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June 27, 2008

How Much Should You Tell?

Shhh I'm coming out now, and it's been a tough decision. My family knows, and now I'm finally talking with others about it.

I've struggled with health issues for over two years and have heard a variety of guesses from doctors depending on their clinical specialty, including post-partum depression, seizure disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, rare types of migraines, the natural effects of aging (I'm only 42), perimenopause, or diabetes (even though my blood sugar is perfect). I've listened to some unhelpful advice, such as: "If you get out more, you'll feel better," or "Try to think positive thoughts," or the best one, "Why don't you get a hobby?" I think my cooking blog and gardening are pretty darn good and fulfilling hobbies, but maybe they don't fit the typical definition.

In spite of a battery of tests over the last two years, including EEGs, EKGs, X-rays, multiple MRIs and blood tests, no doctor could pinpoint the problem, and as a result I have not wanted to talk about it.

I was horribly embarrassed that my husband had to call an ambulance last fall when I had an unexplained seizure and even more embarrassed when my neighbors called an ambulance on Valentine's Day this year (my husband was out of the country on business) because I was so sick with a gastro infection and pneumonia that I couldn't function or take care of my children.

I haven't wanted to talk about the chronic headaches, my dwindling energy reserves which have now left me with only four to six functional hours in a day, my hair falling out, my inability to lose more than a couple pounds and keep them off, or my memory fading and my apparent loss of vocabulary. I think the latter has been the hardest for me because I started college as an English major, and it's all the more depressing because where I was once able to write prolifically, I now find myself unable to compose a couple paragraphs over three or four days. It's taken me a week to write this post. Writing instructions for my cooking blog has become an exercise in frustration because I can't concentrate and the words seem like a jumble in my head.

I started back to work this month after a two-year hiatus for some family time, and it has been difficult even though I work from home, but one of the hardest things I've done lately is to keep my secret from our Race for the Cure team. I just wanted to have fun for a good cause and did not want the gals to worry about me, so I did my best to conceal the fact that I felt miserable after the walk.

About two months ago I reached a point where I felt like a hypochondriac and thought all of this was in my head, but that has turned around and now we think we have an answer. A visit with an endocrinologist and a few more tests have finally pointed to a thyroid illness. We don't have all the answers yet, and I have a biopsy scheduled for next week that will hopefully reveal whether or not the growths on my thyroid are malignant or benign, but I finally feel like I can talk about it.

I've wondered about discussing this with people we know and even more so about sharing it via a blog. How much should you say online regarding your health? Can it come back to haunt you and affect your family and career? Where do you draw the line?

One could argue that coming out about health issues can help other people who might be in the same situation, and we have all been inspired by those brave enough to share their medical challenges, but we live in an age in which companies search employee candidates online to see what they have been up to. If they can find out about partying exploits on MySpace, they can certainly find out you have a chronic illness if you've blogged about it. Will they still want to hire you knowing you have a chronic illness? It's illegal to discriminate on the basis of disabilities or even ask during the hiring process if you have a disability if it's not readily obvious, and some illnesses have been defined as disabilities under ADA laws, but if you've told the world on the Internet there is no more privacy regarding your health. Companies can find out before they even call you for an interview, and knowing might make them decide to move on to another highly qualified candidate who doesn't have health issues.

Now that I'm "out" I guess I can't worry about that anymore, but I still wonder if I'm stepping over the line and telling too much, and it makes me feel a little more vulnerable.

Original DC Metro Moms Blog post.

Andrea writes about her adventures in the kitchen and her edible garden at Andrea's Recipes.

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