My chronic (Coeliac) career

I’m delighted to announce a new feature here on worklifespirit. ‘My Chronic Career’ will present interviews with people who have chronic health problems focussing on not just their medical experience, but also the impact on their life and career.

Jenna Blair from Shrewsbury, Shropshire has kindly agreed to be interviewed. Thanks Jenna!

(Please come forward to be interviewed if you work and have a chronic health problem by contacting me)

Can you tell me a bit about your Coeliac history?

Coeliac history  – I was diagnosed aged seventeen after many inconclusive trips to various G.Ps and around eighteen months worth of steadily increasing symptoms. Explanations of my ill health, extreme exhaustion, loss of memory and fainting fits ranged from being told I was ‘doing to much’ to suggestions of leukaemia and ME. Severe anaemia led one G.P. (I will never forget her) to question whether Coeliac disease may be the cause of all my problems. A blood test hinted that this may be the case and an endoscopy proved her suspicions. Within a few weeks of adopting the gluten free diet (the only way to treat/manage Coeliac disease) I had what I can only describe as a new lease of life. Looking back, I had got so used to feeling so ill that it was only when I became well again that I realised how truly terrible I had felt for such a long time.

And how about your working life? What career path have you taken?

I studied English at degree level and then went on to complete a PGCE in primary education leading to a five year teaching career. I now work as an administrator for a dance company with a successful education vein and other arts based organisations. I am looking forward to building an arts based career with a focus on education.

Did you know about your condition before you were diagnosed?

I did not know about Coeliac before my diagnosis.

How did you find out further information about your condition when you were diagnosed?

The Coeliac Society (now Coeliac UK) was an essential source of information and guidance.

Finding information is different now with the internet, which sites do you find useful in terms of information / support and advice about your condition?

Coeliac UK and many gluten free food manufacturers (such as Juvela and Glutafin) have useful websites, many featuring excellent gluten free recipes.

Thinking about working and having your condition – what do you find / have you found most difficult to manage / cope with in the world of work?

Situations involving food – e.g. Professional development courses with lunch included – usually sandwich based which is not suitable for anyone following a gluten free diet. I always take my own lunch along to this type of event nowadays and do my best not to feel awkward about tucking into my own homemade snack while others linger around the buffet table!

What is your top tip for employers – what could they do to support people with your condition?

Provide/request gluten free options for Coeliac employees at professional development and similar events.

What is your top tip for employees with your condition?

Forward planning – think ahead in terms of food and always take your own along if you are unsure whether there will be gluten free options. It’s hard to concentrate if you’re hungry!

When you have a flare up of symptoms – what is your ‘coping mechanism’?

I stick to strict gluten free diet so luckily my symptoms don’t flare up very often.

Do you think you have developed any personal skills or qualities as a result of having your condition? 

An understanding and tolerance of anyone having to follow a restricted diet … and an increased interest in and love of food and cooking.

What advice would you give people who have just been diagnosed with your condition?

Advice to newly diagnosed Celiac – contact Coeliac UK, ensure you stick to a strict gluten free diet and look forward to feeling well again.

What advice would you give to the family and friends of someone who has just been diagnosed with your condition?

Newly diagnosed Coeliacs need support to cope with following a restricted diet and also with coming to terms with having a chronic, life-long auto-immune deficiency.  Following a gluten free diet can make people feel awkward and embarrassed and family/friends can either add to or help with these feelings.  Jokes about being a ‘fussy eater’ are not funny … understanding, patience and an interest in the condition are much more helpful.

Do you have a chronic health condition and a career? If so please come forward to be interviewed by contacting me!

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