Worried man in flare sitting across the desk from boss his boss.

Talking About RA in the Workplace

Talking about rheumatoid arthritis is hard; mentioning it and talking about your condition at work is even harder. At RheumatoidArthritis.net, we really emphasize talking about your condition to your friends, family, and fellow individuals with RA as a way to understand this condition—if you feel comfortable enough and want to, of course. But what happens when/if you talk about RA in the workplace?

Should we talk about RA workplace limitations?

There are many implications of talking about RA at work. For instance, if your workplace is supportive, having that conversation can help determine activities and tasks that you can and cannot accomplish. But notice the big if there.

Thankfully, my workplace environment is very supportive of my condition and is willing to work with me regarding my health, but I know I exist in a place of privilege when I express that sentiment. It’s got me thinking: is it important to talk about your condition at work? And if so, in what contexts?

RA made some aspects of my job impossible

With the job I’m in now, where I help coordinate undergraduate research programs at a large university, I regularly have to set up for lecture-style or poster symposium events. This involves moving hundreds of chairs, poster easel and boards, and heavy carts filled with paper materials, food, and various other sundries.

Since being diagnosed with RA, however, I now cannot partake in this aspect of my job: my joints often make it difficult to lift heavy things, even though I’m on Humira.

I realized a conversation was necessary

I had to sit down and have a candid conversation with office about my condition and how it affects me. It was a little uncomfortable at first because I don’t normally share things about my personal life; yet, I recognized that I had to share this because this is my body, this is my health, this is a part of me that is affecting my performance at my job, and it needed to be addressed.

The importance of talking about work limitations

Our conversation went surprisingly smoothly. My team was immensely supportive and understanding about my health. The agreement we arrived at was instead of helping with the set-up in these events, I would help in the logistical planning stage, making sure that we had all the necessary supplies ready to go for upcoming events. Not only did this give me the chance to ascertain new and marketable skills but it took a load off my shoulders—literally and physically.

Speaking up was worth it for me

After spending some time in this new area of my job, I realized how important it was for me to talk about my condition—even in the workplace. While this conversation had a practical purpose—in that my RA was affecting my job performance—it reified to me the importance of sharing my condition and how it affects me.

I think so many of us with RA feel traces of shame when we mention our condition because we don’t want to feel like we’re complaining or being dramatic. But as this story demonstrates, sometimes it’s necessary to talk about the tangible reality of having RA, even when it’s uncomfortable.

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