How To Create A More Friendly Workplace For Someone With Crohn’s Disease

How do you combine working full or part-time, having career goals, and trying to climb the ladder while also having an illness that cannot be seen but has a huge impact on your day-to-day functioning? Welcome to being an ambitious person living with Crohn’s Disease! This question literally plagues my life, and honestly, if anyone has an answer to how this is fully achievable, please let me know, as I really could use some advice!

I’m not saying that I LOVE working. Like most people, I do find myself daydreaming regularly about being a lady of leisure with stacks of money, exercising, going for brunches, having Prosecco at noon, and engaging in various hobbies. But I do like my job, and I pride myself on how hard I’ve worked to get here. With an undergraduate degree, a master’s, and now a Doctorate, six years of work experience, and being 18 months away from becoming a Clinical Psychologist, it’s not like I stumbled here by accident. It’s taken almost a lifetime of commitment and determination, and then Crohn’s Disease reared its ugly head.

Working while trying to manage stomach pains, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and a restricted diet can feel like an impossible juggling act at times. A juggling act that no one can see. I sometimes describe myself as being like a swan: I look fine on the surface, but underneath the water, my legs are kicking like crazy to keep going.

Unfortunately, luck comes into it too. I’ve been mostly lucky to have an employer who helps me manage my illness. I’ve had understanding managers who give me time off for all my medical appointments, a flexible sickness policy, and opportunities to work from home. This should be the case for everyone, but it isn’t. My heart aches for the people who I speak to who have lost their jobs due to prolonged hospital admissions or have used all their annual leave just to attend their infusion appointments.

For me, there are ways for workspaces to become Crohn’s Disease friendly, but it involves investment from managers and higher-ups to understand an illness that cannot be seen. I would argue that small research into the illness and speaking to people who live with it would help a lot with that, but I often think people don’t want to hear about a hidden bowel disease, which makes me sad. More disabled toilets in workspaces would be a suggestion, along with flexible working plans that are individualized rather than a blanket rule. A kind, compassionate, and understanding approach to the illness is needed. A manager who takes a moment to understand what it might be like to live with Crohn’s Disease before making any assumptions. A manager who wants to support you in achieving your goals.

I wonder how things could change if this perspective was shared. If people understood that those with Crohn’s Disease WANT to work and try their absolute hardest to push through the most debilitating of symptoms. I can only hope that by sharing my story and my perspective, Crohn’s Disease can be shown a little more compassion within the workplace.

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