Sick of Being “Sick” in the Workplace

Tonight, I literally cried over spilt milk.

It’s something I try to avoid, since when you’re sick, unfortunate shit happens metaphorically 100 times a day. But tonight, as I was taking a heated up eggnog from Starbucks out of the microwave, I started to burn my hand, and in an effort to not drop it altogether, I held onto it longer than I should have and ended up releasing my grip far enough away from the floor that it left a festive-smelling mess all over my carpet.

Even though I can be pretty closed off and tough when I’m hit with life’s trials, I had hit a breaking point after the reality of my life really came to an ugly head this week, and the only thing I could even fathom doing in the moment, as my dog licked up the disaster like he had just won the jackpot, was sob mindlessly in my kitchen over a relatively benign event.

This is a pretty familiar reaction for me. I tend to push through much worse things because I’m used to it, and then something far less traumatic will occur and it just sends me right over the edge. You’d think someone came into my apartment and chopped the tops off of my Christmas trees (yes, trees plural, because I love decorating so much that when I was faced with 2 trees I liked in Michaels last year, I decided to take them both home and I’ve loved on them ever since.)

This week was also a set of high highs and low lows. My brother got married last weekend, and seeing so much of my family and some childhood friends at one time really brought out a side of me that had been dormant for a while. I live alone in NYC, which is normally OK because people have a tendency of bugging the shit out of me. But when you don’t interact with those that you care about, and most importantly, care about you, it’s easy to forget how great you are.

I’d like to think that I am confident in myself and what I have to offer other people, but the low that really ripped me out of wedding weekend mode was another occurence of workplace discrimination. It’s something I’ve talked about from time to time in my writing and also on my IG account (@chronicmotivation), and I wish I could say that having experienced it in the past makes each time easier, but it just doesn’t.

When you wake up every day in pain, exhausted, unable to walk well or move fast enough for a shower to be feasible before your commute, it can be really difficult to hang onto a job. For better or for worse, I’ve done this for a really long time, nearly 13 years of that time being committed to my career working in hospital operations management. I like to tell my followers that working can be really healing for the chronically ill, because when you live in a society that puts the value of a person mostly on how much money they make or have, it can be pretty easy to feel worthless when you aren’t physically able to punch a 9-5 clock.

And when you ARE well enough to consider something full-time, I tend to think that it has to be a job that you are overly passionate about, because it has to be enough for you to push through the physcal discomfort and the political bullshit that comes along with being a sick person in the workplace .

Calling it Bullshit is being kind.

I have never felt entitled. I have never put my hand out for something I haven’t earned, and I have never used my illness as a card to advance or to overlook work that I haven’t gotten done. And all of that has worked out pretty well for my employers, because I don’t use a quarter of FMLA time that I’m approved for, I take so much pride in helping other sick patients that I never call-out sick, and even when I am under the weather, I make sure that my job gets done, regardless.

So when I come back from having a great time in Boston and am motivated and excited about my life, and on day one I’m hit with learning that a position that I’ve earned 10 times over was handed to a less experienced, less educated coworker, the feeling of defeat is real. I have worked at my current hospital for 6 years, and this particular coworker was hired after me and has now been promoted twice, which is twice as many times as me.

When I asked a previous manager why I was passed over the first time, I was told that I had to “be there to do the job.” I of course followed up with questioning what I hadn’t sufficiently completed as an employee, which resulted in crickets, because I’ve never not done my work. He also told me to leave the institution I work for because I would never be promoted. Again, I was not offered a reason why. Since the manager who gave me that “advice” had already resigned and was on his way out, I figured I’d give my job the benefit of the doubt and I kept plugging along.

And then more weird stuff happened.

I had expressed interest in a project management job that my current manager previously posessed, and he told me that the position was already filled. Oddly enough, 2 years later, a new person was hired into the department, and during her orientation, one of the directors announced that it had been a lengthy search to fill… you guessed it… my manager’s old role.

About a year and a half ago, someone on my team resigned. HR had just come out with a new recruitment policy that required managers to share all open positions with their staff before posting it publicly, so the process would be transparent and fair. My manager sent an email asking us if we were interested in the position as it was, and none of us were, since it would have been a lateral move. A week later, I learned that he tapped my coworker on the shoulder, told him if he took it they’d make it worth his while, and he gained a new title, and with the promotion, a raise.

When I asked my manager why I was not considered, he told me that my coworker was due for a raise, that I made more money than him, and that he didn’t understand why I was upset because he felt he had been “accomodating” with my illness.

Question for all of you reading this: when was the last time you heard of employees only getting accomodations if they agreed to forego any and all interest in professional growth? When was the last time you heard about a sick person who decided to be sick, or who wanted to have to ask for accomodations? And finally, to my knowledge, workplace accomodations are not something that are to be given out of the kindness of a manager’s heart – they are legally required as long as the request is reasonable.

Just to be clear, because this is about to get worse: I have never asked for an accomodation. Not once. In fact, since I’ve been employed, my illness has ignorantly been overlooked on several occasions, including one of the most egregious decisions my manager made 2 years ago to move me out of my operations role because because they needed a project manager. Posting that position would have cost them at least a 6 figure salary, but I guess since they didn’t think I was “due for a raise” like my male, able-bodied coworker (…), I was TOLD I would be leaving behind the job I was hired for, and apparently, leaving behind the career path I had worked 10 years to develop. As such, I was moved to a different building and have been required to travel back and forth to various sites without any attempt to acknowledge the fact that as a physically disabled person, I now have an added expense paying for Ubers throughout the middle of the day just to accomplish the needs of my new position.

When it comes to my medical appointments, I will flex my work schedule or use my lunch break to run out so I never owe time, and I get my infusions on Saturdays to reduce my recovery time during the workweek. Additionally, all of the time that I DO take for infusion recoveries is time that I pay for. No one is doing me any favors by “allowing” me to use my sick and vacation time to pay for time off that has nothing to do with rest or relaxation, and they are certainly not doing me any favors when my paycheck is docked after I run out of the time I’ve used for those monthly treatments.

Which really begs the question: what EXACTLY is the accomodation? Would they try to write me up for the whopping 3 days a month I take off for Remicade (even though I’m violently ill for a week….)? On top of it being extremely difficult since I do have FMLA certification protecting me from that situation, it sounds pretty fucking grimy for a manager to take credit for threatening anything of the sort given the circumstance.

The moral of the story is that my illness and my work ethic are not mutually exclusive, and for a conversation about my career-path to have anything to do with my manager’s perceived support ,when I’ve done everything by the book, is wildly inappropriate.

It was at that moment that I realized an idea that I’ve referenced before, and is heartbreaking to say the least. Basically, if you are a great employee with no physical ailment and your presence at work is standard, you will be rewarded with a raise and a promotion. But if you are a great employee with an illness, even if you manage it in a way that has no negative impact on your work product, your reward is that your manager will continue to provide you the accomodating that you REQUIRE to function (and as I stated above, the accomodation that I don’t receive).

If you are a sick person in the workplace, regardless of how hard you work, you will never be starting at the same place as a non-sick coworker. The way I’ve experienced it, hard work is viewed as what’s “owed” for being a burden in a truly antiquated system. So even though I have done the same or more work than my peers, I look different, and I have different needs (which my job routinely fails to meet…), and so I am not considered for a non sick-person’s reward. I am just expected to be grateful to be allowed to work at all.

Fast forward to this past week. One of my coworkers resigned a month ago – she was in a higher role than me, also undeservedly, because she was hired a year after me, and with less experience and education (and before her probationary period was up…), she was moved into her role 3 years ago without it being posted. When I told my current manager about how terrible that was for me to endure, he told me that since it was before his time as my manager, there was nothing he could do but assure me that I would always be supported by him moving foward.

So when my coworker resigned and my mananger never mentioned it to me and the rest of our team, I had a bad feeling that history was about to repeat itself.

A few weeks went by, and I went away for a long weekend, and when I came back, I heard from a coworker that the position had been handed to the person I mentioned earlier – the same guy (ahem….) who was promoted last year into a job that was created just for him. So here I am again – being slighted for a job that I’ve worked desperately hard to move into, and with no real insight as to why.

When I had my weekly meeting with my manager on Friday, I told him I wanted to be considered for my coworker’s vacancy, since surely there was no way that what I had heard was true. He never announced the vacancy, and he never posted the position. And this time, he didn’t even send out the internal email required by Human Resources. When I told him of my interest, he started shifting nervously in his seat and told me he would be moving my coworker into the spot.

He told me we could talk about it on Monday since he had a meeting to go to, which I told him I felt necessary, since I am more senior and more educated than the person he gave the job to. I also reminded him that he didn’t communicate anything about the vacancy, and that I am very interested in learning what his reasons would be for disregarding hospital policy.

He mentioned again that I made more money than my peers (which I’m sure is barely true, and also, extremely tacky to hear). Also, what do my negotiation skills upon hire have to do with someone else’s inability to fight for the salary they want? And since that statement has been said several times now, does that just mean that I will never get a raise or promotion because they don’t want to pay me any more money? If that’s the case, what exactly am I working towards, anyway?

He said something under his breath about “fit”, which is also interesting since they had no problem throwing me into covering my coworker’s maternity leave for three months without warning. I was told on a Friday that she’d be leaving in 2 weeks, and when she had her baby on Monday, I was just expected to jump in and do the job. And lucky for them, I did… and I did it well.

So how is it that my performance evaluation, which I just received 2 weeks ago, was mostly highlighting my ability to manage 30 staff and 20 doctors in our busiest medical specialty (breast cancer) for 3 months with no hand-off or preparation? How is it that I get the most obnoxious projects and tasks to cover because I am the only one who can figure it out, but when an opportunity comes along to do just that, I am not the right “fit?”

I have held my tongue for a really long time because a) I’d like to think that hard work transcends workplace bias and b) I really need my job. But to be so blatantly disregarded when I know what I bring to the table, it destroyed me to my core. I applied for a bunch of jobs (obviously outside of my company), and I’ve thrown myself even more into the side projects I’ve been working on for the past few months, because if I’m being honest, I know that it’ll be no time for a new job to start treating me like shit like all of the rest of them have before.

This is an issue that needs to get the proper attention. In speaking with disability lawyers a few years ago, I learned that much of what’s happened to me during my career has been blatant discrimination, but it would be very difficult to prove. I would need to have any of the things said in writing or on a recording, and the fucked up part is that managers know when they are doing something wrong and are very careful not to document these decisions formally. And if I or anyone tried to pursue legal action on the basis of the experiences I’ve shared in this post, it would become public record. So if I won, maybe I’d get a year’s worth of a salary (but probably not) which would result in me needing to work again soon, and if I lost, I’d never get a job again anyway, because who is going to be interested in a candidate who has sued her employer?

It kind of reminds me of a conversation my mom and I had a few years ago. She’s almost exactly 30 years older than me, and she had gone back to school for her master’s degree. She had run into a weird scenario where even though she had been a nurse for 30 years and had more than enough knowledge in her field, hospitals started changing their requirements and young girls right out of college were getting jobs with zero experience because they were probably less expensive to hire. My mom didn’t want to give up, so she decided to go to graduate school, and when she wasn’t getting any job, I told her it was probably ageism. She naively stated that it couldn’t be ageism, because ageism is illegal. But I explained to her that no one was going to cite her age as the reason for not moving forward – I could simply dislike what someone was wearing to an interview or be a raging racist and decide to pass, and I could give Human Resources the reason that the person didn’t interview well or “wouldn’t be a good fit.”

There is no way to prove that foul play exists as long as a manager makes sure to use another excuse instead.

And that’s my problem. When it comes to employers not supporting my advancement, they’ll likely say that someone else was a better fit – when what they are really saying is “we don’t want to promote the sick girl.”

Well, enough is enough. Something needs to be said, and more importantly, something needs to be done. I encourage my social media community to work hard, and to push through their pain, and to try to find a job because of the benefits it can bring to emotional (and then sometimes, physical) health. And so many of my followers have sent me the kindest messges over the years, thanking me for helping them consider that path, or for reading their resumes, or editing cover letters, conducting mock interviews, and asking a million questions so they can find out what their passion is. Because of my prompting, a whole population of people have decided to go back to school and graduate, and others have applied for and been hired for jobs – and not just jobs for a paycheck – jobs that they care about and brings them joy.

But it’s all a scam. Unless you happen to find an employer who ACTUALLY cares about your well being and understands that a lot of the workplace “norms” are outdated and pointless, you will be busting your ass for nothing. You will hopefully receive fullfillment and satisfaction like I have for the years I’ve put in, but it’s a long hard fall when you realize that that’s where it stops. You will be training peers to be your superior, and you will be assigned all of the things that no one else wants to do. Because you should just feel lucky to be an employed sick person in general, you are not to have a voice about mistreatment in by the employer.

So with that, I will be meeting with my manager this week (or will I…?) and I have very little expectations about that conversation amounting to anything more than a diologue saturated with discrimination.

I will also be forging ahead with my life plans not relating to this job, and I can’t wait for the day where I’m on the Ellen show talking about whatever creative work made me a billionaire, happy to discuss that I made it there despite the unfair restrictions I faced as someone who is chronically ill in the workplace.

Have you or anyone else you know been discriminated against by an employer or during a job interview? How have you handled it? Feel free to leave your comments below.

All my best,

xoB

 

Meta

On my way home from work the other night, I was slumped in the back of an Uber, mindlessly wandering through my phone, as a relentless batch of precipitation said it’s overwhelming “hello” to my city. Water pounded on the outside of the vehicle, and it was damp, and I had forced myself to make a slight detour to the grocery store in an effort to avoid another night of playing “food delivery bingo” with my GrubHub app.

There are many times in life that am happy for the rain: when you can cozy up with your dog in comfy clothes, ideally, by a fire, grateful not to be “out there.” That day wasn’t one of them, though it matched my sentiments, regardless.

Since I am a project manager at the hospital I work at, a lot of my day doesn’t involve interacting with other people (which I sometimes prefer…), and since I live alone, the only time I need to speak is if I call someone or talk to my dog. The latter is arguably often, but I’m not sure it really counts as dialogue.

As a result of the aforementioned circumstances, it’s not often I hear my voice outside of my body. And since much of the time, I’m thinking about a lot of things that are heavy, like feeling unwell, or how dumb other people can be, or the feeling of loss when someone leaves you too soon, the voice inside my head seems reasonably consistent with the emotions that would come from the thoughts I just mentioned. It’s tired, and padded with sighs, and could possibly audition for the voiceover for Eeyore in a ‘Winnie the Pooh’ reboot.

But when I was exiting the car at the supermarket, that wasn’t the tone that left my mouth. Instead, my “thank you!” was light, and cheerful, and frankly, alarming to hear, because it’s not something I expected when it happened. Try to picture those body-swap movies, like ‘Freaky Friday’ or ’17 Again’, where the characters are taken aback when the outside isn’t matching the inside, except I’m both people in the equation.

To be honest, while momentarily jarring, this observation wasn’t really that shocking. I have said for years that there is a very different version of me – a darker version – that exists deep down. And even though I can usually stifle it, that version never completely goes away.

What worries me though, is if I am being disingenuous when communicating in a more vibrant way. I wondered if it was possible for my thoughts to be living in an environment like the Upside-Down from ‘Stranger Things’, but the presentation of my demeanor was more likely to be found in a field of flowers from a Cymbalta commercial. I thought about it for a long time while I threw items into my shopping cart, trying to determine which affect was more “me.”

And while I’ve been learning in therapy that everything doesn’t have to be “one or the other”, and I think it’s reasonable to support the idea that both versions of myself are a part of who I am as a whole, I would like to think that my sunnier disposition wins out, which is hopefully why it’s *still* the version my body defaults to when other options are available.

Or maybe that’s worse. Maybe hiding the darker version is what causes everything to crumble, because if the foundation isn’t stable, everything else on top of it will be more likely to crash.

Either way, this might potentially be an alarming post for some people to read, because I think it’s a little unusual for someone to vocalize these kinds of thoughts. But I think the most important thing is to stay tapped into them. I think being self-aware is the the ultimate practice of self-care, because by understanding how you feel and why, you will hopefully fine-tune the external factors that impact your internal existence.

So ask yourself: who are you today?

xoB

 

 

 

Day 3 – The good, the bad, and the ugly cry.

Mornings are usually the most difficult time of day for me to ambulate. Since I have arthritis in every joint in my body, there is kind of a “wake up” period before I feel comfortable to move around and start the day. Because of this, I was really concerned that there wouldn’t be a “day 3” on my mission, but something really cool happened.

After my medicine kicked in, and I started to wake up a bit, I naturally felt pulled to sit down at my makeup table.

If you’re reading this and you follow me on Instagram (@chronicmotivation), you probably know that I’ve been working on an apartment decor overhaul for the last year. In that time, I had my eyes set on this beautiful white-laquer desk from CB2, but I couldn’t buy it initially because it was really expensive, and the delivery fees were out of control. After scouring craigslist for months, I ended up finding someone who was selling it for less than half of what I would have paid through the store, and I ended up bringing it home in mint condition within the hour.

With the new furniture addition to my den/get ready room/writing area, I was inspired to go out of my way to organize the drawers in the desk in a way that would be conducive to me actually using all of the makeup I have. I think like many women, we tend to have 24 blushes and 36 eye shadows, but since it might be thrown in a makeup bag, or even some kind of storage bin, it’s hard to see all of the options that are available. I’ve always been really big on keeping things visible in my home, because I believe that when you start to “store” things in a place that’s hidden, you forget quickly that they’re there, and you might as well not have those things in the first place.

I’ve had the makeup display setup for a couple of months, and I probably only used it twice in that time. But there was something to be said this weekend for being able to simply slide open the drawers and see everything in it’s place, and to have fun with the options laid out in front of me. Remembering the joy that it brought me, I was excited to sit down before work this morning and have some fun.

Day 3 makeup dog.jpeg

I went to work and did my thing, and then I decided to make a second trip to DSW to see if the location near my job had some other choices. It probably sounds like I’m a shoe maniac, but I promise I’m not. Buying shoes that are flat, that don’t look like they belong in the senior center or on a 5 year old, are comfortable, and that I can afford, seem a less likely find than a unicorn directing traffic on a Tuesday.

Even though I didn’t get exactly what I was looking for, I did up leaving the store with some cute new compliments to my collection.

 

And then, I did something fantastic. Part of this journey, since I’m sort of writing the rules every day as I go along, is to really challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone (physically and mentally…), and to check something off that I either have been meaning to do for a while, or doing something in general that breaks up the monotony of my “wake-up, go to work, eat dinner, tv with the dog, sleep” routine. And today I really accomplished that.

Over the weekend, I had come across this really cool dessert place called, “Sweet Churros.” It basically is a homemade churro place that adds different toppings and some ice cream choices. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to pay for such an expensive cab downtown from my home, so I figured I would wait until I was in the area during the work-week. Even though I felt pretty crummy because it’s been really humid, and I was exhausted after working all day and walking around the shoe store, I forced myself to put “Sweet Churros” into the Uber destination and I just went with it.

The actual place would have been easy to miss if I wasn’t looking for it. I ordered a churro covered in Fruity Pebbles cereal, and had it sitting in a cold cup of vanilla soft serve. I was initally worried that I would be covered in the treat in a matter of seconds once it met the summer sun, but whatever this place is doing is working out perfectly, because I was able to enjoy my food without wearing it.

Day 3 churro.jpeg

 

Even though my trip was successful, something snapped inside of me on my ride home. I got a lump in my throat, and all I wanted was to be on the other side of my apartment door so I could cry my eyes out. I’m not sure if other sick people can relate to this, but sometimes it feels easier to just go along with the status quo instead of reaching certain milestones, because it shouldn’t be a big deal for a 34-year-old to get ice cream on a hot day. I was so grateful to be able to follow-through with my detour, but it also took so much energy out of me that I fell asleep about 30 minutes after I got home.

What kind of life is that?

Anyway, tomorrow is another day. I have some other things contributing to my shift in mood, but I really hope that I’m able to leave that sadness in today’s history and feel a bit more hopeful for a better tomorrow.

Until then.

xoB

Day 3 work clothes

Day 2 – Summer Feet.

I wasn’t really sure how today would turn out, since all things sound great for about 24 hours. I thought maybe I would wake up this morning and tell myself, “well, that was fun. I’m just going to lay in bed all day instead.”

But I didn’t.

I think it definitely helped that my hair was still looking nice from last night’s shower. I was able to just brush it quickly, and a good chunk of my get-ready process was done.

It was really, really hot in NYC today. It ended up working out well, though, because I had a dress in mind that I wanted to wear, and the weather supported that decision. It was really awesome to grab an article of clothing from the closet that a) still had the tags on it (are you catching the theme with that, yet?) and b) I could actually consider since my legs were smoothly shaved. Many of you might be thinking, “but Becky, it’s the summer – you have to at least keep up on that, don’t you?” And the answer is, “no.” I have blonde hair, so I get away with whatever I can get away with.

With that said, it was also really nice to get a pedicure today without worrying about the nail girl getting a rug burn on her hands. There’s a first time for everything.

Day 2 white pedi

(Don’t mind my summer feet. Sum’er here, sum’er there…).

I think I’m going to have to consider buying some more cute things to wear over the next few weeks, since nothing in my closet seems to be safe from being pulled out and worn. And honestly, one of the things that has kept me excited about continuing on this journey is being able to wear new things – feeling the joy of running around in an outfit that hasn’t seen the light of day.

An observation that I had today that’s pretty similar to yesterday is that I was noticed for the clothes I had on. I went to the pharmacy, which is a very normal trip for me, but today, the salespeople paid attention to me differently. I was barely inside the sliding glass doors before some girl yelled across the aisle, “I love your dress!” When I picked up my Rx, the pharmacist gave me a look that sort of read like, “who are you, and what have you done with the lump of a person I normally see here?” But the best and most blatant reaction to my dress (boobs) happened when I was at the checkout spot. As the guy was ringing up my items, some other employee a few registers down took some people out trying to get to my lane, just to jump in front of my cashier to ask if I had a store rewards card. Swiping my card took $10 off the total, and then I blinked and another $15 came off the total after jumping jack flash waived some paper in front of the scan gun. “This is another coupon for you today.”

OK, so a few things. First of all, I feel like I’m playing out some forgotten scene from Beauty and Beast, because I’ve been in that Walgreens nothing short of 896 times in the last 7 years, and no one has ever offered me a discount that I didn’t ask for. In fact, half the time they can’t even get their shit straight enough to give me the discount that I actually inquire about.

Next – society clearly favors the beautiful (again: boobs).

I have some anxiety bringing this plan into the work-week, because I have a lot less control over my time since I spent the majority of my day on someone else’s clock. Mornings are really hard for me, and I usually feel accomplished if I get to my job with something other than pajamas on. To consider being “done-up” for the next 3 weeks feels daunting to say the least.

But maybe – just maybe – I’ll surprise myself.

xoB

Day 2 Blue Dress

 

Day 1 – Empower

As part of my 21-Day challenge to be more presentable in public, I will be documenting things that I’ve noticed that I might not have experienced if I hadn’t embarked on this journey.

Since I normally spend my weekends lounging around and recovering from the work-week, it took a lot of mental prompting to get me out of bed and into the shower. I slept late, watched some movies, and enjoyed some downtime with the dog.

But since I really care about moving forward with my plan, I pushed myself to follow-through, even if it was with a late start, because any progress is better than none.

I get a lot of anxiety at this point about bathing. I don’t even think it’s the actual act that scares me as much of the discomfort I feel just IMAGINING the act. When you are physically disabled, everyday things can feel really overwhelming. Taking off clothes, stepping over the side of the bathtub, turning on the water, lathering up the shampoo, rise, applying the conditioner. Shave, soap up, wash face, rinse conditioner. And that’s only the beginning. After that comes brushing through a full head of hair, eventually blowdrying, drying off, getting dressed, and if you’re feeling like a real champion – makeup.

I always really feel great after taking a nice long shower, and I have had a bench in the tub for the last 10 years (which is a total game-changer if you have issues standing). And while I initally thought, “OK, I can do this!”, I woke up this morning completely zonked after sleeping through a post-cleansing coma. This is also what contributes to me being hesitant to committing to plans, because before I even get to the event, I need to take a nap.

I knew that I wanted to go out into the world since my hair and makeup were done, so I put on a flowy (read: comfy) tiered, off-the-shoulder dress from Express that I bought to wear to my mother’s graduation in May. I loved it when I wore it back then, and honestly, if I hadn’t worn it yesterday, I might have watched it sit in my closet in a quasi-retirement until it didn’t fit me anymore or my style changed.

At about 8pm, I hopped in an Uber and went over to DSW. Because my feet are deformed, shoe shopping is usually a giant pain in the ass. But I figured it was late, and the store would likely be pretty empty, and it always feels better trying things on when you don’t NEED to find something for an event. I always seem to get luckier in that scenario.

As I mentioned in my original post about this challenge, there is a component for me that is interested in seeing if it’ll affect anything for me socially. But what I didn’t consider was that attraction doesn’t discriminate, and I ended up winning the attention from a woman who I can only guess was on a day-pass from the looney bin. Her process of introducing herself included asking me if I knew my dress was so long, and when I said, “yes…”, she said, “of course I know you know, but it’s dragging behind you and I want to know why.”

“Because I’m short. My dress is long and on the ground because I’m short.”

I don’t know if she expected me to melt into a ball of insecure tears or if she was hoping to get a lawsuit out of me after punching her in the face, but I sort of regret not resorting to one of those options, because my kindness and patience with her bizarre character resulted in her spending the next 20 minutes following me around and asking me to give her advice on the boots she was trying on.

After walking around for about an hour and a half, I left with a fun new pair of Keds (which are cool again, apparently, and at “cool again” prices…) that have the word “Empower” printed on top in rainbow colors. It’s a little particular for my taste, but given that I think I’m going to need an extra little shove each day to accomplish my 3-week goal, I thought that it wouldn’t hurt if my shoes were cheering me on.

Day 1 - Empower shoes

On my ride home, I was thinking about what, if anything, felt different on day 1. The first thing that came to mind was being able to smell Central Park, even if it was from a cab. The temperatures have been a little more mild recently, and though it was still kind of humid out, it was nice to drive home with all of the windows down, with my newly cleaned hair blowing in the wind.

It also occurred to me that I had written a blog post for the first time in about 9 months, had made use of my new desk that I’ve stocked with all of my nicely organized makeup, and noticed that my “comfy” clothes felt more comfortable than ever, when changing out of the dress I had been wearing all evening.

I have always felt that contrast is an important part of life. It’s why I believe I can tell when someone in the chronic illness community online isn’t being authentic about their experience, because anyone who has truly suffered the way that many us have, would also be able to appreciate much more than what I see being posted about each day.

To me, people who are not able to be grateful for basic things have not experienced pain or loss to the extent that makes them aware of how lucky they are when terrible things aren’t happening.

And with that, on to day 2!

xoBDay 1 Fkowy Dress

#sickpeopledoingthings™

January 12th, 2018, was a really normal day: wake up, go to work, look at the clock, panic, hail a cab, apply excessive pressure to the driver to fly over NYC skyscrapers to get me to my appointment on time, check-in (late) for said appointment, get vitals taken, and wait.

And wait.

Waiting is something that a lot of sick people do. We wait for test results, for medicine to kick in, for prescriptions to be ready, for someone to help us with whatever we need in that moment, and as in my case that day: we wait for the doctor to come into the exam room.

And while I waited under the familiar hum of the offensively bright overhead lights, intrigued by the blue accent wall in an otherwise cookie-cutter clinical quarantine, I decided to kick my feet up, since I already felt at home.

I was thinking about my job, about what time I’d be able to get back to my office, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my shoes, elevated and crossed, one over the other: rose-gold pointy-toe work flats that I was proud to have found for $18 on Amazon.com, and it occurred to me: waiting is not the only thing sick people do.

Sick people have careers. Sick people get manicures. Sick people volunteer. Sick people walk their dogs. Sick people dance around the kitchen while making dinner. Sick people go to school. Sick people play music. Sick people clean. Sick people get married and have kids. Sick people travel. Sick people participate in sports. Sick people go to the movies. Sick people read books. Sick people WRITE books. Sick people overcome whatever they need to. I am sick people.

I am a sick person doing things.

As I’ve talked about in length on my Instagram account, it’s truly bizarre for me to see how the current chronically ill community behaves, with the introduction of social media. When I was a kid (it’s official, save me a seat at the buffet, I’ll bring my senior citizen discount…), technology was more or less used for the shit it was intended for. A phone’s purpose was to call people, computers were for typing up reports in a word processor, and televisions aired 22 episodes of a program that was properly spaced out throughout a season, which went from early September all the way through the end of May.

Summers were meant for playing outside. Imagine that.

With the undeniable growth of technology, we’ve gained a lot in the way of efficiency and access. But we’ve lost much of what makes living on this planet important and tolerable: the value of hard work, human interaction, and being able to communicate effectively altogether.

So it really shouldn’t be surprising to me that when I hop online and I view social media accounts for the “chronically ill”, I’m met with immaturity, co-dependence, competition, and frankly, a false representation of the community I know and am a part of.

Chronically ill people aren’t whiny. We aren’t passive-aggressive or malicious. We aren’t hyperbolic when we report symptoms, and actually, we tend to downplay and hide what we have going on, just to avoid being a burden. We are tough, and resilient, and we have goals that we’ll meet or die trying to meet. We don’t make excuses, but we also don’t glamorize what being sick is really like by overcompensating with peace-signs or a thumbs-up or muscle making from our hospital beds. We are a healthy balance of graceful and assertive; we know how to appreciate what we have because we’ve had less, and we know how to speak up because we’ve been invisible.

We can handle our own.

We might have moments of weakness, we might break down, we might cry, but in private. We know what it’s like to not be taken seriously, or worse, to be disregarded even when our full picture is understood. We don’t want to jeopardize that, and we won’t.

#sickpeopledoingthings is for the old school and new school, alike. It’s for those who learned how to live life before having to share it with people they don’t know, and it’s for those who have fallen down the rabbit hole of feeling like their illness is only real if they take pictures of it.

#sickpeopledoingthings is about highlighting us not being sick at all – not in a shameful way, but in a way that helps people become clear about the fact that, without shoving it down anyone’s throat overtly, we matter, and we are a force to be reckoned with.

#sickpeopledoingthings represents that while we are doing all of the things that the non-chronically ill people do, we are also superheroes who lead a double life. We are managing pain, coordinating our medical care, and mentally processing an extra layer of heavy shit that those without illness don’t have to consider. Except we aren’t Clark Kent in one place and Superman in another – we. are. both. all. the. time. We don’t get to choose when we want to be one or the other. It’s the thing that makes us suffer, but more importantly… it’s the thing that makes us great.

#sickpeopledoingthings is about the beauty that comes from those around us not needing to know of our dual identities. No one knew about Clark Kent’s alter ego, but it didn’t stop him from moving faster than a speeding bullet, did it? People getting a medical play-by-play doesn’t make our illness more real, and people not believing we are sick doesn’t make it less real. If anyone has a problem with that, that’s THEIR shit, that’s not OUR shit.

#sickpeopledingthings was created so we can start feeling motivated and empowered to live the lives we want to live. That doesn’t mean that we’ll do it the way it’s commonly done, and it doesn’t mean we won’t have to make modifications along the way. What it DOES mean, is that our strength will come from pushing past our illness, and not losing who we are in the process of dwelling on it.

A lot of people think that being inspirational happens when you simply intend to inspire, but that’s not even close. There’s nothing special about preaching to the choir. People are most inspired when they see others doing things that bring them joy, and doing it in the face of adversity. No one wants to hear us talking about the things we want to do, they want us to see us get up and do the things we want to do. They want to see that there’s hope for them in us.

#sickpeopledoingthings is not about posting about another visit to the clinic, or another blood draw, or another sob story about how being sick is holding us down. It’s also not about warrior poses and “raising awareness” and all of the ridiculous self-indulgent and misguided behavior that has infiltrated the internet. It’s about absolutely none of that, while being something in between.

We need to stop trying to inspire, and start being inspirational.

Go outside. Write in a journal. Make time for the people you love. Work hard. Earn the things you have. Explore your passions. Experience new things. Protect the things you’re grateful for. Draw. Help others.

Help yourself.

In the last 9 months, #sickpeopledoingthings has been used more than 1000 times, which means we now have an active record of the things we CAN do, not the things we can’t. Instead of freaking out the newly-diagnosed with over-the-top memes and selfies that scare them into being bedridden shut-ins, let’s use #sickpeopledoingthings as a roadmap of options to the dream(s) of their choosing.

Get that virtual degree. Start that business from your bed. Organize your closet when you can’t sleep at night. Rent a scooter on vacation. Start dictating that first novel. Get comfy with online shopping.

Be creative.

Chronic illness shouldn’t prevent you from thinking that your life matters or that it will amount to anything important. If you want to be more than your illness, take the steps necessary to say that proudly. If you want something bad enough, figure out a way to make it work for YOU. Be a sick person doing things.

Everybody has shit. This just happens to be ours.

xoB

@chronicmotivation

“With Passion.”

#sickpeopledoingthings est. 1/12/2018 by Becky aka @chronicmotivation

I am not the problem.

I am not someone who uses my disease as a “card.” And I am not someone who uses that card to feel entitled to special treatment. I believe, seemingly way more conservatively than many, that while certain accommodations are necessary for me, physically, I don’t feel my struggle is worse than someone with different problems that I’m lucky enough not to have.

With that said, on Tuesday night, I impulsively bought a ticket for a concert that was scheduled for the following evening. I do a lot of things impulsively (read: last minute) – mainly, I think, because I get so much anxiety about making plans too far in advance, in case I’m not well enough to attend when the actual date arrives. The concert was for a band that had been my favorite growing up, and I took it as a sign that less than 24-hours in advance, there were still seats available.

Many people who don’t face a life-consuming illness would think that was the end of the story. But for me, that’s where the stress began. Once the commitment to something has happened (especially commitment to something that I’ve paid money for), the planning process ensues. Thinking about navigating through the next day, I took a shower before bed, picked out an outfit that I could go from day to night with easily, put all of my potentially needed medications in my travel pill case, and planned to leave some things at work, so I wouldn’t have to carry them in tow.

I woke up feeling proud of myself. Proud to have challenged myself to step outside of my comfort zone, and proud that I put myself in a situation of readiness, so my anxiety, (while still present), wouldn’t completely overshadow my interest in going to the event at all. And as usual, as the day went on, I started having doubts, taking the cold weather into consideration, and the fact that yesterday was also my long day at work (a 10+ hour shift), but I swatted those thoughts away, reassuring myself that I had done my part.

So as the sky started getting dark, and my day was winding down, I started to feel like maybe I didn’t have to leave anything behind. Perhaps, if I consolidated my things well enough, I could bring everything with me to the concert and go home knowing I wasn’t without anything I might need. Innocently (read: stupidly), I went to the venue’s website to see if I could bring in my lunch bag. And as I scrolled to the bottom of the page, my heart sank when I landed on the following statement:

“No Drugs or Paraphernalia. (Prescriptions Drugs will not be allowed into the venue unless they are in a prescription bottle. The ID of the person holding the prescription must match the name on the bottle).”

First of all, let’s address the fact that “Drugs and Paraphernalia” are not the same as “prescription drugs”, nor is the connotation attached.

When thinking of the casual usage of “drugs”, especially next to the term, “paraphernalia”, we automatically think of something negative – drug addicts, drug abusers, and drugs that are illegal, used illegally, and possessed by someone who obtained them in a less than honorable way. However, when discussing prescriptions, or “prescription drugs”, as it’s stated on the website, the definition already explains that the drug is on a person who was prescribed to take them. And not just anyone can prescribe “prescription drugs.” Dog walkers can’t prescribe drugs. Bus drivers can’t prescribe drugs. Nor can circus clowns, accountants, or the girl who cuts your hair. Only a licensed medical professional is able to prescribe “prescription drugs”, which means there must be a good reason for doing so, other than “the patient wants to smuggle something into a concert venue.” Someone carrying prescription medications did not do anything wrong.

Next, let’s discuss the fact that I decided to be pro-active, because I was afraid I wouldn’t get into the show, and called the box office directly to ask about this “policy.” (I put policy in quotes, because I think it’s really nothing less than a scare-tactic, which I’ll explain later…). When talking to the numbnuts who answered the phone, he reiterated that the “policy” was true, and that it was enforced. After I explained that I am chronically ill, take many prescription medications every day to function, and that I don’t carry around 11 orange and white bottles to go with it because I’d need a sidecar to do so, the guy continued to repeat that the “policy” had no exceptions.

Because I’m me, I pushed back, which made the guy on the phone go talk to security. When he got back on the phone, the story was the same, except for the fact that now I was being told that I would “not be admitted into the concert with ANY pills on my person.” Woah, woah, woah. “‘Any’ pills?”, I asked? “Do you have doctors searching people at the entrance to the theater? Because I’m curious about how your security guards are qualified to determine whether or not the medications I’m carrying are over-the-counter or prescription.”

The guy on the phone continued to say, on repeat, “you will not be allowed into the theater with any pills that aren’t in a prescription bottle.” When I asked why it specified “prescription” on the website and if people carrying Tylenol were being sent away, he knew he had screwed up, and his method of avoiding it was to just stay committed to the phrase he had been using.

So I asked for my money back. I told the guy that I don’t ever use my medical condition as a button to push, but in this moment, I felt that I was being discriminated against, because nowhere during the ticket-purchasing process was I informed of this “policy.” The guy tried to defend this by saying it is “clearly” stated on the website, to which I replied, “when’s the last time you bought tickets for a concert and decided for ‘funzies’ to get check out the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page? Also, I think it’s also probably very unlikely that someone who was carrying illegal drugs would call the music venue to ask for permission to bring them in.”

I’m just saying.

I continued to offer solutions, like bringing a copy of my medical records, or better yet, going to the pharmacy and getting printed proof for the prescriptions I was carrying. No dice for any of it. And obviously, I was told that they would not refund my ticket, so I got off the phone because I knew I wasn’t going to get through to this asshat.

Now, I’m staring at the clock, trying to figure out if I’ll be able to get home in time to get the pill bottle(s) and get back to the concert, and considering if it would even matter. “Would I feel safe enough to bring NO medications with me?” No. “Do I need more than one medication?” Yes. “Do I need to take a pill bottle for each RX?” Who the fuck knows? “If I decide to go the safe route and bring several bottles with me, will my bag then be too big to bring in without checking it, ultimately losing my access to my meds, anyway?” Probably.

As a last ditch effort, I called my regular Pharmacy and spoke to a Pharmacist that has been helping me for years. He felt badly about the situation, and even said that if I was closer to his store, he’d have made me a prescription bottle with my name on it to throw my pills into, but unfortunately, the store is on the block I live on, so I figured I might as well go get the real ones at that point.

After deciding that I wasn’t going to lose this fight (meaning, I was still going to go to the concert), I hauled my ass home in a cab (which I shouldn’t have had to pay for), quickly decided to take one pill bottle and risk throwing multiple meds in, changed my clothes, and ended up having to take the subway back to Times Square, because I knew I’d never make it in rush hour traffic. I rarely take the subway because of all of the walking/standing/stairs, but as a physically disabled person, I was unnecessarily inconvenienced further, because our country has no way to monitor the abuse of narcotics.

After trekking across the city underground, I ended up just barely getting to the concert on time, and when I showed up and told security that I couldn’t stand on the line waiting to enter, they moved me right in, which was helpful.

But this is where my issue got real.

I was taken through the red ropes to bypass the queue, and before entering the building, they asked that I show them my bag. (This was it. This was what the previous two hours would amount to.) I stood there, so pumped and so ready for them to see the medication bottle and to confirm that it was my name on the label. But as I expected, the man doing the check only opened one of the two zippered sections (the one that didn’t have my medication in it…), pointed his flashlight on the top of my purse, and said, “Have a good night.” I could have had a bag of weed or a handgun in my bag and they would have let me through.

And this is why I’m frustrated. Not only did I figure that the “policy” on the website was garbage, I was repeatedly told on the phone that I “would not be admitted in without the appropriate proof” of medications I need to function. I was able to walk up to a security guard and ask to cut a whole line of people without showing proof, so why in the world should I be questioned about pills in a pill case?

Do I understand that there is an opioid epidemic? Of course.

But I am not the problem.

A few years ago, when they started cracking down on the narcotic prescriptions, it was a horrible adjustment period for the chronically ill. My specialists no longer wanted to manage my pain, because they feared being audited by the FDA. I had to start seeing a pain-management specialist, which was another copay from my wallet.

When it came to actually filling my prescription, many drug companies pulled way back in the production of these medications, so I spent hours calling a bunch of different pharmacies in New York to see if they had the pain medication I was prescribed. To make matters worse, I often wasn’t able to get accurate information on these calls, because pharmacists would either give me shit for calling about a narcotic over the phone (making me seem like a drug seeker, because in that moment, I guess I technically was), or they would lie and say they didn’t have it because they didn’t feel comfortable giving out that information. As a physically disabled person, I had to run all over Manhattan, walking in and out of storefronts, showing them that I had the paper prescription (to prove that I was legit), and question whether or not they had enough to fill the script. The anxiety I would get every month was absolutely absurd.

When they mandated that controlled substance RXs could only be sent to pharmacies electronically, my anxiety about this heightened, because at least if I had the physical prescription and the pharmacy didn’t have the medication, I could go somewhere else. However, if an electronic prescription is sent to a pharmacy and they don’t have the drug, they can’t transfer the prescription anywhere else because it’s a controlled substance. You have to then go back to your doctor and beg him/her to send it to a different location.

It’s a viscous, viscous process.

So my final question is this: At what point will it be enough for me to just be sick? To have to wake up in pain every day? For me to have to figure out how to be a contributing member of society, working full-time in an effort to keep my medical insurance and pay for all of my medical bills, while also juggling several doctors’ appointments each week and acute issues that come up, like visits to the ER or recovering from monthly infusions? When will it be enough that I have to plan every second of every day unless I want to face failure? And plan it to the point where it often overshadows any fun I could possibly have, and often makes me not commit to anything at all?

Why, on top of my horrible misfortune, should I have to do a song and dance because people are abusing the system? I’ve always been transparent about my illness and I am never defensive about proving that I’m sick, because I have plenty to provide in the way of clinical documentation since I’m ACTUALLY sick. But when I get up the courage to commit to an event, spending money I should be spending on medical expenses, and then have to be put out and basically treated guilty until proven innocent for a disease that I am just trying to navigate through, it’s frankly, bullshit.

As a manager, I always tell staff and coworkers that if you have a problem, you should come to the table with a resolve. So I propose that maybe we create some kind of ID card or wristband system that says that we are diagnosed with an illness that requires us the following:

  • prescription meds
  • narcotics (if necessary)
  • accommodations (a seat, low lighting, dietary specifications, etc.)

We have handicap tags for the cars we drive, why can’t we have something on our person to do the same function? I don’t care if I have to hang a huge sign from my freaking ponytail; we just need to find a way to address the issue without harming those who are already suffering.

I am not the problem.