked and said I was getting old and that requires a lot of maintenance. Whether they talk about it behind my back, I’m unaware. I had one boss, after a series of appointments on a WEDNESDAY tell me that sick leave was not to be used for vacation time. But that’s been the only comment from a boss.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      What? Who just randomly takes vacation in the middle of the week? People can be so dumb sometimes.

  64. blue-tinted glasses*

    This can be tricky and is highly location, context, and business-sector dependent. The short of it is: I have requested and managed the information flow differently, based on my role and how savvy/supportive either the HR or management structure is.

    And that’s what this is, really: Controlling the information flow.

    I have a number of chronic illnesses, which are both invisible and very much stigmatized. I am fortunate to be able to receive treatment for them and those specialists I see are happy to support me when I do need to ask for accommodation (infrequent) and/or take a leave of absence (rare).

    I start from a place of “mind your business”. Ned and Catelyn don’t need to know the details of my health issues, other than I have health appointments which I do my best to schedule outside of business hours. On the days I’m feeling particularly unwell and need to stay home, I do my utmost to provide as much notice as possible to management and communicate out to my colleagues any work or project statuses that could impact them.

    Yes, sometimes there are the really bad days, and I’ve found that I can bundle the more stigmatized illnesses under much less stigmatized ones, and folks will often respect that (e.g. I have migraines in addition to the others; very few folks will question how awful migraines can be.)

    With particularly nosy co-workers, I’m a gray rock. I make the subject of my health and personal life very boring and I redirect to work topics and/or ask that colleague about one of their favorite things. The really persistent ones, I’ll tell them they’re being weird about it and walk away. I think the Venn diagram of nosy co-workers and ‘I’m just trying to be helpful’ advice givers is a circle, so this can apply in both situations. I also pre-emptively let it be known that I will be direct when asking for advice, otherwise I’m not interested.

    As for work flow, I always work ahead and it helps that my business has a predictable surge cycle. This means I can bank certain things for later, in case I need them or I need to hand something off in the event of a flare or emergency. It also means that I can continue to be a consistent performer and maintain my business relationships, even when I can’t get out of bed.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I like this approach. When I got my cancer diagnosis, I made sure the HR director, my manager, and my direct reports were fully briefed. I shared a fare amount of information with friends, less with casual colleagues: “Yes, I have breast cancer, but my oncologist says everything is going well. Isn’t it amazing what medical science can do nowadays!”

      Yes, it depends a lot on the internal culture of the business, but I think a “layered” approach to information sharing may usually be the best way to go.

  65. byebiscus*

    So many employees’ happiness is dependent upon others’ situations. As someone who works standard full hours, when I see someone leaving early all the time I don’t go oh why not me. Sometimes people get more because they have less. In this case they get more leniency because they have less good health. If it’s constantly making you work late, then that’s on your employer to hire more to pick up slack, a temp or part time worker. If they don’t then find a better employer. Otherwise, mind your own business. Don’t let some perception you created ruin your working life.

  66. That One Person*

    I would say I’m in agreement with a variety of folks that at least mentioning something along the lines of “medical issues” helps. I know some people are more private than others about these things and really balk at admitting anything is wrong or letting people into even an iota of their business, but it really, really helps. More than anything I think a lot of folks want to ensure that they’re not being duped into taking someone’s share of the work cause some of us have had those coworkers who call out and then post party pics on their social media accounts (and forget that they have coworkers friended on them). When left alone to our own imaginations its easier to veer into the negative spectrum too than when given some form of direction. Yes we might speculate with vague reasons, but its been easier to worry and sympathize with the person with a sense of “I hope they’re okay/that it’s not serious/they feel better soon” when given even that slight direction. Having someone whose a friend or a few of them may help somewhat too since they’ll be more in the know and capable of assuring people while remaining vague rather than letting the seeds of doubt spread until its almost impossible to cut through all the vines.

    It’s also just good to give people a heads up so they can mentally prepare themselves and plan their work accordingly. They’ll be more receptive to the idea they may have to insert extra duties/tasks into their day ahead of time rather than it being dumped on them at seemingly random. It may not be true for all, but in the past even just knowing a coworker might be out sick a few days made things a lot easier knowing the team might have to take over their portion to some degree rather than coming in and finding out 10-30 minutes (or sometimes halfway through a shift) later we’ll have to take care of that too…suddenly things feel insurmountable and panic sets in (and then the resentment for that panic has only one clear target at that point).

  67. SarahBot*

    In my experience, the two big things that have helped me in my illness-related situations has been 1) transparency / communication and 2) (to steal Glitter Writer’s phrase) earning my capital – really being consistently excellent as much as I can when my health stuff is under control.

    I have Crohn’s disease, and it’s usually something I tell my boss within the first week of getting a new job (usually framed as “I may need to duck out for a doctor’s appointment once a month, and here’s why”). There have been times that I’ve been on a liquid diet, or unable to drink alcohol because of various medications that I’ve been on, and those things tended to come up pretty organically with the people I was working with. I think setting that context ahead of time has helped when things flare up or get more severe. (I once had to ask for a reduced schedule – 10 to 5 instead of 8 to 5 – because I had to be hooked up to IV nutrition for 14 hours a day for six weeks. Everyone around me knew what was happening.)

  68. Madeleine Matilda*

    I am a manager with a chronic health condition who has several people on my team with chronic health conditions. I try to be as flexible as I can with my staff who have chronic illnesses. Luckily they can telework as needed and we have very generous sick leave and good insurance options. As for what is shared with other staff, I won’t share specifics unless the employee asks me to do so, but I will let those who need to know, know that the person is out on leave. I was recently hospitalized for almost a week. My manager was awesome as were my co-workers. My manager told me not to worry about work, but rather to take care of my health. He did ask me to check in with him and let me know how I was doing, because otherwise he would worry about me. I’m probably harder on myself about the impact of my chronic disease on my work than anyone else. My manager, based on my most recent evaluation, is very pleased with me. But I know I could be even more productive than I am, because I’ve been more productive in the past pre-illness. The fact that the first thing some people jump to when someone is out a lot is that the person is a slacker rather than that the person is having a person problem, illness, sick child, or other emergency say more about the poor character of the person jumping to conclusions than it does about the person with the illness.

  69. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve had chronically ill coworkers and what sets them apart is communication and organisation.

    Last minute call ins and someone who is seemingly never caught up is what wears my patience thin. We need a system in place. So I’m aware of where you’re at and where you’ve left your work in progress details. That way there is less scrambling and catching fires at the smoldering phase prior to it erupting into flames.

    You don’t ever need to give much medical info that’s private. I just need our back-up plan in place.

    Emergencies happen and my coworkers and staff’s health truly matters to me so it takes making it feel like work ceases being any kind of priority to you to start getting under my skin.

  70. Drax*

    I find that more information tends to make people more understanding.
    At my last job I got extreme Vertigo followed by a season of aggressive migraines (I had more migraines in that window then ever in my life due to the wild weather). I was really open about it and people were very understanding once I was. I was in and out of office for close to 5 months.
    I was lucky the bosses elderly neighbor had vertigo recently and he ended up having to help her and check on her as she took herself out on a counter accidentally so there was some knowledge of what vertigo is and that it is actually debilitating. I couldn’t work for about two weeks, I kept falling down the stairs and couldn’t wear shoes all day for a few weeks after once I was back in office (it’s a grounding technique that actually worked for me). And as luck would have it, once that ~month and a half of hell from Vertigo was over, I was out a few days a week with migraines for the following few months. I’m sure people were annoyed but as there were other migraine sufferers there was a fair amount of understanding.

  71. Dust Bunny*

    This is where management needs to step in.

    I don’t care why somebody is calling in/leaving early/coming in late/whatever. I just need to know that management is supportive of the rest of the staff and is looking for ways to make sure we’re not overworked and being robbed of time off or schedule flexibility. I’m fine with, “We’re going to have some staffing irregularities for awhile, but we’re doing XYZ things to make sure tasks are covered and people can still (use sick time, etc.) until things stabilize”; I don’t need to know if it’s an illness or a family crisis or Godzilla ate their house or anything; I just need to know that management isn’t going to shrug off the added pressure and is going to (hire a temp, do the work themselves, whatever it takes) to keep us going.

  72. Different Username Than Usual*

    I’m not sure if this counts as a chronic illness, but I’m in a situation where I need orthodontic work and surgery as an adult. Not cosmetic, but it’s not obvious to an outsider that I have some sort of dental issue. It’s the sort of thing that would require a short ortho visit every several weeks, and then probably 4 weeks out for surgery a year after treatment starts.

    So I informed my then-newish employer that this is what my orthodontist was recommending so that we could find a way to accommodate me. I worked at a salaried, non-client-facing job with good benefits, 7 sick days a year, and short-term disability coverage. I offered to save up my vacation days to cover surgery and work through lunch on days that i would have a morning orthodontist appointment. After all, I was giving them a year’s notice so I thought I was managing the situation well.

    I was seen as a strong performer before this, but immediately my manager started treating me as if I had asked for special treatment. She came back at me with a whole lot of “well, no one else has needed to do this” and similar comments. I really resented being treated as unable to do my job consistently when people who take a month of vacation for “fun” stuff are seen as entirely capable. How the heck am I pulling my weight less than those people?

    Long story short, I left that job sometime after and moved to another job with a much more generous culture where it comes to health and wellness, but I’m still scared to start treatment in case it affects the way my colleagues treat me.

    1. Different Username Than Usual*

      I also want to point out that this situation has burned me to the point that I seldom take sick leave when I do need it, am uncomfortable about taking PTO at all, and am hesitant to ever get pregnant in case I need to deal with high-risk pregnancy care. It’s as if I’m living my entire life to save up goodwill for one month away and some appointments here and there and I hate it.

      1. Lurkerrr*

        Yikes! You poor thing. Definitely don’t delay pregnancy because of work. As someone going through a very unplanned and poorly timed pregnancy, alone, that has had complications for months, I received the advice that everything will work out in the end. I thought it was some of that terrible ‘easier said than done’ advice, but am finding that it’s true. ‘In the end’ may be years from now or months from now, but there is no employer in the world more important than this baby. Good luck with your eventual dental work (you only get one set of teeth)!

  73. hbc*

    I think the specifics depend so much on how the illness presents and what the impact is on coworkers, but the general rule is to do everything you can to minimize the impact on your work/coworkers. Schedule appointments at slow times, let people know as soon as possible when you won’t be there or might not be there, join meetings while you’re in the waiting room, etc.. If your absences aren’t really predictable and are debilitating, make sure you always leave your work in a state that can be immediately picked up by someone else.

    It really sucks because you probably have less energy for organization and extra work. But realistically, this is the only thing from the outside that’s can differentiate a slacker taking advantage from someone doing their best with bad circumstances.

    1. hbc*

      And I should add that, should there still be a big burden, that *most* people will rightly recognize it as a management problem, not a you problem. Anyone who plans around zero people having a moderate health issue has an unsustainable business model. You either have more people, slack in your deliverables, or you go out of business.

  74. Anon librarian*

    I’ve had two pretty awful rounds of it for different health reasons (as a librarian, so there’s a public-facing staffing piece.) The first one included some really significant pressure to solve complex health issues immediately (not possible), my boss almost forbade me to go see the specialist I’d waited a couple of months for (middle of the day appointment was what I could get, I’d made sure about coverage and put in for the time appropriately), and I got basically nil other support on figuring out options. I was upfront with how much I was struggling with my assistant and other people I worked directly with.

    The most recent involved a space move that put me somewhere that caused ongoing migraine triggers (overhead lights I couldn’t control, lots of background noise including a coffee shop across the hall from the circulation area.)

    Despite going to our (university) HR about it, I couldn’t get my grandboss to approve what I thought was reasonable (be on desk when that was what I was focusing on, be in an regular office like the other librarians with similar roles when I wasn’t. It would have been not great, but I’d have been functional.) When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I got FMLA approved and kicked the job hunting up several notches (bonus: 3 months into this they told me that they were cutting my job in 6 months.)

    When I got the FMLA approved, I sent an email to the other staff (about a dozen) saying “So you’re aware, I’m having serious ongoing migraine issues, it’s having a major impact on daily life (besides the effects on my work, most days I’m not able to cook safely when I get home and have very limited ability to do other chores or necesssary errands.) Unless and until this gets resolved, I’m going to end up being out of the office on FMLA on days it’s particularly bad. Grandboss and Boss have approved my spending 2-3 hours at most working in quieter spaces most days, it’s marked on my calendar, and here’s the fastest way to reach me at those times.”

    And then I took about one day a week off. We made arrangements for coverage for the thing I’d been covering. Two of my co-workers actively really disliked me (and I’m pretty sure they were behind why I couldn’t get reasonable accommodations) but it was clear that getting out was my best long-term solution. Other people were sympathetic, but not able to help much.

    The happy part of this story is that I’m now working somewhere which is much more reasonable about chronic health and disability issues, very willing to work with people’s specific needs, and my overall health has been vastly better partly because I have a lot less stress about it. (I had my first actual sick day in six months earlier this week, though I still need to take a few hours off for appointments regularly.) When people have to be out, the instinctive reaction around here is usually “Oh, that’s awful, what can I do to help?” and sharing the extra workload around as makes sense.

    1. Anon librarian*

      Oh, and I should add – someone who originally reported to me (and still does some work for me) also has chronic health issues. When she started, I said “So you know, I’ve got some chronic health stuff, and am sometimes out of the office – maybe once a month – and I have regular appointments that usually mean I leave an hour or two early, since I can usually schedule them for 3 or 4pm.” I didn’t get into specifics of diagnoses, though since I’ve mentioned a few things.

      And she just sort of lit up, and said she was so glad I’d said that, that she has some chronic stuff, and what’s the best way to handle appointments and so on. We talked about it (basically, here, you do your best to avoid a few particular things, put your appointments on the calendar as early as possible so we can schedule around them for some things, and get on with life.)

      We sometimes share interesting chronic health related stuff that’s in the news or particularly interesting blog posts/podcast episodes/etc. we come across, too.

  75. Sollux*

    Good timing on this post! This has really concerned me as of late. I am chronically sick with a condition that causes debilitating pain, and medication-resistant depression. I call out two or three times a month; I’ve burned through all my sick leave and vacation time to accommodate it. My coworkers are sympathetic (I’m open about the physical condition and when I’m suffering it’s very clear) but I’m still afraid they resent me for it.

    What I do is:

    1) Be open as possible – I tell them when I’m not having a good day and why (not in detail), and I loop everyone in with all the details of my ongoing projects when I can’t come in. I also tell the customers I’m working with what’s going on, and what I do is not super time-sensitive so most people are understanding.

    2) I try to be the absolute best coworker possible when I’m feeling well. I take on tasks no one feels like doing; if I’m not too busy I ask to take on my coworkers’ work and any extra work my manager needs done; I keep my schedule as flexible as possible. I also work remote when possible, although that’s hard to do with my job.

    This seems to be the general consensus of the comments, but if anyone else has ideas, I am all ears.

  76. Wells*

    I have a chronic physical illness and a chronic mental illness: ulcerative colitis and anxiety. My colitis meds mean I get sick with common bugs and colds more often, so I always use all my sick time. My anxiety has lead me stepping back from certain client-facing tasks to focus more on background processing tasks while I work on improving my mental health.

    My team and my manager are AWESOME about both. They are supportive but not fussy, and we all focus on getting the work done and serving our clients first and foremost.

    Two things that have been helpful for me: 1) being open about my illness 2) maintaining high standards of documentation and communication about my work to that my absence has as small an impact as possible. The added bonus of both of these is that open communication and transparency are just positive for our team culture overall, even without the illness factored in. I had a chronically ill colleague in the past who was also a serial work hoarder–when she was gone, none of her projects could move an inch until she returned. The rest of us were left to deal with angry clients. I try to make sure that everyone has access to the information and procedures guides they need to keep work moving if I’m away.

    At the end of the day, my colleagues know that I care deeply about the work, the team, and our clients, and that I work my ass off when I’m here. My health status is a drop in the bucket compared to all of that.

  77. AfraidOfTheWorld*

    I’m in this boat right now with a long term mental health issue, and I’m still navigating it through work with little success.

    (Preface – I’m in the UK, so I don’t have concerns regarding health insurance and I get up to 12 weeks paid sick leave at my full salary each year, I’m aware that I’m VERY lucky compared to some of the other commenters here in those respects).

    I’m in my mid-30s and have lived with depression and anxiety since my mid teens, with 4-5 serious relapses over the years. I was internally promoted 2 years ago and quickly realised it was a terrible fit for me. My boss’s management style verges on the micromanagement side which, I now realise, is my #1 anxiety trigger and causes me to absolutely freeze up and hide. This causes her to want/need to intervene to an even greater degree, which flares my anxiety, etc. etc. forever and ever. She can be publicly verbally condescending about our work and decisions, to me and to others, and I only found out after I joined the team that my predecessor had taken my boss to an internal grievance for bullying and harassment, and won her case, but my boss faced no consequences and my predecessor was instead redeployed into another team at an equivalent pay rate and title.

    My boss is a skilled technician, one of a handful of people in our country with her specific set of skills, experience and knowledge, so she’s far far too valuable to my employer to consider getting rid of her even though she’s a known terrible manager and many people refuse to interact with her directly. I suspect they’re just waiting for her to retire in the next 5 years or so, then it won’t be their problem any more.

    After about 9 months in the role I had to take 4 weeks off sick, as I’d completely broken down and I spent most of that time in bed. My whole body was showing the stress; I started to develop alopecia patches on my head, I broke out in hives and eczema all over my body, and I was exhausted and tearful all the time.

    I returned to work after my time off and it seemed to improve a little thanks to counselling and an understanding grandboss, however my boss has shown she has a very binary understanding of mental health and her view was clearly “you were sick so you were off, but now you’re back so you must be better”. She’s not interested in trying to meet me halfway with strategies that would benefit us both while helping me cope, and soon went back to her previous behaviour even though I’d been open about how it affected me and my performance.

    I ended up having to take another 6 weeks off last autumn, followed by a 6 week phased return to work. My alopecia returned, as did my skin conditions. I felt so incredibly guilty about the burden I was placing on my coworkers by being off, especially as they all have similar issues in their interactions with my boss, but at the time I felt like I had nothing to give and no reserves of mental energy.

    I know I need to get out of this job because my boss has become a sort of mental bogeyman to me, and I can hardly spend a day alone with her without feeling like a wreck. But the problem I face now is that I’ve got no confidence in my abilities at all, and the thought of a job search is mentally exhausting. I don’t feel like I’m good at anything any more, so how can I sell myself to others? I also can’t afford to not work at the moment as I have a fair amount of credit card debt that I’m trying to pay off.

    I took two days off work this week at short notice because I was supposed to have a catch-up with her on my workload, and the thought of it sent me into an anxiety spiral. I’m seriously worried about how to get out of this predicament, and I’m considering applying for my employer’s voluntary redundancy scheme, even though I’m not likely a good candidate for approval as I’ve only worked there for 5 years, but it would give me a little bit of money to tide myself over while I sort myself out.

    Any suggestions would be gratefully received, I feel like just quitting one of these days, something I have never done!

  78. Mallory*

    Hi! I am hardly ever physically ill, but have generalized anxiety disorder and a mood disorder that sometimes makes it challenging for me to do simple things, like talk to humans (making going into the office difficult).

    Here is what I’ve done:
    – ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. If you struggle with certain mental illnesses, routine is really really really important.
    -IF YOU CAN, ESTABLISH A TELECOMMUTING SCHEDULE. I telecommute 2-3 days per week and find it increases my productivity and doesn’t impact my work–and it also gives me the flexibility and space I need on days when I really can’t make it into the office.
    -BE RESPONSIVE, HELPFUL, AND CARING. Even when you’re not in the office, try to develop a track record of responsiveness and helpfulness among your colleagues. I’ve found that even doing simple things when I am in the office- like asking the office manager about her sick cat or helping the administrative assistant unload the dishwasher- have built my reputation for helpfulness, and caused my colleagues to give me a lot of grace when I’m not feeling well.

  79. OG Karyn*

    When I was 19, I started getting horrible, debilitating migraines and cluster headaches. The kind that knock you out with pain, and you feel exhausted and achy and sick for days afterward. The only thing that ever really helped get rid of the clusters was morphine, and the migraines I just learned to mostly deal with. I am on a preventative, of course, and I have Imitrex, but sometimes nothing works and I just need to be in a cold, dark room.

    For some reason, from 2013 on, they’ve gotten particularly nasty. At that time, I was working for a small law firm here in Cleveland. As soon as I was able, I asked for FMLA accommodations, which included intermittent leave to go to doctors or just stay home for half or a full day to rest. My three bosses understood completely, particularly my main supervisor who suffered from chronic back pain, but of course there were people in the office who either didn’t know why I was out or thought it was “just a headache” and that I should suck it up.

    What seemed to help me on a practical level was that I had a wonderful coworker, who is one of my dearest friends now, who would cover the essentials while I was gone – she also suffered migraines, though not as bad, so she understood the illness. Additionally, I made a habit of having a running list of tasks (printed and in my Outlook task list) so anyone who might have to pick up something knew the status. I also had all my drawers and files labeled, and a spreadsheet of due dates, so again, anyone who needed to find or know something would have easy access to it. When you set yourself up so that anyone needs to know your work could at least get the bare minimum of it, people tend to be more understanding of absences. The less it affects the people who might be affected, the less they care.

    I also found that no amount of explanation to the coworkers who really didn’t get it would help – oddly, I noticed that most of the ones who were cranky about the perceived “unfairness” were people who weren’t even affected by my absences. It was like they were just jealous that I got “more sick time” than anyone else and wanted to complain about it. Once I learned to let go of those people’s opinions, and focus on the fact that the people who mattered (HR and my bosses) understood, life got much easier.

  80. MsJayTee*

    There are a lot of comments that people are understanding and compassionate once they know there’s a genuine issue. Why not just offer that compassion, assume that the co-worker is genuine until you know otherwise? When they are at work, you could ask if there’s an issue and if you can do anything to help. But make it clear that you know they’re under no obligation to tell you anything. The best thing you can do for someone who has frequent absences is understand that they’re necessary and they’re doing their best. And remember many people are having to work when they’re probably too ill to work because they’ve no other choice.

    I have several chronic medical conditions and I used to disclose, I never would again. Employers see chronic illness, and think incompetent and unreliable. In my experience co-workers are not any better. Most non-disabled people are unsympathetic, they just don’t understand illnesses that never get better, but also don’t get worse, that flare up so some days you can’t get out of bed, but other days you can seem perfectly fine. So I wouldn’t advise anyone to share diagnosis unless they have to, or in cases where they’re incredibly sure it’ll be helpful.

    1. A Teacher*

      OR they want to suggest how you can fix it. A lot of times I just nod, smile, and say okay. I’ve probably tried it if its something that is commonly known–Its tiring.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      This seems to assume that it’s not [much of] a problem for the remaining employees, but if management isn’t compensating and everyone else is exhausted and overworked, it’s neither fair nor realistic to expect them not to be resentful. But that is something management needs to address, not the ill employee.

      1. Manders*

        Yes, I think in theory it would be great if everyone could be more compassionate, but in practice you can’t rely on that goodwill automatically being there. Especially when one person’s absence makes work more difficult for everyone else on the team, and no one’s giving them any information about why it’s happening or whether this is temporary or the new normal.

  81. Tantallum99*

    I have sympathy for both sides. I’ve been on both sides. But it is not always feasible to always have ‘extra’ staff on salary just in case someone gets sick. I currently work at a nonprofit and there is only so much we have to work with.

    1. Janie*

      But it’s not “extra” staff, it’s enough staff to cover WHEN people get sick. Because they do. People get sick, they take time off, some of them get pregnant or have children, they have parents who need care. This isn’t some “just in case”, this is something that happens.

  82. Michelle*

    We had a person who for solid year (seriously) who we didn’t know if she was going to show up for work or not. First, she was out a couple times a month. Then, it was a couple times a week. Soon, there were weeks where she would not come in at all. She would get better for a few weeks, come in for half a day, then she was too sick to come in again. She would text at 9:30-10am (start time was 8:30), saying “hope to be in by noon”. Noon would come and go, she wouldn’t show. Rarely, a follow-up text saying “can’t make it today”, would be sent. Eventually, we learned that if we got the “hope to be in noon” text she wouldn’t be in at all.

    She was part of a department, but she was the only one who did that specific thing. We would try to cover her, but none of us really knew how she was doing things, what vendors to contact for certain items, etc. We had a rather new hire transfer out of that department because trying to do her job and help cover the coworker caused her so much stress.

    To cut the story short, after customers started complaining, management finally told us she had been diagnosed with a chronic condition and was working with her medical team to figure out which meds worked, which didn’t and she was struggling to find the right combo. IF we had known, it may have changed our view. But it had taken a whole year for them to say something, so we were all burned out and struggling. When she finally started showing up regularly again, she said she told management they could share her diagnosis of a chronic condition and she was working to figure out to best deal with it, but they had refused to do so until customers started complaining.

    1. Michelle*

      Oh, and we all had to make notebooks with the basics of our jobs, vendors, etc., so others would at least have a starting point if someone had to be out for an extended period of time.

  83. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    Honestly, my advice is to know your rights, and which legal/government agencies protect them. Then know how to phrase things so you don’t become the thorn in someone’s paw. Sadly too many people I know don’t think reasonable accommodation should be a thing. Or know very little about the laws that protect them. And sadly this includes HR in some cases. (for me, my HR rep tried to tell me that I can’t refuse to do work in a room with a deep fryer in it, after my asthma got worse, even though working in it would cause me to pass out and possibly sustain serious injuries. When there were several coworkers who could easily do the job instead (and they have since then). This violated my provincial safety rights and Human rights).

    Being open about your health issues will help with some people, but not others. I’ve one coworker who doesn’t seem to care if it would inconvenience her, and has tried to ignore my health issues several times. I had a (now former) coworker throw away my masks “because she didn’t want to touch them” and a brand new inhaler (fell on the floor), and management refused to investigate who was tossing them out or do anything about it. Except to suggest I put them in the bathroom. (I pointed out that I need them available in emergency situations, and to clean things. The bathroom wasn’t an adequate solution. I just tried harder to put them in the one spot she wouldn’t toss them out from). That first coworker and another coworker complained to me about another coworker taking stress leave, when they both know I suffer from multiple mental health issues, and was supposed to take time off in a few weeks for surgery. (I got sick, so that date was moved to next month).

    On the other hand, my manager and one of the assistants will not require me to do tasks in the deep fryer room, beyond a few reasonable “out in less then 1 min” tasks. And while customers complain, no manager has objected to the mask I *have* to wear during forest fire (smoke) season, in order to walk and breath at the same time. Or for cleaning either. And most other coworkers understand that I have to be careful with what I do. In general my asthma is fine and I can go weeks without using my emergency inhaler, but some triggers leave me more sensitive to additional asthma attacks for hours or days afterwards. (like if I breath in cleaning supplies I’m effected for several days. Deep fryer fumes, only for that shift. But once my asthma attack from cold air or exercise is done, I get no increased sensitivity)

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Your coworker threw away your masks?? What the hell?

      I had a coworker do something similar with an expensive, multi-drug-course vaccine I had to take before overseas travel that had to be kept refrigerated. This was just one example of his all-around terribleness, that led to three quarters of the support staff quitting during his PROBATIONARY YEAR before someone addressed the problem, and only when they were staring down the barrel of multiple harassment complaints from several departments.

      It consistently amazes me how some managers will let a problem fester instead of just dealing with it. This guy a was a lowest-level budget tech and all but one of our support staff quit because of him before management finally realized there was a problem. It reflected REALLY poorly on our director in the end.

      1. Kathlynn*

        Yeah, because I forgot to put them away. She didn’t want to touch them, so she would toss them out, rather than putting them elsewhere. And it’s not like the company was is paying for them. I gave to go out and buy them on my own, at over $9/mask.

  84. A Teacher*

    TLDR: Be a good and empathetic coworker most of the time. Help your coworkers to understand that you don’t choose to have a chronic condition. Manage your symptoms as best you can. Help you coworkers understand that you can, at times, function even when you’re having pain/flare ups.

    As someone with a chronic medical condition, it is really hard to navigate. I come to work feeling less than my best A LOT. I think many of us do. You have to find a balance between not saying anything when you hurt–and I hurt most days–and not shutting out your coworkers when the pain or flare up or whatever is beyond acceptable. I think educating, at minimum some of my coworkers has helped. Yes, I can go for a run after work–I still hurt/have a low grade migraine. I know how to function with my symptoms and what my triggers are. No, I can’t stay home every time I don’t feel well–that would be a lot of time in bed. Yes, I can manage the symptoms and if I’m not responding quickly that’s probably why. I’ve learned to help my coworkers understand that I will do my very best to get them what they need but that there are just some days when I’m moving slower or not responding. As the chronically ill coworker, I’ve had to establish with coworkers that I DON’T choose my medical condition–I do what I can to manage the symptoms without making it their problem, but sometimes it is out of my control. I think by being a good coworker and good at my job most of the time, it gives me some leeway, I would imagine its the same for other people that are chronically ill. I’ve also learned to set boundaries with well meaning coworkers. I don’t need a non-medical person to tell me how to treat my condition. I have a fairly good grasp and if you are suggesting it, I’ve probably tried it.

  85. she was a fast machine*

    I honestly can’t say if this is the right way to do it (it probably isn’t having read AAM since then), but I was very, very upfront about what my illness was, what I’d tried, what hadn’t worked, what made it worse, etc. It didn’t hurt that it was visibly affecting me when I was at work (looking very run down, being lethargic, more forgetful than usual, etc.). My department is very close-knit and everyone is friendly and with it being mostly older women in the South, very maternal towards me being younger. People were sympathetic for the most part but I did have a couple of very rude coworkers who complained about me behind my back, despite me still managing my workload, that I was a “problem”.

    Even having said all that, it was a truly terrible year, and the six months it took to get FMLA was terrifying because I was so scared I would lose my job at any minute, and even after I got FMLA that fear didn’t go away. It’s only now mostly subsided, eight months after I got my diagnosis, treatment, and got off FMLA. I wouldn’t wish a chronic illness or sickness on anyone.

  86. Red*

    I have chronic health issues and work in a coverage-based job. What I do, to make life easier for my coworkers who will undoubtedly be asked to do my tasks on top of their own, is to make sure I leave everything neat and tidy at all times. I do not leave my desk without having everything ready so the next person can pick up wherever I left off with no trouble at all. Usually the next person is me, and it makes for a pleasant and efficient morning. Sometimes it’s not, and I like to think it’s much kinder to my coworkers than leaving them to wonder what needs to get done or what I was working on. I honestly think everyone should do this – what if you got hit by a bus or won the lottery? No way in hell am I going to call you on a beach in Aruba to ask you where you filed the thing or what you wanted to discuss in that meeting.

  87. Natalie*

    I collapsed at work last year and had to be ambulanced out. I ended up being in the hospital for the better part of three months and then at home for a month before I started back to work. That was mid-November and I’m still recovering–I have good days and bad days. I currently work from home 2-3 days a week and am in the office the remainder of the days (my preference is to be in the office). My team is geographically diverse, so it’s not a big deal where I am when I’m working.

    While I was out sick, my company was great. Different people on my team pitched in where they could, my manager found out how much stupid piddly-ass shit people expected me to do for them and gave me the go-ahead to stop doing it, my grandboss texted me to let me know that my job was to get better and not worry about work, and the only real problem was the company that manages our short term disability benefit trying to fuck me over financially and partially succeeding through their own incompetence.

    Before I got sick and now that I’m back, I make sure to hit all my deadlines and I’m at a point where I’m able to take on some interesting side projects, too. I try to be as transparent as possible with what’s going on with me health-wise with my manager and the people I work with directly, but the folks in the office are generally aware of what’s going on, too, since my sickness started so dramatically.

  88. stampysmom*

    Full disclosure worked for me. I didn’t need a lot of time off at first since I worked at home and my increasingly sore shoulder could be dealt with in a “hidden” way – heat/meds etc. Once I started down the road of getting diagnosed with bone cancer (chondrosarcoma if you are interested) in my upper left humerus, I had to take time off for MRIs, oncology appts etc. Since I knew surgery and short term disability (time off to recuperate) was looming, I just told everyone on my team the full plan. Most of us had worked together for 10 years and I wanted them to hear from me that I would be just fine. My manager had someone cover my work until I came back. I have some tiny accommodations (like a ear hook only headset for calls – I can’t lift my left arm up to place a full headband kind) but I’m 5 years all clear!
    I know many people are private and that’s cool, but in my case I controlled the flow of information vs people wondering what was going on and I received so, so, so much support at a time when I was pretty scared so it was well worth it to tell what was happening.

  89. Youth*

    For the last two years, my emotional and physical health have been horrible. My work has unlimited sick time, and I’ve used it liberally (especially the last six months).

    However, when my health started tanking, I’d worked there for two and a half years and had hardly ever called out before, so I had a solid reputation. Also, my projects span several weeks and I’m able to shift my daily tasks as needed and always complete my work. Still being lauded as a rock star even though I feel like a total flake.

  90. SenatorMeathooks*

    the chronically ill Janes of the world don’t owe an explanation to anyone – this is management’s problem, and they get paid to handle things such as short staffing issues. If your co-worker is chronically absent, it really doesn’t matter WHY, all that matters is that the interim problem be fixed by the company.

    1. Alice*

      When I was Jane, I didn’t owe anyone an explanation and I didn’t give it to them — but I did owe work-related information: am I working this week? How can you reach me? When should you get in touch with me versus this other person who’s talking on some of my duties temporarily?
      When you work in a team or matrix, it’s not the case that everything goes through a manager.

      1. SenatorMeathooks*

        I meant in a very general sense that staffing issues are the problem of management. I 100% agree that if you work on a team, regardless of your reason for absence, you need to be prepared to support them the best you can- by leaving the information needed or other resources for your team.

  91. Lily Rowan*

    After reading through this whole thread, I just have to say how sorry I am for everyone dealing with chronic illnesses in any situation, and then ESPECIALLY when there are so many crappy bosses and coworkers out there! Yikes.

  92. Anon Karen*

    I’ve been on both ends of this, where I was the ill coworker, and I have had colleagues who were ill. I’ve had both really positive experiences and a very negative experience with this issue.

    What made the positive experiences was the following approach:

    As much advance notice and communication about what the impact was going to be to the team. “Jane is going to be intermittently out for the next few weeks/months, her duties X and Y will be spread out over the team.” We’ll re-evaluate the workload when Jane is back to her normal schedule and feeling well enough. Oftentimes, sometimes other team members were stuck with Jane’s tasks for the foreseeable future BUT the dialog was open, and we shuffled easier/not time sensitive tasks back to Jane as she was feeling better.

    The negative experience was when there was no communication about a colleague of mine who was intermittently out. No one really knew when he was coming or going, and he often left time sensitive things open when he was out. He did have an unpredictable health condition he was dealing with, but I only found that out by asking him directly. I wish my manager had stated that he had a medical condition and that his absences would be intermittent. I was dependent on this coworker for coverage, and when he was out, I was often doing his job as well as mine.

    In addition, when this ill coworker was in the office, he was usually playing games or watching movies on his phone.

    1. IndoorCat*

      Wow. What kind of workplace doesn’t fire someone for straight-up watching movies at work??? I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, there have been way more dysfunctional workplace on this site, but good grief. Just…just gonna sit there and watch movies, huh?

      That… that’s just so much worse than the illness. That’s friggin obnoxious.

  93. B*

    I’m the chronically ill coworker. I’m lucky in the sense that I have a really compassionate boss and coworker, and a generous telecommuting policy. There are days when I push through it and work from home. I also don’t work a 9 to 5 job – my job requires some nights and weekends. However, I also make sure I get all my work done even if it means working later because of doctor’s appointments. I’ve gotten faster at getting things done. I’ve worked some weekends. When I’m on call, I try not to make doctor’s appointments, although this can be tough – so I trade off when I need to. So on the one hand I’m lucky because I work with caring, compassionate people but on the other hand I also really try to make sure I pull my own weight. That being said, I’m also $20,000 underpaid because I feel like I can’t go work elsewhere because of the benefits (medical benefits and also telecommuting and general flexibility).

    1. ArtsNerd*

      This is where I am. The medical benefits are, uh, “modest” and though I’m not wildly underpaid (for my industry), money is definitely tight. But the flexibility, PTO and general support of work/life balance is enough to keep me here for the long haul.

  94. Two Tin Cans and a String*

    I want to respect Allison’s request to not get stuck on the doom and gloom of it all, so I want to emphasize that it’s definitely not impossible to navigate. It’s just super duper unreasonably hard.

    My chronic illness is psychological in nature too, so that makes it a double whammy of awful. I’ve often found myself having panic attacks on the train to work, puking in the bathroom from sheer misery, crying where co-workers could see… Does that make me too ill to work that day?

    I think it depends on how visible you are. Being heard/seen crying or vomiting or screaming into a pillow isn’t just humiliating for you, it’s also REALLY upsetting to your coworkers and potentially the public. If I have days where I literally cannot stomp down the physical symptoms, I’m not just taking care of myself by calling in sick, I’m also being considerate to my coworkers by not, you know, writhing on the shared bathroom floor. (I think the “taking care of myself” bit should be enough of a reason, but let’s be real, it just isn’t). So if you need the extra mental justification for yourself, there you go: human beings hate seeing other human beings in pain and prefer not to. You’re doing them a kindness by not visibly suffering. It’s a shitty frame of mind, it’s not healthy, but in a work context it helps to reframe it that way and not kick yourself too much.

    Another facet is the resentment you can start feeling about your healthy coworkers. Their money and free time seems to be spent socializing with friends and family, taking vacations, watching movies and going to concerts while your money and “free” time is spent on medical appointments, recuperation, rehabilitation, therapy, just the most miserable bullshit. It’s hard to keep that resentment in check, and you should, because it’s nobody’s fault that they’re healthy and you’re not. But to then also hear on top of all that that actually, your disability/illness inconveniences them and makes them unkindly disposed towards you and lose respect for you… Yes, you’re going to have a bit of a meltdown. A bit of a rage. A bit of an urge to grab them by the scuff of the neck and drag them along for a month in the hospital-smelling bright white hellscape you call life. RESIST THAT URGE. Acknowledge the resentment you feel, but also try and get in touch with your empathy. Try and see it from their perspective. Try and remember that what you see on their social media feed and overhear in casual work conversations isn’t the whole of their lives either. (I’m only saying this in relation to coworkers though, the people you associate with through necessity rather than choice.)

    But also, don’t fall into the trap of acting contrite and regretful and ashamed all the time. It’s tempting. You want to show your coworkers that you understand that it’s a shared burden to some extent and that’s a noble and empathetic impulse. It’s also unsustainable. It feeds the resentment. Worse, it can make you look like a doormat to the people who decide on promotions and raises. It sucks that you’re ill, but it’s not a MORAL failing. Don’t act like it is.

    If you think you can get one sympathetic coworker, or even better, higher-up, to sympathize if not empathize, take that chance. It’s always good to have someone in your corner. If you have the option, if you have the social capital, if your boss is reasonable, I would try and help them understand what is going on (beyond reasonable accommodation requests). If not for you, then maybe for the people who come after you.

    Some people will never understand what having a chronic condition entails and don’t care to know. Some people will always describe your symptoms as “antics”. But consistent complaints about your illness inconveniencing them CAN (not always, it depends, but CAN) constitute a hostile work environment if it’s persistent and detrimental enough. It really depends on the specifics, whether your illness is protected under the ADA and so forth, and also on your office culture and HR. But do know your rights and keep them in your back pocket. (Hey, more bullshit demands on your “free” time!) There comes a point where snark about your illness and its symptoms moves beyond frustrating ignorance and into bullying/harassment. Again, depending on the situation, it’s something you can mention during the discussion about possible accommodations, which should come up at some point during the hiring process if you’re chronically ill. I think it’s fair to ask how a company has dealt or plans to deal with negativity and hostility around non-protected illnesses and disabilities. If the person you’re talking to seems flabbergasted or annoyed at a question like that, that tells you something.

    I’ve also gotten a lot of mileage out of the phrase “being chronically ill is actually much worse for me than it is for you” but that sort of snark wouldn’t fly in most places. Still, it has the benefit of being true. Deploy at your discretion.

  95. Sara without an H*

    On reading the comments on this thread, it seems clear that how workplaces respond to staff with chronic illnesses is yet another indicator of health or toxicity in the culture.

    For co-workers, I think that, instead of resenting “Jane” when her absences create extra work, take it up with management. Not “Jane is off too much,” but “Since Jane’s schedule has changed, we’re having trouble getting the double-hull teapot reports when we need them to meet deadlines. Is there another way we can get this data?” Don’t blame “Jane,” but make it clear to management that they need to step up.

    In my own case, I briefed the HR director ASAP, then my own boss, and my direct reports. My boss and I agreed on what things could be postponed, and I got much better at delegating work to my staff. I told friends, then others on an as-needed basis. Of course, once chemo was underway and I started wearing headwraps, it became kind of obvious.

    One advantage I had was working for a university with a strong concentration in health sciences. So I was largely spared harassment from people wanting to tell me that I should think happy thoughts and eat eye of newt for breakfast and it would all go away.

  96. GreenDoor*

    I haven’t seen it mentioned, but for me, a THANK YOU from the chronically absent coworker would actually go a long way. I don’t need to know why you’re chronically ill/absent but when you come in the next day and say “Thanks a lot for covering for me. I know you probably got called at the last minute and I really appreciate you stepping in” that would do a lot to dissolve any resentment I might be feeling. You can hold up the stop sign if I ask what’s up and you don’t want to get into it. But courtesy goes a long way in disarming people.

    I have a coworker who is chronically absent, not for illness, but due to the demands of a second job. Many times others in our small office have had to pick up her slack. She knows it, but says nothing to thank or acknowledge others who cover for her. You’d better believe there’s resentment.

    1. Anon for this one*

      This!! I worked in an office for several years with two chronically ill coworkers who we were constantly covering for. Never once did either of them thank us or offer us help when we needed it. Resentment grew.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        For me I don’t need a ton of thanks, either. Just once in a while and it’s really nice after a super tiring day or getting through a major hassle of a task.
        When my husband got sick, he thanked me all the time. I don’t think it’s the best idea, just my opinion. I explained to him that thanks comes in all different kinds of packages. For example, I made him a protein drink and he finished it. I was glad I made the drink because he drank it all. That to me is the same as saying thanks.

        There’s a work equivalent here. I redo something to accommodate someone with low vision. I don’t mind, it’s not a big deal. But once in a great while, I love hearing, “Oh this is so much better, I can use this.” That makes me feel like it was really worth the effort. Notice the word “thanks” is no where in that sentence. Thanks can be just an expression of “hey this is helpful/ this means something to me”.

  97. Art3mis*

    Luckily for me at the time if I wasn’t there it didn’t affect my coworkers. I let the ones I knew well or sat near know what was going on. My manager was very kind and supportive. I tried to schedule appointments outside of work as much as possible. Taking a lot of time off wasn’t an option the first time around. The second time around I took FMLA because I was in too much pain. I haven’t read through all the comments, so maybe it’s been mentioned, but you can take intermittent FMLA if you qualify. Meaning you do not have to take FMLA in one chunk. You can take it as a day here or there or even a few hours if you need to. Just need to get it approved and go through all the regular channels.

  98. Hapless Bureaucrat*

    I have a chronic health condition that is, for the most part, invisible. It’s not stigmatized, but there are people who believe it isn’t “real.” I’m mostly controlled, but have episodes where the condition becomes uncontrolled. My episodes can be short or long, mild enough to work through with a mobility aid or so severe I can’t be upright. I also supervise people with chronic health conditions.

    The biggest key, to me, is employer and job selection. The fact that I’m in the public sector, in an area with good benefits and decent policies around performance management, disabilities, and FMLA, helps a lot. I seek out positions that aren’t going to be highly stressful, or require me to consistently do tasks that my condition would prevent (like driving). I also value my workplace culture a lot– my current workplace works hard to encourage work/life balance and safety. That shows in the attitude they take towards my needs.

    The next biggest factor is communication. I don’t think there’s any one right way to do this– it depends a lot on personal comfort level and how safe I feel sharing information with my employer. (Right now, that’s very safe. That hasn’t always been the case.) I’ve chosen to err on the side of openness, and disclosed early to my boss and in my first meeting with my team. It does mean I deal with Well-Meaning People Trying to Help. And Sharing Articles. That gets exhausting. But it also means there’s no mystery to them when I’m either moving slowly at work, or am out. I can just say “having an episode, heading home.” When I was having a very unstable period and had to be out way more than usual, I was able to just say that and have people understand. When I’m out I let people know what communication methods I’ll be checking (I seldom work from home, but will often check email. Otherwise, people text me). The other bonus, for me, of being open was that by now my team has educated others for me. Very few people ask anymore when I have my mobility aid. My boss runs interference for me if someone needs me urgently and I’m not there.

    Being a supervisor has actually helped me a lot, in that I’ve been able to set up team data expectations and work coverage both so that I have back-up for my duties, and so that everyone on my team does. We’re still working on making sure our processes are set up so that anyone can pick up slack if needed, but we’re staffed at a level that doing so doesn’t result in overtime. It helped a lot during flu season this year….

    I used to try to hide my episodes a lot more, both because of the culture of past workplaces and, I think, out of frustration that my body wouldn’t do what I thought it should do. I had so much anxiety around it, that I think it made living with the condition a lot worse. But I’m also lucky– I think I’d probably be a lot less transparent if there were more stigma around my condition.

  99. Mallow*

    I once had a colleague who was hired and then immediately went on leave (this was a part time job with no benefits, so she didn’t sign on for insurance). Our managers never addressed it, they just kept scheduling the rest of us, saying we needed to cover for our teammate week in and week out with no talk of long term coverage, calling us to cover last minute shifts and berating us if we pushed back, just terrible management of the entire process. Eventually we learned through office gossip that our colleague had a serious health condition and could have died. In this situation, I think it would’ve been appropriate and preferable for management to say something about how our colleague was going to be out for an extended period of time and our flexibility and understanding would be appreciated. No mention of private information required! But instead management chose to blame us for having bad attitudes about a colleague who we perceived as a slacker (but whom we gladly would’ve stepped up for had we even been told she would be gone!).

  100. GS*

    My issues can lead to erratic time in the office but I can push the edges of it: when I’m out is somewhat in my control and I can work from home when I can’t come in generally. My boss is a very face-to-face and not completely organized person. My workload can also be huge and priorities shifting. I’m off in my own little department with lots of autonomy and some unique skills.

    No matter what else is happening I send an email to my boss once a week. It has four headers full of bullet points: things I did last week, things I’m going to prioritize this week, things on the backburner, and things I need from my boss this week. It’s been enormously helpful to keeping us on the same page about what I’ll be doing and what will be delegated or just left to die. It’s had the side benefit of making both my boss and I think of me as a rockstar: he gets a list of accomplishments every week, so it’s clear I’m doing many useful things when otherwise I’d be feeling overwhelmed by what I wasn’t doing, and by fewer butt-in-seat hours than my coworkers.

    1. GS*

      I will cc coworkers on this email when it concerns them, so they have context, but I suppose my answer is less about talking with coworkers than it is with working well with my boss (who shares my unique skillset and is the one who covers for me) and managing workload so no one has to step in last minute. I am not “out” to coworkers or boss about my issues.

    2. Manders*

      Yes, I think this is a great strategy! I really encourage everyone who’s worried about having an irregular schedule to do this (if you do project-based work–it may not be effective for the kind of job where you really must be available at a front desk or answering a phone).

  101. High School Teacher*

    I have a very high risk of breast cancer and have to have multiple screenings, a lumpectomy, biospies, etc. This means I will be out of work and teaching isn’t a job where you can “take an hour or two.” We get to either be out the entire day or half a day. And half day is usually useless because school half a day is NOT a doctor’s office half a day. So, I’m usually taking a full day.

    Anyway, I straight up told my principal that I would be absent a lot this year due to this situation. She was very understanding. However, she did not communicate that to one of her very eager, very young, very annoying assistant principals who is in charge of subs. I was called into said assistant principal’s office asking why I had taken off three Fridays in a row. I explained that one for the marker placement, one was for the lumpectomy, and one for the follow up.
    This idiot said, “can’t you do that all on one day? or not on a Friday we have an away football game and we’re short subs?” I told her I could’ve done the lumpectomy in the middle of the week and been out three days straight, plus the other two which had to be a week prior and a week later. She tried to write me up because “taking three Fridays off in a row during football season is not allowed since so many of the coaches are out.”
    I took her butt right to the principal’s office and told my principal to get the little darling in line or I was going to HR. Problem solved. I’m too old to put up with 20-something assistant principals who want to over-reach their authority. Also, since when do I care how many football coaches are out? Principal was also not happy to hear that Idiot AP was using that a measure of people being out.

    My coworkers said nothing. My supervising AP (not Idiot AP Above) was very supportive. My coworkers are fine. My students asked me what was up (because I’m never out) and I told them. I can say that I am now getting prayers from a variety of faiths and different languages and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

  102. Chronic Anon*

    It is always true in disability justice that what we need to be successful is actually what all humans need to be successful… it’s just more obvious for us, and the lack of it is more harmful.

    What folks with chronic illnesses need to thrive at work is: an understanding of our abilities and limitations; clarity about our responsibilities and flexibility about how to achieve them; and a culture that see us as full humans rather than worker robots.

    So as a person with a chronic illness, what of this is under your control/what actions can you take?

    1) Get clear with yourself about your abilities and limitations, and make choices that honestly reflect those. Remember — everyone has limitations, including limitations that get in the way of what we most wish for. Irrespective of my health, I cannot be a jockey — I’m just too tall. And my health means that I can’t be, say, a lawyer at a BigLaw firm. I just can’t work 70+ hours a week.

    2) Have direct conversations (if it’s safe) with your manager about the responsibilities and goals for your position. Negotiate them, if it’s possible. Have a hard conversation with yourself about whether the role is a good fit if the goals and responsibilities don’t match up with your abilities.

    3) Advocate for humane treatment of all employees, especially those with less power than you (whether that’s folks who are more junior at your own organization, or folks in the service sector or other exploited workers). We can’t change the culture on our own, and it sure won’t change for us, but we can do it together.

  103. Midlife Tattoos*

    I am currently on intermittent FMLA for a chronic condition. Because the word got back to me that people were feeling resentful or confused why I’m out at least 1-2 per month, I finally told my team about the FMLA so they had context. I didn’t say what the FMLA time is for, though.

  104. Alanna*

    Chronically ill co-worker here! I have a bunch of stuff going on, but the one that affects my work the most is chronic migraines. I work remotely as a web developer, and the first job I had after being diagnosed was a small company, so I went for the tactic of complete honesty and full disclosure – I can’t remember _when_ I told my bosses and coworkers, but when I did, I was totally transparent about it. I let them know when it was bad and what my triggers are (rain is a huge one). I let them know when i was trying a new treatment or having a a bad time. We had a yearly company retreat where everyone does a lightning talk on a misc subject, and I did one on migraines the first year, so there was no confusion about migraines being just a headache – it went over really well! We were a really close knit group, so this isn’t going to work for everyone, of course, I’m just sharing my story.

    Also, with working remotely comes flexible hours. This wasn’t always perfect, but I was able to work a LOT more effectively than if I had an office job. They also knew when i worked through horrible migraines, like the morning of a conference when it was pouring rain, I woke up with my head in pieces, took every medication I had to no avail, and showed up to the session I was about to prevent with sunglasses – they all said “oh no!” and immediately knew I was in bad shape. But I took my sunglasses off, walked up on stage, and gave my presentation, and they were impressed. Then I went back to my hotel and slept for the rest of the day. If there was ever any resentment from my coworkers, I never caught wind of it – I did my work and kept up. My bosses weren’t always thrilled and we had some communications issues sometimes, but I navigated as best I could.

    I’m currently interviewing for a new position, and I haven’t decided how I’ll approach it here. It’s a larger company, and while I know some of the folks, I don’t know the ones who’d be in my department. I think I’ll play it by ear and see how it goes. Good news is with a much larger company FMLA will be on the table!

  105. Sick Civil Servant*

    I was off on disability twice (2 years each time). At the end of my second round of disability, I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to return to work and took medical retirement. As a federal employee, I was lucky to have a good health plan. As a senior analyst, I was able to work on projects that I could do even when my head was pounding. I intentionally took a job for which I was overqualified so I wasn’t stressed out at work. My boss was an idiot and didn’t believe my migraines were real. He sent me for a medical assessment because he claimed that my triggers “changed on a regular basis.” The medical report supported me. After my cubicle neighbours complained to their boss that my constant vomiting in the bathroom made them uncomfortable (they asked if that was ok first!), I was able to work at home all the time. That helped a lot but I was in a car accident that worsened my condition & I just couldn’t hold down any job… My coworkers were sympathetic because they knew I suffered from migraines and I was able to get my work down. Being chronically ill sucks. But it’s hard on coworkers if they keep getting your work dumped on them.

  106. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

    I work for a for a Fortune 500 with a desk job. I was recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have been completely open with the fact that I have cancer and I will have to take multiple days off for additional diagnosis, biopsies, surgeries, etc. Since the month I disclosed, work has been accommodating my absences which have been multiple times a week. I am lucky to have an understanding manager and team with a condition that is commonly understood and easily searchable on the internet. I do not know if full disclosure was the right thing to do, but I wanted to fully disclose to avoid any misunderstandings or rumors about my absences. Only time will tell if this was the right thing to do. Also luckily(?) I am young, so if things go badly with my reputation at work, I should be able to move to another company.

  107. Perpal*

    — I’m not chronically sick myself and have not had a chronically ill coworker, but I am in an area that generally we have to arrange our own coverage for everything; vacations, conferences, etc. What makes it easier is I am part of a group and we are all pretty great about covering each other whenever needed, so no one gets resentful. Also, when we do have to cover it is usually fairly light.

    I think a lot depends on the probable frequency of coverage; I know it can be extremely unpredictable but if say, usually once a day a month or less is missed on average, then probably just trying to cover-back other coworkers will even out.

    If historically coverage is needed more frequently then that, and/or covering back is not realistically doable, then management needs to come up with a better solution then “coworkers can cover all the time any time!” Again, I know it’s unpredictable but there should be some sort of system where if someone is needs more than [some reasonable threshold of coverage, maybe once a week for the last month, or more than once a month for the last 3 months, etc) where backup kicks in. Maybe backup is paying coworkers extra for emergency shifts, or hiring a temp, or a new team member if there’s enough work to justify it, etc. Yes sometimes coworkers might be more sympathetic if they know what’s going on; or maybe they won’t be. Sympathy should not be a panacea for lack of adequate coverage.

  108. Sedna*

    Hello chronically ill buddies! I have a few physical and mental health issues that have impacted my work career. Some of what’s been helpful is specific to my organization; I work for a very large employer in the US with multiple benefits, excellent insurance, sick leave separate from PTO, and multiple methods of recourse if you disagree with your manager or need help in administering sick leave. There are some things I do that should apply pretty broadly though.
    – You don’t have to disclose exactly what your conditions are. If you can trust your manager to handle it well and respect your wishes about confidentiality, I’d personally recommend disclosing at least some of what you’re dealing with to them so they have a better understanding of what’s happening. This definitely depends on the manager though.
    – Regardless of how you handle disclosure, be upfront with your manager about what you’ll need or want to deal with your health issues.
    – Work with management and coworkers to have a plan on what to do when you’re out (related: where possible I /strongly/ recommend having cross-training and backups for all big or time sensitive tasks). This (imo) will go over much better if you can give your manager details and suggestions about major tasks, relevant due dates, etc. etc. You’re the expert on your job; you can make your manager’s life easier & win some goodwill from them if you try to be proactive about what needs to happen when you’re not there.
    – See if more flexible work options are feasible (telework, work from home, etc), especially if they’d help you better manage your illness
    – It is worthwhile for me, at least, to remember that almost everyone you work with will need to take time off at some point for medical reasons – either their own or for a member of their family. Try to support folks around you when they need time off; they’re likely to return the favor.

  109. Happy Pineapple*

    I work full-time and also have chronic inflammatory bowel disease. For those unfamiliar with it, it essentially feels like a stomach flu mixed with food poisoning plus stabbing or aching abdominal pain, and symptoms can arise with as little as 60 seconds warning. I never know when it will hit or how long it will last, so there have been many times where I’ve needed to take time off, leave work early, or disappear for an hour in the bathroom. I bring up these details because, as a contestant for one of the least sexy illnesses on earth, it’s not a pleasant one to disclose to employers and coworkers. My strategy for dealing with illness and the office is threefold (and of course is specific to my particular needs):

    First, I let those that I’m working with know that I “chronic, but not dangerous, medical condition” that will occasionally impact when I’m in the office. I keep the explanation vague and discreet for my own comfort while still giving them a heads up before it becomes an issue. I find that setting expectations means less curiosity and annoyance later.
    Second, I prepare myself as much as possible to deal with symptoms should they arise. I keep several kinds of emergency medications with me at all times the reduce the chance of me needing to leave work entirely if I get sick. I also am meticulously organized and proactive with my work and deadlines, so if I have to take time off almost none of my work will fall to my coworkers. I have remote access to all my files to work from home, know exactly where things are located if a coworker has a question about finding something, and finish everything ahead of schedule so that deadlines aren’t missed due being sick at crunch time.
    Third, I talk as little about my illness as possible, no matter how badly I feel. I don’t draw attention to it, I don’t incite drama or dig for sympathy, and I don’t use it as an excuse unless I seriously need to. I don’t want my identity at work to be “the sick person”. I much prefer being thought of as dependable and always ahead of schedule so that my absences don’t impact others.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think the rise of technology that enables people to work remotely in (not all) but a lot of cases must be such godsend. It’s probably the best option for a lot of people who have chronic conditions that warrant not coming into the office, but are still functional a most of the time. And I think it works pretty well as long as the person is available by phone and email and is able to communicate effectively and remain productive as they can work flexibly as they need to.
      Based on some of the posts on AAM, the problems arise when the chronically ill whose diseases progress to a point where they no longer can manage do even that, but can’t seem to accept they should probably take a leave and/or maybe retire. I’m thinking about the lady who had cancer, it was ongoing for a long period, and several people in the office were waiting for days to get answers because the woman wouldn’t delegate anything or give them authority to make decisions without her input.

      1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

        “I think the rise of technology that enables people to work remotely in (not all) but a lot of cases must be such godsend.”

        It so is! But those jobs are so few and far between, you’ve got to throw yourself into a goddamn thunderdome just to get a shot at them. And a lot of (#notall) chronically ill people don’t have the most stellar track record, and those jobs tend to go to healthy star performers, who get is as a perk and not a necessity. Add to that a culture where a lot of managers have a butts-in-seats mentality to work and they become a lot less viable. I’ve been trying to get one of these mythical work-from-home jobs for eight years now with no luck. But in those eight years I’ve hauled my sick ass to a lot of places in rush hour traffic because for some reason I have to sit in a specific room at a specific computer to do a job I could do from my kitchen table. Agoraphobia will really make you realize how unnecessary a lot of commuting really is.

        “can’t seem to accept they should probably take a leave and/or maybe retire”

        Yeah but like… rent? Groceries? Extortionate medical bills? Health insurance? Kids’ college fund? Illnesses not covered by the ADA? I’d freaking love to take leave/retire, but I don’t think my landlord would be very sympathetic if I told her I’d decided to retire from paying rent.

        1. Happy Pineapple*

          I am incredibly lucky that remote work is an option, especially given that my position is not high level. I was, and still am to some degree, terrified of becoming that person who is a burden to the workplace and absolutely should take leave, but can’t afford it. Before I found any effective medical treatment there were absolutely days when I wondered if I could be a functioning member of society. My illness doesn’t qualify for disability and my health insurance is through my workplace, so if I wasn’t able to work it not only would mean losing my paycheck but also the ability to access my medications (one of which, before insurance, costs more than my annual salary). [Trigger warning] So at 25 years old I found myself researching euthanasia options because to me that seemed like the only backup plan if my illness cost me my career.

          I really don’t have an answer or any advice for other people who are reaching that point. I just as so sorry for anyone who has felt that kind of desperation, and I wish that staying alive and functioning wasn’t so expensive.

          1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

            It’s starting to look like I might have to give up my home, family, business and friends in the US, things I have built through blood, sweat and tears, things I love dearly, to move back to Europe. Because being ill and unable to work is just not something this country is prepared to deal with at all.

            Just… imagine that though. Semi-voluntarily discarding EVERYTHING you hold dear in life because of an illness. Make that choice right now: everything that makes up your life, good and bad, OR your health. One or the other. Staying home will literally kill you slowly and painfully, but you get to have your friends and family and home while you’re still alive and functioning. Going away means you lose everything but the clothes on you back and a suitcase, but you can get the treatment you need to live. I HAVE to make that choice, and it’s irreversible. No going back. So… what is “life”? Is it an amount of years, or is the what you fill those years with? At some point I’m going to have to choose one or the other. I wouldn’t wish that choice on anyone. And it shouldn’t have to be a choice. This country can easily keep it’s citizens alive and happy and productive, but it chooses not to. That’s the hardest part. Knowing that all this pain is entirely optional.

            HP, this is why I get so upset and demoralized when people chime in with “but don’t you know your illness is a burden on everyone!” Yeah, we know. You and I felt so useless before we even turned 30 that we genuinely considered euthanasia just to rid the world of the burden we’re told we impose. Well-meaning people have been assured that systems are in place to protect us, and they genuinely believe that, so there’s no reason for them to go snooping and find out that hey, a lot of people are suffering and dying for no reason at all!

            1. Happy Pineapple*

              I am so, so sorry that you are going through all of this. I wish this country, and many other countries, would do better by its people, citizens or not. I actually had a similar but reversed experience: I built my life in Europe and then was forced to give it all up and move back to the US (but for immigration issues, not health ones). It was so incredibly painful to seemingly throw away a life I desperately wanted to keep, but in some ways I am lucky that decision was out of my hands because it was legally forced. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to do that by “choice” when the other option allowing my health to waste away.

  110. hankyPanky*

    I’m chronically ill with three plus autoimmune conditions. I see a lot of comments here saying that lots of communication is a good thing, that people will generally understand etc. I’m genuinely happy for those who have found places that are understanding, but I think it is a sweeping generality to advise people to be so open.

    I’ve learned the hard way that it is best to NOT identify what is going on if at all humanly possible until you are basically forced to do so. What I generally find to happen is that people automatically see you as incapable and/ or a slacker when they know why you are ill. When people do not know why I am ill then they might be annoyed I take a sick day and – guess what – ALSO think I’m an incapable slacker. Literally cannot win.

    Here is what has worked for me:

    1. Work ridiculously hard the first year on the job. I’m not saying I didn’t take sick days or vacation. I’m saying I wowed the bosses with my productivity DESPITE feeling like death warmed over. Once I established I was freaking awesome (which I knew, but you have to educate people, lol) then, and only then, after MUCH TRUST was established did I introduce the concept that I struggled with XYZ. No details, just passing comment. And I continued to be a hard worker after those passing comments.

    2. Change my personal life around so I rest as much as possible. We are talking grocery delivery, maid service, a really loving and kind husband who took over all cooking, school runs for the kids etc.

    3. Vowing not to call in sick on days of low coverage unless I would make someone else sick or it was an extreme circumstance. Also vowing not to even have the appearance of extending a weekend on a regular basis. This has been a huge sacrifice to me since the end/ beginning of the work week are the hardest days. I also volunteered, when well, to cover anyone’s shift that I could.

    4. Seeking out positions that allow me to dictate my schedule and allow me to schedule doctor appointments on my off shifts. I work Tuesday – Saturday and late on Thursdays. So I have all day Monday for my many Dr appts and Thursday mornings. I know this is not an option for everyone and I am blessed to have the flexibility.

    I have the fortune to head a department (all that killing myself while sick paid off) and as such have worked hard to set a culture of acceptance around family / personal illnesses. We are open with each other, but we also trust each other. Everyone in my department actually has something personally challenging. Yet in this atmosphere of acceptance we have still managed to hit/ exceed all our metrics despite covering for each other. No one complains because we know from experience we are all there for each other and basically take turns.

    But even though I set this tone in my department, I have still experienced shocking levels of coldness and rudeness from my bosses relating to anyone being ill. So I know when / if the time comes for me to speak to them about accommodations you best believe I will loop in HR, come with educational materials about my illnesses, notes from my doctors and accommodation suggestions. I will bring a list of all my accomplishments from the past years DESPITE my illness. And I will make sure that they know that I know my rights to a discrimination free workplace.

    I wish I could be one of those people above who say they shared and people were kind. But the reality is that people are people and many of them unintentionally / intentionally suck. Being in good health is a privilege and realistically everyone have a major crisis at some point. So instead of getting all judgey or put out that your coworker is struggling and you aren’t included in all the juicy details maybe think of how you would want to be treated if you had MS, Arthritis, Cancer etc. Karma people, karma.

    1. EDS Here*

      I can identify with totally killing it in the first years and getting to the point where my higher ups know that I will get things done and go above and beyond when I can.

  111. Constantly Sick Coworker*

    I am absolutely that coworker, and it’s constantly on my mind when I take yet another day off because of a migraine, or have an emergency that makes me leave earlier. In the last month I’ve had 2 days off sick.

    But in my case at least, I’ve chosen to be fairly open with my manager that health issues are something I struggle with. And I’m given a lot of leniency because I do keep my work up. Doesn’t mean my absences don’t impact my team, but that’s just how work works if someone is out. I try and keep disruption to a minimum.

    I also work extra on the days I’m able to, and I firmly believe it all evens out, even if I’ve taken more than the 10 sick days (yes, I have a generous employer) I get a year.

    1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      It makes me really sad that missing 2 days of work of month is seen as “excessive”. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me at all.

  112. RA Warrior*

    First time posting, but longtime reader! I am the chronically ill coworker and let me tell you, it’s hard. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, diagnosed at 31 and about 6 months into my new job (I’ve now been there 3 years). At first, I kept it pretty quiet except to my boss. I was clear and honest with her and it saved me. Not only has she been there for me every step of my diagnoses but she is my biggest champion at work. I am incredibly lucky in that regard.

    Only the most essential people in my office know and I prefer to keep it that way. I’m not embarrassed by it all, in fact, I am very proud of the fact that I can still work and function like an almost human being most days! However, it does sometimes affect my work. Some days I can’t type very well (the RA is in my hands) or mentally function very well (brain fog is a very real thing). For me, I just keep the lines of communication open to the very essential people and it honestly hasn’t been an issue. When I do move, I will definitely be honest with my new boss (only when I’m hired) and keep them in the loop if tasks become too hard or I need some adjustments.

    For me, communication has been the best. Also taking care of myself has helped too. Eating right and sleeping as much as possible are the keys for me. Everyone is different, but taking care of yourself should be priority number one and if you have a job that doesn’t get that, then it’s time to move on.

  113. Chronic Illness Sufferer*

    I have multiple chronic illnesses that will be with me for life. I’ve always been open about my health struggles because my conditions are not well known and i like to be able to bring awareness to these conditions. They are also mostly invisible. I use disability parking and have some accommodations, but I look fine. Its a fine line being open about it. With my last employer, they used their knowledge of my condition to discriminate against me and eventually terminate employment, forcing me to get the EEOC involved.

    My current role in pretty independent. If I am out, no one else suffers. My coworkers babysit my work, but don’t have to do a ton. MY numbers will suffer, but thats on me. I think a position where others are not forced to shoulder the burden is ideal for someone with a chronic illness.

    I would give anything to be cured, but I never will be. I’ve spent so much time, money, energy trying to have some semblance of a quality of life. I want and need to work. I love what I do and would rather be in the office than dealing with health issues. I understand the frustration that people have with perpetually ill coworkers, but please understand that it is miserable for us too.

  114. SKH*

    Honestly? It’s none of my coworkers’ business why I’m out sick or taking medical leave (which I happen to be doing right now). I’ve often thought things would be so much easier if I was just very open about what was going on, because then people would understand, but I shouldn’t have to lay bare all of my pain just to be treated with dignity at work. Anyone who’s behaving like this, ESPECIALLY when you know they’re using sick days (not just flaking without an explanation), is probably struggling a lot and you wouldn’t want to trade places with them just for whatever “leniency” (i.e. reasonable accommodations!) they seem to be receiving. On that note, employers really should educate employees about the ADA – I wish this was included with mandatory training about sexual assault, ethics and compliance, etc.

    Anyways, if you are annoyed by a coworker like this, it’s very likely that they are even more annoyed with themselves, even if they shouldn’t be (illness is illness, after all). You can let their manager know if it’s affecting your work, but if it’s just something you’re observing from afar, I think you should let it go. I’ve been in the situation of my illness affecting my work while I was in an assistant role that already involved a much heavier workload than other equivalent roles in our department, making it unmanageable with OR without an extenuating medical condition/disability. I had been in the same role for two years and clearly established myself as an efficient and excellent employee, but as the workload continued to increase and my line management changed hands multiple times due to my past managers leaving for new jobs, the memory of my record only remained with certain lower-level people on our team (non-managers) who were aware of my reputation and the fact that my role was overburdened already. But I would have been so much better off if my newer managers were more understanding and didn’t gaslight me about the amount of work I was doing during this time. Having gone through all of this now, if I ever see a coworker struggling or coming in late a lot, I am inclined to assume the best about it, because I know what it’s like to be on the other side of that. We all benefit from more generous treatment.

  115. B'Elanna*

    I work with someone chronically ill. Biggest suggestion I have is… if your boss offers you accommodations, please please consider taking it.
    The person I work with has refused accommodations (basically a change in when their work day begins). Why? I have no idea, but it’s frustrating that they refuse because it seems like it would help both them and the team. From what I know, I think it’s less about it not being helpful, and more about them feeling uncomfortable accepting help.

    1. Tarra*

      So you have no idea why, but you came on here to complain anyway. Sometimes people are offered accommodations that won’t work.

      I wish Alison would remove the comments that aren’t from people who are actually in the relevant group.

  116. EDS Here*

    Chronic pain in joints since my teens. Diagnosed in my twenties. Mobility issues range from totally unable to walk to walking with a cuff crutch to walking with a cane to walking without within certain boundaries. Chronic pain about a 4 daily with meds. Bad days- 10 + take to my bed like a Victorian heiress. Also migraines and asthma.

    Good days /bad days. In my fifties now. I do not share specifics of my condition but I may say- having a bad day.

    Work- negotiated work from home days even though the general policy is “no work from home days” If there is resentment, I have not heard it. My offices are scent free.

    Majority of my work is independent and can be done anywhere.
    Keep my staff and supervisor informed, where I will be, when. Try to schedule doctors, PT etc at end of day or before work.

    Accommodations- couch in my office, standing desk, ergonomic keyboard-track ball mouse. Pay extra for reserved aisle seat when I travel. Business class for over 5 hours in the air.

    Good days- no visible disability. Above average employee. I do not have boundaries (like 9 to 5 or not working on weekends) as I don’t know when things will go south.
    Bad days- pace myself. Try not to make important decisions. Push anything none essential or deadline driven.

  117. Saielna*

    I’ve been the chronically ill coworker before. I kind of still am. I have Crohn’s disease, so there were days I had to stay home because I wasn’t off the toilet for more than twenty minutes at a time. And, Crohn’s also depresses my immune system, so I got sick far more often. A simple head cold for everyone else would lay me out for between two and three weeks, barely able to move. In addition to all of that, I’ve got some BAD depression that has required a fair share of mental health days.

    I’m lucky in that I work in IT, so a good portion of the job would be do-able remotely typically. But, I still lost a few jobs for excessive sick days. I wasn’t telling anyone what was going on (on my team or my managers) besides “I’m sick today and can’t make it in; can I work remotely or should I stay off?” In retrospect, I should have been much more upfront with at least HR and management.

    What changed that for me was when I got an amazing dream job. I had a flare up right before I was due to start, and I was terrified the cycle from before would repeat. So, I mustered my courage, had my doctor write a note advising that I had a specific medical condition that would cause a weakened immune system and GI issues as a result, and that while it is being treated, some sick days are just to be expected.

    And then I went and talked to my boss, Andy. I told him “I love this job already. I don’t want to lose it by not being upfront. I have a medical condition that sometimes makes it hard for me to leave the house, but I could work remotely on most of those days. I have a doctor’s note listing common symptoms that I suffer from. Can we put this on file?”

    And Andy, the best boss I have ever had, replied, “of course. Thank you for bringing this up. Let’s talk about some accommodations you might need with HR.”

    I ended up with a secondary workstation at home and a list of tasks (updating inventory lists, migrating and verifying old but necessary files, user technical writing and guides) I could work on from home when I was ill. When Andy introduced me to the team, with my permission he shared that I get sick a little more frequently, and that I’d be handling some backlogged items when I was too sick to come in.

    Best four years of my career. New people were clued in as they came on board (tho that was only 3 people on a team of 15, which I also think speaks to Andy’s managerial skills), I was able to care for myself and my health without endangering my job, and I got to learn how to really manage a team.

    So, my advice …
    1. Be upfront. You don’t have to be specific but if you know you use a lot of sick time for valid reasons, give the boss a general notice about it.
    2. Have some ideas! When you know your job, you know what you could possibly do while sick enough to stay home but well enough to work a few hours (maybe there’s remote work, maybe it’s cleaning up client or customer lists, etc).
    3. Thank the people who step in for you. When I had days where I just couldn’t work at all, my colleagues would help cover my open tasks (same as I did for them). I always made sure to say thank you, and acknowledge the effort they put forth.
    4. Don’t be afraid to explore accommodations, both those legally required and that your company might be willing to work on. It might not be applicable in all jobs, but it’s possible there’s something that can be done to help. Remember – they decided to hire you, which means you have skills and talents they want. Don’t be cocky, but you’re also not Oliver Twist, begging for more food.
    5. Don’t mention that you’re sick all the time to everyone. It starts to sound like a pity party and it also invites inquiries into your health – both of which are crazy awkward.

    A final few notes …
    1. This is based on the assumption that you’re an overall good/above average employee. If you’re subpar in general, it’s much harder to get any wiggle room.
    2. If you do get wiggle room … Make sure when you use your sick days, you’re using them when you really need to – not to grab an extra day for travel or sleep after a long weekend.
    3. I mentioned working remotely. Only work if you’re genuinely okay to work. For example, on true flare up days, I would be in too much pain to work. But sometimes it was just GI issues, so being at home with my own restroom made it feasible for me to work.

  118. Temporarily Anonymous*

    Background: I have four chronic health conditions with intermittent symptoms (genetic, seasonal, environmental, and hormonal factors at play in different ways). Three of these are pain related conditions. One is a mental health issue. Three are also conditions that tend to be discriminated against or that people don’t think are really a problem (yay). Due to limited treatments available and my body being too damned stubborn about letting meds work on it, I usually end up using more than my allotted sick leave every year. If I have a month without a sick day, that is a good month. Two is very good. Three months in a row is highly unlikely.

    What has not worked for me: Telling my bosses about my health conditions but not providing a doctor’s note. Being too specific with bosses or coworkers about my particular health issues before I find out whether they are really sympathetic or understand. Trying to make up time afterwards by working extra hours- I’m usually worn out after an episode of illness and working extra makes it more likely that I’ll become unwell again or relapse sooner.

    What has worked: A doctor’s note stating that I have a chronic health condition which makes me periodically unable to work*. In my particular office (this is definitely not a universal recommendation) I overshare with my coworkers because people who don’t say much have negative theories made up for them about the reason for their absences. Trying to work through symptoms even if I can’t do everything, such as only doing the duties that keep me off my feet when walking is an issue. Making sure my desk is tidy and easy to navigate if people need to do some of my work when I can’t. Making sure my backup person is well trained and up to date on my duties.

    *So far I’ve only done this for one of my health issues that is the most frequent and debilitating. Currently I work in a unionized office and have some legal protections with a note that I don’t without one.

    I’m looking forward to reading more ideas from fellow sufferers since I am regularly stressed about the impact of my illness on my work, my coworkers, and my reputation.

    1. Temporarily Anonymous*

      A few other thoughts:
      -I try to be extra supportive of coworkers when they need to take sick leave so I can foster a culture of respect for people’s wellbeing.
      -I am a hard worker with very good productivity and reliability when I am in the office.
      -I try to remember to thank coworkers who helped out when I had to be away from my desk because of illness.
      -In my next workplace I’d like to keep my health issues more vague because, for people like me with multiple problems, it can seem like I’m just making up a variety of excuses. (Today was health prob #1 but two weeks ago it was #3…and the month before that it was two days with the flu… hmmmm).

  119. anon1991*

    I have chronic pain issues that require heavy narcotics. I was on disability for a year at one point and even though I thought I was going to die, I went back to work. I got a new job and I didn’t tell anyone until I thought it was obvious with me leaving a bit early or being out. It really comes in waves so I could be fine for weeks and then have a really rough week.

    I am an HR Manager and have one person who reports to me, so I told her the issue vaguely and no one else really would notice/care due to we are really secluded for the most part. And HR is not really something that has hard deadlines for things (most of the time). That is primarily why I chose HR and I am pretty lucky in that aspect.

  120. Mel*

    I had a coworker who was often late because of debilitating migraines that left her unable to drive. But I only knew that after a few years of working with her. It made a difference to me that management treated her absences as reasonable ones. I didn’t know why she had to be late, but manager said she did, so I assumed it was fine. If people had been miffed, I would have thought less of her. So make sure management has your back, if you can.

  121. Ewesername*

    I am also the “chronic coworker” in our workplace.
    I keep my boss and another coworker aware of where I am with my projects and keep a shared timeline, with notes in case I need to be away. There is file with work instructions, important contacts and other job information so that anyone can pick up where I left off. They both know i am available via email or text anytime if they have questions. This seems to be working well for us.
    There are some grumbling people in the office because I am the only non C-level employee who is allowed to work from home. But my boss is quick to point out to them that I only do it when I’m really sick. (He also likes to point out that anytime there’s a big snow storm, I’m one of the few employees that makes it in on time. Even though I take the bus. With my canes.)
    He has left what level of information about my condition I want to share. I have named it. I will answer some questions (it’s rare and not often heard of in my age bracket), but i dont get into specifics.
    I think the best thing you can do is acknowledge there is an issue and be prepared to be away. Know that someone will most likely have to do your job for you, so be kind enough to have things in place. Your dont have to share all the details of your condition – sometimes it’s just enough to say “I have a medical condition that requires me to be away. If that happens, it would be a big help to me if you could do xyz”.
    There’s always going to be someone who feels put out. But as long as you’ve left everything prepared, it’s their problem not yours. This is how my boss told me to think of it. Now that I do, I don’t feel guilty anymore.

  122. Eve*

    I’m a newly diagnosed chronically ill person. I haven’t missed much work but people can see I’m sick. I do have to warn people I’m having a bad day and my mobility is more limited. It doesn’t’ really affect much at this point for job function but it might in the future.

    I’ve also been incredibly open. I wasn’t at the beginning but people could tell. I now talk about the testing, appointments and even meds I’m trying. It took months and months of testing and I came to a point where I was almost crowdsourcing ideas of what it could be with all the symptoms. I was desperate for answers.

    I work with only a handful of people and I’ve wondered if I’m sharing too much but also I don’t really care. It is a father/son run business with various family members of theirs around so I think it has more of a family vibe anyway. They can see I can barely move some days and at some point I will need more accommodations.

  123. Mary C*

    One I want to add – please take care of yourself to the best of your ability.
    In high school my after school job was mostly other teens and one adult who had severe uncontrolled diabetes (type one). She frequently fainted, has episodes of spacing out, fell, seizures, etc. We had to call the ambulance at least once a month and I found her bleeding on the floor many times. It was horrible. But also frustrating because she often would giggle when she came to and say, oh, I didn’t take my meds, or no, I didn’t feel like eating, or, oh I guess I should not have had the cupcake in the break room. In retrospect as an adult now I can see there was some mental health issues there too, but as a teen I was mostly scared (several times she was in life threatening situations) and frustrated that she refused to follow doctors orders and didn’t seem to care how it affected her mostly young teen coworkers. If she had taken care of herself in the most basic of ways, we all would have been much more understanding, even if it wouldn’t have solved every problem. Now decades later I am just sad for her, looking back at it.

    1. Rainy*

      Something pretty important to remember about T1D is that it’s EXPENSIVE. Test strips are expensive. Insulin is through the roof now but has never been particularly cheap. Doctor appointments are expensive. Specialist appointments are expensive.

      Obviously you now know that your coworker from back then had some other stuff going on, but please don’t judge diabetics, especially insulin-dependent ones, about “how they’re taking care of themselves”.

    2. Janie*

      In addition to what Rainy said, wonked out blood sugar can make you weeeeeird. Like when your levels are funky, you can act super strange.

  124. RebeccaNoraBunch*

    I was born prematurely and my lungs weren’t fully developed, so I have 50% of normal lung capacity. I take inhalers every day. No, I don’t look sick. But on days when allergens are bad, humidity is bad, anything that affects my lungs is bad…I struggle to breathe, I have zero energy, and I sleep a lot. I had FMLA at one job and I can get it again if I need to. Luckily, my boss is pretty flexible about me working from home.

    But no, I’m not going to drag myself and my purse and my lunchbox up 2 flights of stairs in the morning to be sweaty and wheezing at 9am. I’m taking the elevator. And no, I’m not walking up the stairs in the parking deck in the summer (or ever). Stairs are hard. Yes, I do work out – on my own, in my own time and at my own pace. No, I don’t camp, or hike, or play sports. No, I don’t look sick, but if a coworker gives me crap about taking the elevator up one flight of stairs, I helpfully let them know about my lung issues and that not everything is as it seems. There’s a TON of ableism in tech and it’s honestly hard for me to keep my patience about it sometimes, but luckily my boss is super understanding. I get my work done; I work into the wee hours if I have to, and I’m reliable. I’m just sickly. And I hate stairs. The end.

  125. Tarra*

    Well I’ve had to stop reading the comments as some of them are horrible, and this has made me glad that my colleagues are nice people – at my workplace people know that sickness can happen and aren’t a-holes about it.

    What has helped:
    – always having documentation available on where things are up to and where to find important things
    – always keeping my calendar up to date with any commitments, deadlines or meetings so it’s easy to see what I’m not doing

    Some of the comments on here are an example of how the environment at work can make someone more unwell.

    1. Zorro*

      Definitely- I think the only reason I’ve been able to be employed full-time with my condition is because I have supportive colleagues.

  126. Emma*

    This is so timely for me. I have been in my job since November 2017. Right before I started I was diagnosed with an auto immune condition, then 6 months in with another which led to me having 2 months off work. Now I am on immunosuppressants and just had a month off because a cold completely knocked me out. I returned just over a week ago and have another sore throat! I am constantly at the hospital- including a week where I had 4 appointments. We get time off for medical appointments but I feel there is friction in my office because we have been so short staffed and there were periods where I was the only admin and despite the fact I work in Occupational Health the team I work with have no sympathy, they just seem more concerned that they have no admin support and they are very very dependent on admin. Plus I don’t think they take me seriously at all because I don’t look sick *eye roll*. Sorry I have no advice to add!

  127. Cows go moo*

    My advice to a chronically sick employee is simple: give and take.

    Last year we had an employee “Diane” who needed a lot of time off during busy periods, as well as reduced working hours on certain weeks. I could (albeit with some difficulty) work around her unreliable hours, but not her poor attitude. Occasionally when I asked her to work over time – even one hour – she would say no for reasons like “I have to go dye my hair.” I stopped making accommodations for her which meant Diane could no longer work. It just…wasn’t worth the trouble.

    On the other hand I recently had another employee “Ellen” who had similar reliability issues due to ongoing health problems. But on the days Ellen was rostered to work she would always make the effort to come in, even if it was for an hour or two until we found someone else in the team to cover for her. If she really couldn’t, she would make sure she gave as much notice as possible to minimise the disruption. Ellen also worked very hard on the weeks she could – she always offered to cover other people’s absence wherever possible, even offering to cancel her own plans (I generally declined, but appreciated her gesture just the same).

    Managers are humans too. If we make allowances for an employee there’s a part of us that expects some effort in return. Most managers will have greater room for understanding and accommodation for an employee with strong work ethics.

  128. Sarcastic_Bard*

    I have lupus, so I think I might be that coworker. However, I keep my dept chair in the loop as well as the staff I supervise, and I make myself as available as possible when I am having a flare up and have to work from home. I respond as quickly as I can and check in to make sure no one is overwhelmed when I am not physically in the office. I know that I’m not required to talk to my staff about specific medical details, but I have explained with some detail to those who depend on me the most so they are aware of my issues while still knowing I have their back, flare up or no.

  129. Girl Alex PR*

    I have a chronic kidney disease that resulted in my need for a transplant. Prior to that, I was on dialysis multiple times each week. Being chronically ill is stressful for the sick party (I felt such guilt for not contributing at the level I could when my symptoms weren’t as apparent) and in places with little coverage, for the colleagues as well. I shared everything I felt comfortable with about my condition – what it was, what that means, the worst and best case scenarios, and what I planned to do to ensure my colleagues could cover my work with ease (SOPs, shared calendars, detailed lists of tasks for the week in case I was out unexpectedly, etc.) My team was absolutely phenomenal. In fact, I wrote in because my boss was so amazing that he offered me his kidney (Ultimately, my sister was a match). But I think those steps I took could benefit others dealing with a similar situation, regardless of their team dynamics. When you’re well, be a great co-worker and employee, and when you’re not, be gentle with yourself and open with those around you.

  130. Lkr209*

    My mother has Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and still works part-time. However, there are many days when she can’t get out of bed due to how sick she feels and she is aware that people are counting on her and that she isn’t at the same capacity she used to be. Her role was reduced from full time to part time to give her schedule more flexibility, but she still has to work. Believe me- your coworker is aware and probably embarrassed that they are letting people down. I would suggest trying to get to know her when she is there and seeing what you can do to help her-as Alison mentioned in another post, we have a lot more sympathy for those we know personally. In terms of your workload, it sounds like you’d benefit from an honest conversation with your boss and let them know that your workload requires another mainly-present person on the team. But please be more aware of your tone. “Why does SHE get so much leniency” -because she probably has a chronic illness that keeps her in bed and her and her family sick with worry. She did not choose to be ill. Instead of complaining, please close your eyes and give thanks that you are healthy enough to GET to get up every day and come to work!

  131. RC*

    I had (have) endometriosis, and there was a stretch of several months where I could not work through the pain. It was tolerable for some weeks but unbearable others. For me, what helped was I had several years with the company before it got this bad, and was known for being exceptionally reliable and committed. The biggest thing for me was to understand that I needed to take care of myself.

    Here’s what I did:
    a.) Admitted I could not work at 100%, and worked with my company to take short-term disability and drop my hours to 80% until after my surgery. Trying to work 40 hours added so much stress, and I was letting people down as I simply couldn’t do it.
    b.) Was very open with my team about the fact that I was not at 100%, and laid out what they could expect from me work-wise (after discussing with my boss)
    c.) Worked with my team to shift some work around to make sure that I could complete my tasks in the hours that I could work, and that other team members weren’t overly burdened by the extra

  132. Mandy Rae*

    Thanks to everyone who’s posted here — really helpful suggestions/perspectives/approaches, as well as validation.

  133. agnes*

    I had cancer treatment (pretty aggressive). I made my appointments outside of work hours whenever possible. I also would be proactive and call out as soon as I felt myself sinking. My job was such that if I rallied, I could come in anyway and do some work so I didn’t lose the time. (I know not everyone has that option).

    I work in management now, and if could ask one thing of our staff who have FMLA is to please let me know as soon as possible that you might need to be out. I know some of the employees will start feeling bad the night before, but won’t call in until 10 minutes before they are to report to work. I tell them to please just give me a head’s up if you think you might be out. If you show up, great, if not, I’ve at least had a little time to figure out a plan B.

  134. Zorro*

    I have a Primary Immune Deficiency, and I work in the public schools. I get sick a LOT more often than the average public school employee. My employer is very gracious with the amount of sick days per year we get, so the only time I’ve gone over in nearly 20 years there was the year I got double pneumonia and sepsis.

    I’ve always been very honest with my colleagues about why I’m absent so much. I figured this was only fair because they have to cover for me- my position does not get substitutes, so, if one of us is absent, we have to cover that schedule with our free/prep periods. For the most part, they’ve been, at least to my face, fine with it, even though I know it gets frustrating midwinter when I’m naturally absent a lot more often.

    (I’m usually absent 10-15 days per school year. Most of my colleagues are absent maybe two or three days per school year.)

  135. ScienceMommy*

    I have RA, and also two years ago, my husband had a mental breakdown complete with delusions and psychosis (terrifying experience but thankfully he’s better now!) and I am lucky enough to be employed by the scientific profession, so I have been open with my own health as well as my husband’s health, and everyone has been incredibly kind and understanding. I think you definitely need to know your audience, so to speak. Some professions may be more understanding than others if you disclose information.
    However, if I wasn’t in an understanding profession, I would disclose to my team that I had health issues (no details disclosed) and when I am feeling good, go above and beyond in my duties, help others, ect. so that people aren’t as upset when I can’t do as much on a bad day.

  136. Juli*

    HR professional here… I hear from a lot employees that get upset about a co-worker supposedly not pulling their weight. I’m keenly aware generally how hard an employee in these situations is trying to balance dealing with the health condition and also keeping their job (as obviously in the US if you can’t work you likely won’t have much access to affordable and decent health care). I’m lucky, I work in a compassionate environment and we really try to work with our employees through FMLA and the ADA to get them the resources they need to do their job. Unfortunately sometimes it does come down to separation. Please know there usually are a lot of behind the scenes things going on in these situations to try to help the employee and also meet the needs of the business. I’m sure it is frustrating for it to seem like someone just isn’t doing their job or showing up, but try to remember there is probably more to the situation that you’re not aware of and that can’t be shared by managers or HR because it’s confidential.

  137. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I have a chronic illness, and different employers have treated it differently, so, here’s MY question back: is it unreasonable to ask about accommodations once an offer has been made? At my last employer, I’m pretty sure that once I had an offer, if I had said something about accommodations, the response would have been “yeah, sure, we’re here for you”; whereas in my current job, I know that as soon as I said “accommodations”, I would have gotten major stink-eye — therefore, being the clue I should not have taken the job at this stupid, hyper-judgmental place. I’m job-hunting, and would really like to do this if I ever get an offer; but I’d like to know what others think.

  138. Sardoodledum*

    I hope this isn’t too off-topic, but:
    I live in a not-very-friendly-to-needy-people state (Alabama). I often think about what could be done at the political level to make it easier for chronically ill people to work and have good lives. Like, if a bill were (magically) to be passed specifically to help people with chronic illnesses at work, what would it include to be as broad and helpful as possible without excessively hard on employers? FMLA doesn’t cover people who work part-time jobs or are new, and it runs out quickly, while the ADA considers attendance to be an essential job function (screwing over people who need to be absent).

    My sister got fired from her job because she developed Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. She was their best employee, but their policy required them to fire her after she missed too many days. The disease affected her for about 3-5 days out of each month*, but she was still performing WAY above average the rest of the time. My sister lost a good paying job and the employer lost one of its best employees. (And please don’t say companies aren’t stupid enough to hurt themselves with bad policies. There are too many healthy, fully-functioning people who are desperate for work for a company like my sister’s to be disadvantaged enough for the “invisible hand” of the market to make them change.)

    Having health insurance for everyone regardless of their employment status would help, but even then, people like my sister would be stuck on welfare when they could be working (with accommodations).

    *No, she couldn’t work from home. She was violently vomiting every 15 minutes for several days on end and only a trip to the ER to get drugs that knocked her out for 24-48 hours would end the flare-up. Fortunately, it ended when she stopped the birth control she was on, so she’s fine now, but the world would have lost an awesome medical researcher. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with seizures shortly afterward, so she still needs accommodations.

  139. drives me nuts*

    I have two chronically ill coworkers. Both have sudden absences and lots of doctor appointments. One is beloved by the company and the other is hated. The difference between the two that determines if they are loved or hated is their attitudes about their illnesses and their work ethic when they are here. The beloved one is very open and honest about her condition but does not shove it into pe