My chronic career – Crohn’s Disease

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.

Tim Albert from Milwaukee, WI has kindly agreed to be interviewed. Thanks Tim!

Tim is 23 years old from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He was diagnosed with crohn’s at the age of 14, but has been leading a relatively normal life. He is a recent college graduate and young professional working in the IT field. He is also an aspiring entrepreneur, and has recently created a blog (www.crohnsoncampus.com) to help empower college students suffering from crohn’s disease.

(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 Crohn’s history?

I have a moderate case of Crohn’s. I was diagnosed when I was 14 years old while I was in the middle of my freshman year of high school. It started with diarrhoea and stomach pain, and after a series of horrendous tests and procedures I was diagnosed with Crohn’s.

I have had way too many hospitalizations and have been in and out of remission. However, today I am on a strict pill regiment and I receive Remicaide once a month. Most importantly I am living a relatively happy life.

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

In high school, I attended most of my classes (senior year I may have used the Crohn’s to get out of a few days of school, sorry mom). I attended all of my school dances and was on the track and swim teams.

I was accepted into Saint Louis University where I majored in business administration and was amazingly able to graduate in 4 years. While in college, I was elected the president of the national honor society. I rushed, pledged and was initiated into a social fraternity. In the frat I held leadership positions and did my fair share of partying. I also held down numerous campus jobs including help desk security worker, and IT help desk worker.

After school I moved to Wisconsin where I am currently employed as a Quality Assurance Engineer at a small software development firm.

Did you know about your condition before you were diagnosed?

No. I had no clue the Crohn’s Disease existed.

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

I really just started searching on Google. However, when I was first diagnosed I was almost in denial that I had the disease, and most of the information I found scared me shitless, (sorry for the inappropriate pun) so I pretty much just avoided learning anything about the disease.

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

I would say CCFA.org is your best bet if you need some information about Crohn’s today. You can really get lost on that site; there are just so many links.

One site I would stay away from however is WebMD. No matter what, I always find myself freaked out that I have cancer after visiting that site.

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?

The thing that I have found to be the most difficult is dealing with missing work. Even though I have paid time off, I feel like I need to take off like once a week, which doesn’t allow for much PTO to use for pleasure. Your employer doesn’t want you to miss work and I am always worried that I am going to get fired for missing so much.

If you don’t have PTO this would be even worse because you will be losing money to deal with the Crohn’s.

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

Allow for flexible scheduling. My employer allows me to work at home when I’m not feeling well. This is especially useful for people with Crohn’s because a lot of times you don’t need to be laying in bed sleeping, you just need to be close to a bathroom. As long as you are getting your job done, I see no reason an employer should say no to working at home.

What is your top tip for employees with your condition?

Be prepared. Pack all the things you think you might need on your worst day and leave that emergency kit at work or in your car. Scope out the bathroom situation ahead of time. It’s not worth being uncomfortable at work. If you have to go, go. Even if is going to be the loudest smelliest one you have ever let go. (Sorry that was 3)

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

Humour. The disease is like a prank from god, if you don’t laugh at it, it will get the best of you.

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

Absolutely, I am always conscious of where bathrooms are. I have also developed a mentality that allows me to just not get embarrassed anymore when things happen that may traumatize the average person. A lot of times there isn’t anything you can do about it so there is no reason to sweat it.

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

It’s not the end of your life. Yes, things are going to change but you can change as well. The human body is truly amazing, and you can do anything, I repeat ANYTHING you want with Crohn’s. Do NOT let the Crohn’s imprison you.

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

Be supportive, but at the same time don’t treat them like they’re handicapped. The best friend of someone with Crohn’s is a friend that listens.

And if there is a question that I have not asked which you would like to answer please add the question and the answer below!

I have found that a lot of young professionals with and without Crohn’s have one burring question after they have been working in an office for a while. That question is: Is it all right to fart in your cubicle? I want to let everyone know that the answer is YES! That is your space, and everyone would rather you do a good job at work than sit there all backed up and uncomfortable.

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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