I’m in California visiting my best pal Brianna, who lives with four autoimmune diseases … and a four-year-old. She just started a new job, so I’m checking in with her to see how it’s going and what advice she has for other people in the workplace with disabilities.
Me: What is your job title and what key tasks do you perform?
Brianna: I’m the Human Resources Coordinator for a logistics company. I oversee management personnel and help them complete their essential tasks, such as payroll and safety compliance as well as any type of interpersonal needs with their teams and mediation. I also work closely with the warehouse workers and make sure their needs are being met as far as their safety and ability to do their very best at their jobs. What’s particularly important to me is making sure everyone is having a equitable experience, that everything is fair, and that they are valued and don’t feel like they’re just a means to an end.
Me: How do your disabilities affect you while you’re at work?
Brianna: Honestly, it’s not so much my disabilities but the side effects of my medications. I get really jittery or anxious. Also I get just plain old lupus fog, which makes things hard sometimes. And everything is always more difficult when you’re tired all the time.
Me: How do you manage these effects of your disabilities?
Brianna: Staying hydrated really helps. With the anxiety, I have my little tricks to pull me back down to earth. It’s going to sound silly, but I recite all 50 states in alphabetical order inside my head; it really centers me. I’m a note-taker. During the day, there will be 25 to 30 sticky notes all over my desk, and everything is color coded. So, even if I’m moving slowly I give myself a bread-crumb trail. I also have a relentless calendar with obnoxious reminders and notifications.
Sleep is very important, too. I’ve decided to make sure I keep a better sleep routine, which allows me to come to work rested. With any autoimmune disorder, rest is key. If you maintain that sleep hygiene, you’re really doing your body a favor. Even if you’re not sleeping the whole time, the effort is restful.
Me: When and how did you disclose your disability at work?
Brianna: I disclosed during my final round of interviews, and I do that because I don’t want to provide too much information upfront because that seems to overwhelm people, but by the third round, they’re taking my candidacy seriously and that’s something you really need to be upfront about.
It is really important that people do speak up because we are a protected class, and that is a big part of my job now, which is making sure that all the protected classes are getting what they need.
Me: How did they respond during the interview when you told them?
Brianna: They were polite and appreciative, and there was zero hesitation on their part.
Me: What advice would you give an employee about disclosing and/or seeking accommodations?
Brianna: Do it. Just do it. It’s a confidential conversation behind closed doors and it is our job to provide reasonable accommodations. And what decent employer wouldn’t want their employees to be happy and have the support and atmosphere they need to do their very best?
Me: How do you manage self-care after work when you come home to a four-year-old?
Brianna: Not well, but I’m fortunate to have a partner who is very supportive and understanding. It definitely requires a perspective switch. I just need to put on my home face and leave work at work. Work for anyone is taxing, especially when you work hard and love what you do.
Self-care is definitely a work in progress. I’m trying to do better at it. I’m trying to just take some time when I’m not Mom and not Human Resources, even if it’s just 15 minutes to reset, hiding in the bathroom or the garage and listen to a podcast or just sit there in silence.
Me: What would you say to someone who thinks you’re less capable at your job than an able-bodied person?
Brianna: Watch me. I got it down. It’s not always as seamless as I’d like it to be, but I get it done, and I’m really happy while I do it.
That’s probably the hardest part of my job, by the way, that I have to be happy. I don’t have a choice. But it really helps. Just the mindset, changing your perspective, and being happy. It really helps.