Diabetes in the Workplace
For six years I worked at a company that I loved but had long outgrew. I never made an attempt to leave because of one reason; I live with a chronic illness. Leaping into a new routine with so many unknowns made me uncomfortable. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after already being at my job for three years. I was already excelling so the only hard part now was throwing a chronic illness into the mix. This led to many sick days, leaving early and days that seemed to move in slow motion. Luckily for me, at this job I made my own schedule, worked at my own pace and worked alone. “I’m gonna have to stay here forever,” I thought. “No one is ever going to understand. I don’t want to explain myself to coworkers. My boss Meghan already knows and is beyond accommodating. I’m comfortable.” For all of the reasons above, I stayed three more years. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy but I knew I wanted and NEEDED more.
I’m happy to say that one day, on LinkedIn, I got a message from Itzia who is now my new boss. She asked if I would be interested in meeting to talk about a position she had available. At first I thought about not even replying. I thought “I can’t! Working in retail is already hard enough and I already have a dream position. Why would I fix something that wasn’t broken?” Then I thought, “I’m on LinkedIn for a reason. I want to meet and connect with people in my industry.” I already convinced myself that I didn’t want the position. No way could I leave the comfort of my free schedule, no coworkers, work-at-your-own-pace life but I decided to meet with Itzia anyway. On the car ride there I had a meltdown. “Why are you even going? Why are you wasting this lady’s time? You don’t want the job. YOU CAN’T DO THE JOB!” but my little Fiat landed me there anyway.
I arrived and was greeted by Itzia. We talked, walked around the store and I realized I wanted the job, I wanted it bad but I had already blown it. My mini melt down caused me to be late. Although I called ahead to say I would be late, I assumed my fate was decided which was fine with me initially … I didn’t want the job anyway right? As the meeting concluded, I walked out the door thinking, “Wow I blew an awesome opportunity.” I talked myself into not wanting a job before I even knew the circumstances. This position was a dream: visual coordinator for a luxury men’s store. While I wouldn’t make my own schedule, it was no nights, no weekends, work independently. I could adapt to a new routine with my medical condition easily and I blew it … So I thought! Itzia called me that same day and offered the position!!!
I am happier than I ever thought I could be at my new job although many challenges have come my way. I want people to understand that type 1 diabetes is a very serious chronic disease. It is an auto-immune disease with no cause and no cure! It does not come from lifestyle or eating too much sugar. When people think DIABETES, they think of the diabetes they’ve seen on TV, or the diabetes their grandpa has. This is different. MY PANCREAS DOES NOT WORK. I have to act as my own pancreas every second of the day. I wear an insulin pump which supplies me with the insulin I need. My blood sugar is affected with every movement I make. This is a typical day at work for me:
It all starts the night before. My feet are throbbing from my nerve damage due to my condition. I have the option to take Gabapentin which will help ease the pain. Every night I consider taking it but it knocks me out cold. “What if I don’t wake up on time for work the next morning? What if I don’t wake up at all?” Guess what? I go without the Gabapentin since it is optional.
8:30 a.m. – I prick my finger to check my blood sugar in the car while I’m sitting in traffic on the way to work. I could eat at home but I’d rather eat closer to 9am so my blood sugar doesn’t drop too low before lunch.
9:00 a.m. – I get to work and start my usual duties.
10:30 a.m. – Prick my finger again. LOW BLOOD SUGAR. I knew that before I even checked. Why? Because vision is blurred, my hands and legs are shaky, I am weak, and I feel a burning sensation running through my veins. I eat a snack to raise it back to normal. But can I do that in peace? Sometimes. But usually I hear a remark saying “That’s the disease I’d like to have” or “You are always eating!” or “Look at you just chilling, eating, taking a break.” People only see that part. Luckily they will never have to experience the feeling of their blood sugar dropping and the burning and shaking that comes with it. If I had waited a few minutes more, I might be on the floor in a coma. I scarf some gummy bears or Cheetos down really quick and get back to work.
1:00 p.m. – Lunch. Again another prick to my finger. How do my finger tips still have blood in them after 8-10 finger pricks a day? Anyway, after running around the store, taking the stairs, carrying mannequins and boxes all over, my blood sugar has gone low again faster than I thought. I eat a good meal and eat enough so I can get through the day without another low.
2:30 p.m. – My feet are on fire which probably means by blood sugar is high. They are throbbing due to my neuropathy problems related to my condition. I’m too busy to stop and check right now.
3:30 p.m. – I’m moving slow. I’m being asked if I’m frustrated or upset. That means its time for me to check my blood sugar again. I’m probably dealing with a high blood sugar now. Yup I check, I’m HIGH. I use my pump to administer more insulin and it should be coming down soon enough. At lunch I wanted to make sure I didn’t go low, I over treated and now I’m high. Can I ever win?
5:00 p.m. – I may have been too aggressive with the insulin because I wanted to get back to work sooner. I feel my blood sugar crashing again. I have a snack and again hear some smart remarks. “Should you even be eating that? Eating again? I wish I had a pump so I could just take a break and eat whenever.” I’d gladly give away my diabetes to anyone who want to take it.
5:30 p.m. – I’m now off and can manage my diabetes at home and get ready for it all again tomorrow!
The above is just my diabetic timeline at work. These situations would arise at any job I had. They would arise if I was just at home. It’s part of type 1 diabetes. Of course in-between my diabetic struggles, I’m keeping busy, dressing mannequins, doing window displays, making the store look BEAUTIFUL and my many other duties. I LOVE MY JOB. (A lot of it is due to Itzia being so understanding and empathetic. I am in no way asking for special treatment, I give 100 percent even with this disease.) I don’t think I was meant to be anywhere else at this very moment. Honestly, I know they could have hired someone with more experience and qualifications than me, but fate brought me to the company. I was meant to be here. Every day I will strive to exceed expectations, learn my new role and make the company proud. I am so passionate and most of all, THANKFUL that I have a job that I love. I let type 1 diabetes hold me back career-wise for many years. I finally landed right where I am meant to be and I encourage you all to set your fears aside and follow your heart.
P.S. Special thank you to Meghan Barry, my former district manager from Beeline/Old Navy. I met her the DAY AFTER my diagnosis. We got on a plane, my body was so out of whack and I threw up after takeoff. What a way to impress my boss right?! Ever since that day she has continued to be beyond supportive and understanding. She was literally there since the beginning of my diagnosis and even though I no longer work for her, she continues to be supportive. I couldn’t of asked for a better boss or company to work for as I figured out my new normal. Thank you!!!
Editor’s Note: Diabetes in the Workplace was originally published on Glitter Glucose.
Read about Employment and Type 1 Diabetes.