I’ve been working in Residence Life since I was in undergrad and I’ve been living with chronic pain just a bit longer. As an undergrad, it was a bit easier to navigate a life of chronic pain. I would plan out my days and schedule in some naps and break times, but as a professional in residence life the expectations are drastically different. I’ve had to learn a lot about how to address concerns about accessibility and how to ease my co-workers into my world, to encourage mutually beneficial relationships. Now, I want to share my lessons learned in hopes that other professionals struggling in silence can find their voice.
My first encounter with a professional challenge involving my chronic pain came during graduate hall director training. We had been instructed to complete a scavenger hunt that took us all over campus and there was not a direct path to complete it in. I hadn’t really thought it would be a problem until I looked at the extremely tight schedule of campus offices that we had to visit. After the day had finished and I was in pain and thoroughly exhausted, I spoke to the organizer and expressed concern that we were going to be doing this with different offices again the following day. She was surprised that I hadn’t mentioned beforehand and she arranged for me to do other tasks. Lesson 1: Ask and you will probably receive.
I also had an encounter with a first year graduate student and hall director that same week. She was excitable and really intent on getting involved and for me, she was a bit overwhelming (at the time, anyway). I had been working at my second assistantship in the student activities office and she was on her way with a group of other graduate hall directors to meet with my supervisor there. I said hello and was waiting to take the elevator up a floor to turn in some work and she said “you’re taking an elevator up one floor?” Her tone relayed some disapproval. Before I could respond the doors closed. I was upset and knew I needed to say something. I pulled her aside and spoke to her about how not every health problem or disability is visible and that statement could be hurtful. She learned about invisible illnesses, but I also learned that my lived experience is drastically different and not everyone can see it. Lesson 2: Teachable moments are everywhere.
More recently, I’ve been working on an altered schedule. When I started my current position, my supervisor worked with me to create a schedule that works better for my chronic pain and for our students. I was actively applying the past lessons I’ve learned to make sure I was completing my work, but also meeting her expectations. I frequently spread out my work to ensure I don’t burn out, but also so I have time for students. Often times though, I was concerned about what others were saying about whether or not I was actually doing work. I didn’t want to look like I was incompetent. I spoke to my supervisor and she reassured me that even though others may see me as slacking off when I’m taking a mental break or socializing with students, she thought I was doing a great job. Lesson 3: People are going to talk. Embrace your accommodations and let your work speak for itself.
I find that these lessons have helped me greatly as a chronic pain warrior, but also as a professional and I continue to remind myself of them every time I hit a wall. I hope you find them useful, but I’m also looking to learn from your experiences! What lessons have you learned that have stuck with you? Share them in the comments!