FIRST THOUGHT: A Silent Sickness
Have y’all watched Camping on HBO yet? Jennifer Garner stars as Kathryn, a woman suffering from chronic pain. It dawned on me that I haven’t really seen anyone on screen with chronic pain—you know, the silent, invisible thing that no one seems to understand. At one point, another character offers Kathryn advice on her pain, as if Kathryn hadn’t even done a cursory internet search. Sure, it’s probably easier to show a man with a broken arm than a woman with endometriosis on screen. But wouldn’t the latter be so much more interesting and real? More and more women in the limelight are bravely sharing their own struggles, like Lady Gaga. Take control of your narrative, today. If you have physical or emotional pain, choose to share it with a safe friend.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: More than 5 Million
It’s been well-documented that we, as a culture, have a pain bias, in which women aren’t taken seriously when they discuss their pain. That’s why so often illnesses that affect women primarily are the ones taken less seriously or seem to be researched less. Take, for instance, fibromyalgia: More than 5 million Americans have this chronic pain disorder, which is often defined by fatigue, muscle tenderness, functionality, sleep disturbances and more.
WOMAN TO WATCH: Rosalind Joffe, President of ciCoach.com
There’s no cure for fibromyalgia but there is something to be done: talking about it. The more we women discuss our health, the more comradery and support we’ll feel. Today’s Woman to Watch, Rosalind Joffe, thought about doing this very thing and designed a website called ciCoach.com to help chronic pain sufferers.
Rosalind began her journey into creating the ciCoach community while working and living with multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis. She had landed her dream job at a media company when she got MS, and later, when she was working as a mediator for a school in Boston, her ulcerative colitis exacerbated, requiring her entire colon to be removed. Life doesn’t slow down or pause once you get a health diagnosis, but Rosalind realized she had to fit her job to accommodate her new health issues.
Through her biz, Rosalind hopes to provide tools and programs that guide those living with chronic pain. For the past three decades, Rosalind has managed to navigate the unknown waters of living with chronic illnesses. She has co-authored a book called Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend!, and coaches hundreds of people to thrive in their situations. One former client remarks about how Rosalind helped her redirect her energy on what she could do rather than what she couldn't.
Rosalind offers several pieces of advice for those in this situation or to share with a friend who is facing a tough diagnosis. First, accept your illness and tell your employer. Yeah, hard, right? While women are afraid of being discriminated against, failing to tell your employer can lead to less-than-ideal assumptions. Set the record straight on your own terms.
Next, don’t give up hope. You can still present yourself as a valuable employee by requesting accommodations like working remotely. Chronic illness and pain aren’t easy. Aside from work demands, women often have partners and children to take care of, too. Dealing with chronic pain requires you to be your own ally, face trying situations and come out the other end. It also gives you a platform to remind other women that they aren’t alone in this battle.
QUITE THE QUOTE
Certainly one of the biggest examples of strength is Helen Keller, who said:
"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."