A lesson in vulnerability

Or, that time I mentioned my wheezy-hamster-lungs in an interview.

Unsurprisingly having a life-shortening illness can make you feel a tad vulnerable at times. It can also make you feel like a superhero when you defy the odds.

But there’s one context that has always made me feel more vulnerable about having Cystic Fibrosis than any other.

A job interview.

The normal tension, adrenaline and uncertainty of an interview is shadowed by one little voice in the back of my head asking ‘but when do I tell them?’

An admission that you’re essentially a walking pharmacy, reliant on multiple medications to survive, need a dedicated diary to keep up with doctor appointments and will likely have to be hospitalised for a week or two a year, is not traditionally  viewed as a strength in the professional world.

And yet, revealing my CF made me feel stronger and more assertive than perhaps any other single statement I made during a recent interview.

And I got the job.

In fact, I have now discussed CF in three job interviews this year. Two for freelance positions and one permanent. I was offered all three roles.

I don’t share this as an example for other people with chronic illness to emulate. I am in no position to recommend anything, and I am well aware of the serious emotional and financial risks of disclosing an illness in a professional context.

All I can share is my own experience. Five years ago I would never have been so open about my CF. I even let CF be the reason I didn’t apply for several opportunities; much as I regret it now, I accept it’s what I was comfortable with back then.

I’ve always been frank with people who know me and prefer to joke about life with CF than to not talk about it at all.  It is an attitude that I have tried to translate to my professional life too.

So over the course of this year I have – unconsciously at first – dared myself to be more open than I ever have about this strange life I live as a medical grade drugs mule. CF has a curious ability to scare you and make you brave simultaneously, and I relish the lessons it’s taught me.

A few months ago I turned up on the first day of a freelance job with a 10 inch plastic cannula tube sticking out my arm, as I finished the last couple of days of an intravenous antibiotics course.

I was recovered and able to do the work, but in previous years I would have fretted and worried about this unchangeable fact of life. No doubt making myself feel worse in the process and less focused on the job at hand.

Instead by being honest, matter-of-fact and hopefully professional about it, it became a non-event. For me at least, I never did check whether my line manager was squeamish.

That wellworn adage, misattributed to Marilyn Monroe on many an insta meme, ‘if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best’ starts to ring true. But only partially, as I don’t think people with a chronic condition should believe it represents the worst of them, far from it!

Whether the issue at hand is an illness or any other type of imperfect truth; it is a truth. And as I have learnt, it’s one that can be an asset, a vulnerability and a triviality all at the same time.

So take me as I am: war-chest of antibiotics included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry but I don’t like your air

I got offered a freelance role recently. Successful agency, a big new business win to work on and, it goes without saying, some financial security.

I turned it down.

I could almost hear the recruiter thinking when I told her my decision, “is she crazy or just plain stupid?” Of course, she was nothing but pure professionalism in her response and I thank her for that.

But it wasn’t a straightforward decision. I’d already decided that I should probably take some time out between jobs to give the old breathers a chance to recover and repair. Besides, I had about a month long backlog of hospital appointments to catch up on (sadly the over-burdened NHS hasn’t quite got around to developing holographic technology to enable virtual appointments yet, but here’s hoping.)

In addition, I had made the hard decision to leave my previous agency to pursue a different kind of planning and transition into the sustainability and charity sector, so to not give that a shot first seemed wrong.

But the most pressing reason – that even common sense and a decent pay cheque couldn’t argue with – was where the agency was. Specifically the air around it. It was in an area of of London known for very poor air quality.

I’ve got my own little mind map of London that doesn’t mark the tourist spots or the best lattes in town (I’d pay good money for that map though) but it does tell me where all the areas of persistently bad air quality are, and I do my best to avoid them for long periods of time.

It sounds a little dramatic I know, the effects of breathing poor air are negligible if your exposure is minimal- for everyone that is, CF or not- but the long term effects are quite another thing.

There are lots of things you can’t put a price on and – it’s taken me a long while to accept it – keeping my lung function as good as it possibly could be, definitely falls somewhere in the ballpark of priceless.

Now if someone could only develop a high fashion face mask that doesn’t make you look like a ninja with a side hustle, that’d be peachy.