Every so often these days, I see someone post a question, either on Facebook or on Twitter, that goes something like this:
Has anyone had any experience sharing your diabetes with people at work? Do I have an obligation to tell my boss? My co-workers?
That’s a lot to ask all at one time. If you’re asking all of that at one time, you’re probably feeling a little stress over the implications of sharing your personal diabetes information with someone else. And that’s a perfect place to start.
This holds particularly true in the United States, but also in other countries: Before you share anything, know that legally, you are under no obligation whatsoever to share any of your personal medical information. With anyone. So the first question you really need to answer is: Do you feel comfortable giving up your legally protected right to medical privacy?
If the answer to that question is yes, and often it is, remember also that sharing that you’re living with diabetes does not mean you’re suddenly required to share everything about living with diabetes. It’s not all or nothing. You still control the flow of information. You can tell as much or as little as you see fit. Just remember you can’t un-tell it. Like adding spices to a recipe, you can always add more as you go, but you can’t take any away.
Those last two paragraphs are really important in my mind. Most employers aren’t likely to make your work life difficult due to your unfortunate diagnosis. That would be illegal. But there are a lot of gray areas too. Imagine telling your employer about your diabetes one week, and the next week, suffering a difficult episode of hypoglycemia. Now, your boss comes to you and says, “How can we keep this from happening in the future?”.
This has happened to me. And it was uncomfortable. And initially, I handled it poorly. Instead of blaming the diabetes, I blamed myself for the hypo, and that set the idea in my employer’s mind that I alone was responsible for making sure there were no more hypos at work. Ever. That’s about as likely as saying it’s never going to rain again.
It also set the idea in my employer’s mind that they could ask me about my diabetes, my personal issues with diabetes management, and pass judgement on them, whenever they wanted. It took a number of years to break them of this habit. If I had been open about the diabetes, and not so open about my management of my diabetes or how I felt about it, we both could have avoided some uncomfortable conversations.
Now, co-workers… Co-workers are a different thing. Co-workers can run the gamut from being incredibly kind, to feeling jealousy over something they don’t understand that they might view as “special treatment”, to giving unconditional support, to viewing your diabetes as a weakness.
I can’t pick your co-workers for you. I wish I could. I’ve been working since I was 14 years old (lived with diabetes since I was 28), so I’ve probably experienced all of these people, often without even realizing how they felt. I can’t change how people will react to my diabetes.
What I suggest to people, which I’ve mentioned at times, is to find someone at work who will understand. One of those supportive people. Find that one person you can count on. That’s who will be able to help get you juice when you need it, or will carry a meeting or a conference call for a few minutes while your glucose and your brain function returns to a reasonable level.
Then, be sure to thank them. Leave a thank you card on their desk. Take them out to lunch. Let them know how much you appreciate what they’ve done for you, and make sure they know they can count on you when they need you too.
In the final analysis, there isn’t one simple answer on whether you share, or how much you share, about your diabetes at work.
I will tell you this, however: If you do share, remember that it’s a relationship. Treat it like a relationship. Everything won’t be perfect at first. That doesn’t mean the efforts to nurture and improve the relationship between you, your diabetes, and your job aren’t worth it.
Sharing your diabetes is not likely to be an overnight success. If you do decide to share, expect that making it a success will require patience. Whether you share or not, the decision is up to you. And whatever you decide, and whenever you decide it, is okay.