What have your experiences been like in disclosing your condition to others? Did you face any challenges and if so, what have you learned from those experiences?
Well, with family it’s been pretty easy and expected. With friends, usually it’s a surprise that someone this young can have arthritis. There’s always a conversation like, “Oh, I thought arthritis was for old people.” Then I guess the other category is employers and work colleagues. It can be very similar to the reactions of your friends, like 1: “What does that mean?”, and then 2: “Wow, I’m surprised that young people have arthritis.” But with work you just have to talk to them and explain “This is how it could impact me at work.” My last job was recording sounds and involved a lot of walking and hiking and travelling. Obviously, if you have a bad day it would make it hard. So I [had to be honest and] told my boss, "If I end up having a bad day and it falls when I have to be really busy, there will be a loss of productivity.”
Probably the hardest experiences were in Colombia when I was newly diagnosed, when I got my first job and it required a lot of walking because we went to the disadvantaged communities in the city. I think probably when I felt depression was when my boss, who was one of my previous professors, said, “You know Cristina, I know you are extremely professional and you’re very smart, but I cannot renew your contract because of your disease.” That was devastating. I used to do a lot of research at the university, so one of my mentors said, “Well I have a research assistant position, do you want to take that on?” So that was easier. That was more of a desk job. I didn’t have to go anywhere and I was even able to teach at school. It was really fun. But again, a few days that I was really ill, my boss or my mentor said, “So what now, do I have to hire a part-timer to cover the hours?” Agh, it just felt horrible.
Based on those experiences, I was very afraid of communicating to my employers here in Canada that I have RA. Because I was a new immigrant, I wanted to work. But then the first job, they were so supportive. Then I started feeling more comfortable and thinking maybe Canada was not as bad as back home. I remember, even from my last job, I used to travel a lot. As a dietician I used to go to long-term care homes, I used to go to the hospital. So I kind of wanted a full-time job where I just had to go to one place. Then an opportunity arose to work with the Ministry of Health at that time. I said everything, I told them “you know, I have arthritis,” and they still hired me. I said “really?” Since then, even though they know about my condition, when taking a sick day I still feel that pressure. I have always been very much vocal about my condition and I will fight for it if there was ever discrimination, and they know that. Maybe I had a different experience than others and I’m not afraid of speaking up. But I can see it as being a barrier.
For information and resources on disclosing your arthritis at work, visit our Arthritis and Work web portal.