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The Wonders of Working From Home
By Vanessa Costello
Born and raised in the UK, Vanessa now lives in Toronto, Canada. She was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism ten years ago and has been working hard to remain optimistic every day since.
More and more people seem to be complaining about working from home. I understand, they’re growing tired of the same sights, day in, day out, and crave that in-person interaction. For me, however, as someone living with a chronic illness, things couldn’t be better. Not having to commute really helps me conserve energy (which I can instead channel into work-related productivity), and getting the extra time to sleep in each morning is invaluable. To say I struggle in the mornings is an understatement. Waking up every day, feeling as if I have just run a marathon and hit equally hard with an overwhelming bout of nausea, it takes me a while to start to feel human again. Getting up early for work was always difficult and I must admit, I was frequently late to the office.
In all honesty, I paused before writing this article. Addressing my chronic illness is not something I ever tend to do. Not many people at work know; in fact, very few people in my life overall know. Even some of my closest friends remain unaware. And yet, it’s such a huge part of me. I decided to stop and question why it is I stay so silent. Although it’s far easier to go through life never delving deeper, I recognize that introspection is uncomfortable but ultimately, necessary.
So why do I stay so quiet? I guess I feel awkward. Socially, it is awkward to talk about an illness. It brings the mood down. Instead, I hide behind the ‘lazy and loving it’ stereotype. The gym? No thank you. Getting up early? Yuck. I even used to lie and tell people that I’d done all sorts of fun activities over the weekend, when the truth was I’d slept the entirety of both days. Of course, I’d love to be able to exercise regularly and I truly wish to be an early bird. Instead, you’ll find me putting a chair in my shower as I sometimes don’t even have the energy to stand up. It’s certainly a double life I lead.
What concerns me about declaring my illness in the workplace? I worry about being overlooked for opportunities, due to the fact that I may not have the natural energy reserves or vigour as someone else. In fact, I probably push myself even harder than most throughout the work week, living off caffeine pills (although I know these are not good for someone with my condition) and then relying on the weekends to crash and somewhat ‘recover’ so I can go on and face another week. The working world and realities of modern-day capitalism, (especially in a rat-race kind of city like Toronto), is and are ruthless.
Ostensibly, while companies are getting more and more open (and vocal) to the idea of hiring people with disabilities, I wonder if that is unfortunately, at purely an optics-only stage right now. Will they really not place my resume to the bottom of the pile if I state that exhaustion and brain fog are a regular part of my day-to-day? Maybe I’m a cynic or maybe I’m simply cognizant that in a for-profit corporation, nothing is more important than the bottom line. However, if I am looking for positives, I would note that these companies are made up of fellow human beings, which would hopefully present some semblance of compassion. Plus, one could argue that a display of diversity in itself benefits the bottom line. Public image is increasingly important in today’s world. Altogether now: three cheers for corporate social responsibility. Whether the reasons behind it are genuine or not…we won’t get too hung up on that for now.
I know this is a community who will be able to relate, and that brings me such a sense of relief. The shared understanding of having an invisible illness. Something that regular folk never seem to fully compute because they can’t see any physical manifestation in front of them. Back when I was first diagnosed, in order to finally see a Doctor it took me no longer being able to walk or even breathe, watching my throat swell to 3 times the size. “Gosh, you have one of the most severe cases of hypothyroidism I’ve seen in a long time” he said, looking at a page full of numbers that meant nothing to me. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the thyroid gland even was, let alone its importance.
I guess it was naïve of me to assume that once I started medication, I would automatically go back to feeling exactly like who I was before. I knew it was a chronic condition that would stay with me for life, but I thought it was a pop-a-pill and hey presto kind of situation. Unfortunately, that’s not been the case. As with most chronic illnesses, there are peaks and troughs as you journey through life. It’s only when I reached my next valley of utter exhaustion that I decided I needed to take my condition into my own hands. Now, I stick to a strict regime of supplements and know what I should and should not be eating in order to aid my condition somewhat. Although, I hope folks can agree with me when I say that this is easier said than done – especially when trying to have some sort of social life!
All this to say, I do hope that companies start to consider a remote working model moving forward, even after the pandemic ceases. I personally am crossing both my fingers and toes. While I feel hesitant to vocalize this in my day to day life, I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts and air my grievances here. And finally, as you may all be wondering – will I ever have the guts to declare my chronic condition to my current employer, future employers or even a friend? Well let’s just say…I’m working on it.
Whole post recording read by Jenni Pettican