Crohn's at Work

Nearly everyone has to labor for a living, and many of us struggle with finding and maintaining a healthy balance between our work life and our personal life.

If you have the added challenge of dealing with Crohn’s disease, trying to juggle your day-to-day work schedule with unscheduled Crohn’s flare-ups can leave you feeling vulnerable and exhausted, especially if you’re stressed out from attempting to hide the chronic source of your discomfort.

Although you don’t want to be unproductive at work, you realize you need to take care of your condition, which is time consuming. Worrying won’t help matters, and in fact, it could worsen your symptoms and create a mindset of despair.

Here’s how to transform that feeling of futility by aiming for flexibility.

Be Prepared

Monitor your symptoms and try not to deviate from your medication and mealtime schedules. Keep a kit in your desk to handle emergencies, stocked with antidiarrheal medicine, disposable wipes, and a change of clothes.

When you’re about to attend a meeting that you fear may run longer than you can hold out, and you’re concerned about missing important information, ask if you can record the proceedings. Then if you feel an uncontrollable urge to use the bathroom, you can quietly excuse yourself. (If you think you must offer an explanation for your departure, simply say you’re feeling unwell. No need to get graphic.)

Come Clean

You’re really not doing yourself nor anyone else a favor if you try to keep your condition a secret from your co-workers. They’ve probably noticed that you frequently leave your desk to use the restroom or that you’re very particular about what you eat and drink. They can’t ignore that you take all your sick days and then some. Not knowing the cause of your habits and absences can create a climate of resentment, particularly if your co-workers have to pick up the slack.

Overcome your fear of embarrassment and confide in your co-workers. Explain your condition, and tell them that you’re doing the best you can to manage Crohn’s disease, but that sometimes, despite your best efforts, Crohn’s gets the better of you. They’ll appreciate your honesty, and may even help you manage your workload or find other ways to accommodate you, such as stocking the break room pantry with snacks that ?won’t upset your stomach.

Exercise Your Rights

If you’re really uncomfortable about confiding in your office mates, at the very least alert your supervisor. Here’s why:

Companies employing 15 or more workers are subject to following the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition to offering protection from discrimination in hiring, wages, and promotions, the ADA empowers disabled employees to request "reasonable accommodation." For you, that means positioning your workstation near a restroom, acknowledging the need for extra bathroom breaks, and allocating more absences during flare-ups. You may even be allowed to telecommute.?

Telecommuting has become commonplace in recent years since most office workers now use personal computers. You can accomplish the same tasks remotely at your home computer, and stay connected to your coworkers by email and instant messaging.

You can still participate in meetings via Skype for real-time face time with clients. Telecommuting affords you greater autonomy over your condition. You’re also likely to be less self-conscious about your Crohn’s when you’re home alone. Buoyed by the comforts of home, you may even be able to increase your productivity as you lessen your stress.

If you do have an opportunity to work at home, take special care not to isolate yourself. Periodically leave your desk and stretch your legs with a walk outside. You’ll be able to de-stress, clear your mind, and reap the benefits of exercise and fresh air.