Dealing with Coworkers When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

Vicki Health Guide
  • Toward the beginning of my journey down the MS path, before the diagnosis, I was already walking with a cane. Everyone who worked with me knew I had some kind of health problem. When I began going through tests to find the unknown reason for all of my symptoms, I was open about it. There were a couple of co-workers who leaned into me and whispered their question, "What do you have? I won't tell anyone."

    I did not understand then why they thought I would keep secrets about my health. The problem was I really did not know, and there was no secret to tell. I have since learned that many people with a chronic disease have a real problem deciding when, who, what, and why to tell. If you tell too much to the wrong person, you could find yourself in an unplanned career change.

    There is a difference between co-workers and friends. There is no doubt that the two overlap — sometimes you find friends through the workplace. This is not always the case, nor should it be, and it is a good idea to learn the difference. Expectations are different.

    After diagnosis, nothing changed really. Instead of "What do you have?" the question became "What is MS?" I did not mind who asked, but I could not tell them any more than MS is a chronic condition of the central nervous system.

    Some symptoms began to interfere with my normal work routine. Heavy traffic started to bother my vision, and fatigue began to reduce my effectiveness for the entire day. I adjusted my schedule to miss traffic times and allow periods of rest throughout the day. That meant some meetings were rescheduled around my new hours. However, making my life easier hampered others' days.
    I did not hear any complaints, and I was grateful.

    My fatigue began to hit harder and our major project that required meetings ended. I became one of the first telecommuters, working at home during part of the week.

    AMR, the parent company of American Airlines (AA), was breaking ground by accommodating my telecommuting. In time, t
    elecommuting would become available to more workers as technology advanced, but it was rare then. That was the late 1980s, and few businesses were able and willing to provide more than email. I was appointed to a committee that prepared AA to comply with the ADA in accommodations.* They were to allow people with disabilities to continue working, and working off-site was one option.

    Working one or two days each week went well for all, so I began telecommuting full time. I went in to the office only for status meetings, but then I began to attend meetings from home. Meetings were handled using speaker phones and faxes, neither of which were conducive to personal relationships. Although I spoke on the phone with the people I was working with directly, most of my business contacts were by email or data transfer.

    Communicating online was not the same as face-to-face contact.
    During this time, I began to feel a bit isolated. When I retired in the mid 1990s, the face-to-face business contact, as little as it was by then, came to a stop.

    My relationship with those co-workers I associated with for so many years no longer exists as it was. However, I began to cultivate relationships with people who worked online. It has been more than a decade since I retired from AMR. I hosted a couple of small get-togethers with former co-workers. A few friends I met at work visit regularly for dinner and to show pictures so I can have vicarious vacations. Others have moved out of the local area, but we visit every few years, speak regularly by phone and often email. I still keep in touch with several former co-workers by email and through FaceBook.

    In my new job as a blogger, especially for MS and health care, I rely entirely on the Internet through emails, comments and forums. My current co-worker relationships are formed and continue online.

    My current co-workers are now in the cyberspace environment. My work relationships rely on technology as they never have before. There are many opportunities. It's a wonderful time to be involved in social networking and media, such as Skype, LinkedIn, and, yes, even YouTube.

    "We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking
    if mankind is to survive." ~ Albert Einstein


    Notes and Links:
    *The ADA defines reasonable accommodation - "Reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.
    "

    * The ADA explains - "The decision as to the appropriate accommodation must be based on the particular facts of each case. In selecting the particular type of reasonable accommodation to provide, the principal test is that o effectiveness, i.e., whether the accommodation will provide an opportunity for a person with a disability to achieve the same level of performance and to enjoy benefits equal to those of an average, similarly situated person without a disability. "

    The Quiet Revolution: Telecommuting


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Published On: June 25, 2010