Starting a new job is quite terrifying. Imagine starting a new job and then just a few short months into your new position you end up terribly ill! All the thoughts were running through my mind, “I am going to get fired.” “My new boss will regret hiring me” “Someone is going to say something about me spending a vast majority of my day in the women’s restroom”.
And this went on for 6 entire weeks. I was barely into my 30s and wanting to kick my career into high gear.
I had been sick before and sick constantly as a child. “The sick one” was my nickname. As an adult, I had learned pretty good coping mechanisms and grinned my way through many a meeting when I actually felt like I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. It is a gift….
Not this time, there would be no grinning my way through.
I walked into the Cleveland Clinic family practice and heard these words “You either have colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, celiac, or a combination of all three”. That is how sick and unable to function I was and yet I never actually called off sick at work. Not something I am terribly proud of. Self-care wasn’t part of my vocabulary in those days.
Within 48 hours my blood test revealed that I had Celiac Disease….and my antibodies were 200 times higher than they should be. They tested for the other items on the list and thankfully it was “just” celiac. This was 7 years ago.
Changing my lifestyle was not that difficult at home. I loved to cook and finding recipes that would keep me healthy was my new mission. What was the most difficult by far was the social aspect. I was raised in a very large family. You ate what was in front of you, or you didn’t eat. I was never a picky eater and loved trying new foods. Drawing attention to myself over food was just not something I was comfortable with. If a restaurant brought me a wrong entrée, I might eat it before pointing out they made a mistake.
Being a Celiac in the professional world is very difficult. Business lunches, dinners with clients, morning brunches are quite commonplace. Not to mention the fact that I was an International Business Manager at the time and expected to travel 2-4 times a year around the globe.
Here is my shortlist of helpful tips if you find yourself with extreme dietary needs in the workplace.
- People will ask about your condition thinking they are being polite and you want to talk about yourself, you don’t owe them an answer
- It is OK to pack food in your purse like you survived the Great Depression! I had to learn that pulling food out like Mary Poppins pulled out that lamp was way better than the alternative of being dizzy or sick by midafternoon of a trade show.
- Locally – tap into all the resources that Cleveland has to offer. NorthEast Ohio Celiac Network and Café Avalaun have been great resources.
- Internationally – I personally found it easier to be in China, Dubai, Switzerland, Germany and France than sometimes I do in the US. There is a lot of awareness and sensitivity to Celiac
- Use this to your advantage that shows you are a classy professional in control of all areas, including the menu! Quietly speak with the waitress about your dietary needs. Be proactive and call ahead to restaurants that you know you will be meeting clients at.
Food is important in the professional setting but it doesn’t have to be an embarrassing differentiation.