A Letter From Your Colleague

Thursday, October 25 at 8:34 p.m.

“I’m coughing up blood so I have two friends coming now to check on me. Most likely going to the hospital tonight. My mom told me to let someone know and I don’t want to make it a ‘thing’ I’m fine.”

Friday, October 26 at 9:10 a.m.

“Hey guys! just wanted to let you know that i’m going to be home today, working pretty sparsely. I had an episode last night and fainted multiple times. Didn’t get home from the ER till very very late. I’m OK and stable, just need to rest and stay laying down. Sorry for the inconvenience.

These were the messages you sent just before learning you had relapsed with Lyme Disease and had to spend a week in the hospital. When you returned the next Thursday, I watched you take a quick breath, straighten your back, and ask the team permission to bring your IV into the office so you could administer life-saving treatment through your picc line.

I felt so, so sorry for you. But not because you relapsed; despite only being 22, you’re one of the strongest women I know, and I know you will beat this disease. I felt sorry that our society has created a culture in which you feel your illness makes you an inconvenience, like taking care of yourself is somehow a burden to those around you. I want you to know that it is NOT.

I often wonder if my awkward silences, or diverted gazes have contributed to this. Perhaps you saw this as something taboo to talk about in the office as these were the reactions you often got. But I want you to know that the discussion doesn’t make me uncomfortable. On the contrary, I would absolutely love to learn how I can better support you. I simply don’t know what’s appropriate to ask, or how to ask it, so I end up avoiding the conversation altogether.

I want you to know that I’ve never seen you as “the girl with Lyme Disease.” That is not what defines you. I see you as Hannah, one of the most hilarious, clever, and business savvy women I know. Your work is not judged as “good for a sick girl,” it is judged on the same plane as absolutely everyone else.

My greatest hope for you and Chronically Capable, is that no one with a chronic illness ever feels like they have to apologize for their condition, or believe it defines them, and that dialogue about chronic illness in the workplace can become normalized.

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