The topic for this month's Diabetes Social Media Advocacy (DSMA) blog carnival is about dealing with diabetes at work and/or school. Do you tell people around you about your illness? Why or why not? Amy's been out of school and self-employed since her diagnosis (lucky her!), so she deferred to me on this topic — and frankly, I've always been pretty "out there."
I remember my first job interview out of college very clearly. It was an overcast afternoon in March and it was my first time in New Jersey. My potential future employer, Tom, asked me all kinds of questions about my college experience and my work history. He asked me about my strengths and my weaknesses. He asked about why I wanted to work in public relations. As he flipped through my portfolio, he also asked me about diabetes.
This might strike some of you as strange or completely out of place. Why would a potential employer ask me about diabetes in a job interview? Isn't that off-limits? Isn't that illegal?
Tom didn't ask if I had any chronic conditions. In fact, he knew before I even arrived that I had type 1 diabetes. Why's that?
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Well, having diabetes helped hook me up with this gig at the 'Mine, but prior to last year, I worked in public relations. When I graduated from college, I had six years of diabetes advocacy work under my belt. I had already started two diabetes websites and wrote for a number of diabetes publications. I had my college coursework and an internship, too, but the bulk of what I considered my "accomplishments" had to do with getting press around my D-stuff.
In that first job interview, Tom wanted someone who "knew about blogging." And I had a blog... about diabetes. So it worked to my advantage.
Ironically, I had actually thought about not including my diabetes work in my portfolio. Many people I know don't say a word about their diabetes to anyone until after they've been hired for a job. In fact, it's the advice that career guidance professionals repeat. Even after they've been hired, sometimes they only tell a few people. Their direct supervisor. Maybe a colleague or two, just to be safe.
I didn't have to tell anyone that I had diabetes. I could have removed any mention of my diabetes websites, my internship with the JDRF, and my D-clips from my resume and portfolio. But I didn't. I left them in there. Heck, in this day and age, anyone who googled my name would have quickly realized that I had type 1 diabetes anyway.
That's how Tom knew. My diabetes was on my resume. It was all over the Internet. And the guy who introduced me to Tom also has type 1 diabetes.
I used to think that my situation was unique — that very few people would be in a position where they could use a disease to their advantage. But lately, I've seen more and more people expressing a desire to do something they are passionate about. Often times, people are passionate about things that are very personal to them. Maybe you aren't someone who's interested in working on diabetes as a career. It can sometimes be daunting to have your medical condition touch all corners of your world.
But I also reflect on how I even landed the interview with Tom. Through a web of connections that rivals any game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, we in the diabetes community know a lot of people. I'm hard-pressed to think of a reason why I would keep my diabetes secret when it so clearly aided in how I could present myself as an asset to a company, and I think that goes for a lot of situations.
What I've learned over the past ten years is how amazing it can be when we make ourselves vulnerable. I'm not saying we should go around baring all the skeletons in our closets, but when it comes to diabetes, it has been eye-opening to see the reactions and the connections that people have to it. Plus, if your life with diabetes has given you experience in an area, whether through volunteering on a committee, organizing or promoting an event, or freelance writing (which was the case for me), then I believe there is no reason to think that diabetes will hinder you. Diabetes can make you stronger.
There are certainly times when I wish fewer people knew about my diabetes. It was difficult to handle the entire office asking about diabetes at the company holiday party, or asking if "you're okay" when you're drinking a Diet Coke. And I've lost count of the interrogations from the Diabetes Police. When that's the only thing people associate with you, it can be isolating. You can feel put into a box. So I get that. But I also know that sharing my personal advocacy efforts has done more to help me than hurt me. It's given me the opportunity to educate folks, so that hopefully there are fewer victims of the Diabetes Police. It's also allowed me to educate fellow colleagues diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.
We are all human and we all have things that we'd rather not share with others. Maybe diabetes is one of those things for you. But I believe that if you can do something positive with diabetes, if it can help you find your passion or accomplish a goal, then there is no reason to keep it a secret. No employer is allowed to ask you if you have diabetes or any medical condition, but sometimes volunteering the information has better results than leaving it out.
This post is our March entry in the DSMA Blog Carnival. If you'd like to participate too, you'll find all the information you need here.