Hidradenitis Suppurativa at Work
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted my perspective about HS and my job. I work in a court with four day workweeks, 10 hour days. When the pandemic shut down society as we knew it, I was privileged enough to work from home. This changed the stress my body was going through. Working from home allowed me to wear loose, more comfortable clothing and rest as needed. My HS was 10x better while working from home. But as the world has adapted to COVID-19, I have been back in the office and had to re-adapt to working long days as a professional.
Adjusting back to being in the office
As I have adjusted to being in the office again, I have had more sick days, more flares, and more burnout. It is fair to say my physical and mental health have suffered. Wearing constricting clothing makes me uncomfortable and can be downright painful when I have abscesses. Having to work during a pandemic and being exposed to people has resulted in stress, anxiety, and depression. I was not prepared to deal with these effects and have struggled immensely.
Because of the culture I work in, I am not comfortable openly sharing my HS diagnosis. Only a couple of coworkers know about my health challenges, and my supervisor is aware I have a chronic illness. I realize I am privileged to have a boss who I can trust to share some of my health challenges with. It has helped tremendously to know she has my back.
Applying for FMLA
One of the hardest things I have contemplated is applying for FMLA. I have been lucky and privileged enough to not need to consider this before. However, as my sick time has been dwindling, it is something I’ve thought about. I have felt shame and embarrassment while deliberating because of the stigma associated with FMLA and chronic illnesses. Although between my mental and physical health, I can’t help but wonder if this is the best path for me.
The only silver lining is my HS has made me a better, more empathetic advocate. I am easily able to identify with people who are chronically ill or suffering long term effects of injuries. I can better understand the barriers they may face when trying to leave difficult situations, even if they wish to, because of the health challenges they face or the need for medical insurance benefits. Although I am privileged to have great health insurance because of my job, the reality is my work affects my health. How many of us have to make this sacrifice to have health insurance and make ends meet?
HS can be overwhelming
HS, and my other chronic illnesses, provide a challenge that sometimes feels overwhelming. I have learned to adapt at my workspace by adopting healthier habits, such as starting (and restarting) therapy, trying to eat healthier, and wearing more comfortable clothing. I have adapted by utilizing more skirts and dresses that are still professional but functional. One thing that has also helped was switching to wireless bras, to avoid aggravating my skin. I also have emergency bandaids, a heating pad, medication, and other necessities at my desk.
Although I cannot work from home, I do my best to make myself as comfortable as can be in the office. In the future, I hope we can all do the work we love while getting the accommodations we need.
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