Back in June, I posted on my Instagram stories about how I’d experienced someone asking me a very blunt (and actually a bit rude) question within minutes of seeing them. This was also someone that I’d never spoken to about my health conditions, and although they might have seen some of the pieces I post on Facebook (NOTE: I am totally fine sharing bits and pieces that I feel are appropriate on my personal social media, and I am totally fine with people asking me appropriate questions, BUT that’s the important bit – it has to be appropriate in every aspect!), it was completely inappropriate and I felt almost embarrassed.
This won’t be the first time it has happened to me – I’ve frequently been asked questions about things such as bleeding (!!!), operations, fertility etc in front of others or even patients. And this is in any environment, not just work. I’ve also released how far gossip can spread, which is the most frustrating thing because I have only been open to a limited number of people about what is wrong with me.
The question I was asked outright was about how my Endometriosis was now I was pregnant, and how they thought Endometriosis went away (*insert eye roll here*). Anyway, I gave a simple answer and explained what had just happened to my fellow Endo Bunnies, and opened it up for others to get in touch if they’d had similar experiences.
And it was a bit shocking to see the number of people that came forward and gave an example of something similar that had happened to them. I got responses from those with Endometriosis, with other long-term conditions and from all over the world.
These are some of the responses I got (please note that some details have been changed to allow anonymity, but the context remains).
“I had a male colleague ask me why I always had a hot water bottle with me, in front of EVERYONE”
“Somehow, in my previous job, word spread about my Endometriosis and anxiety. Only our HR knew…”
“I work in a hospital with predominantly female colleagues, and the gossip is SO bad”
“A family member decided to tell the rest of my family about a mental illness I was suffering from, without me knowing”
“I frequently get asked ‘are you better now’ and about my need for hot water bottles”
“Where I was working, there were so many rumours going around about my Endometriosis and it was horrible. Some people even refused to touch me!”
“I work in healthcare like you and I was bullied by my colleagues”
“I had my job contract terminated because of illness – they thought I was lying”
“I’ve had similar experiences, but I think it comes down to the lack of understanding and the need for more awareness!”
“Been asked in front of everyone how my recent surgery went and how my Endometriosis was now”
“I work with children, and have been asked my parents whether I’m pregnant because of my Endo Belly. It happens a lot…”
“When people tell me that it’s been a while since they’ve last seen me, yet I look OK so must be OK now”
“When I was in college, a lecturer made a comment about my uterus lining in front of all the other students!”
“I’ve had really random people come up to me and straight-on in-the-face ask me about my weird conditions!”
“I was out with a load of people, and one person kept telling people I was pregnant. I wasn’t.”
“I have had many similar experiences as you, although I don’t have Endometriosis. I mean seriously? Learn some manners!”
These were just a handful. And all of them are upsetting, distressing and should never ever of happened. Here are some tips for handling situations like those described above…
How to Deal with Gossip
Unfortunately, in workplace environments, word does spread, even if the person you disclosed something to is the top boss or in charge of HR. It’s often worse in small organisations where colleagues are close and see each other everyday, regardless of their position, but it still shouldn’t happen.
- Make sure that if you are disclosing someone, you get confirmation (in writing is best) that the information given will remain private and confidential. You should also keep a track of who you have told. That way, if anything starts spreading, you can get back to the source.
- Raise any gossip or rumours with your line manager, HR manager or other appropriate professional such as a workplace rep. It should be taken seriously and addressed ASAP. Most workplaces will have policies surrounding these type of things, and those involved may be disciplined. You shouldn’t worry about getting people “in trouble” either!
- Feel free to address any gossip or rumours you here – a simple one-answer-fits all statement like “that’s not true” or “I don’t know where you heard that from” can work wonders in getting people to stop, and also make you feel a bit better. Feel free to make it a rather blunt or rude reply also!
- Remove yourself from the area where gossip is spreading, that way you won’t have to hear it and it’ll limit the impact on your mental health
- If you have regular appraisals or 1-to-1’s make sure you bring the topic of gossip/rumours up at them to that they can be monitored and addressed
- If you are a member of a union like me, always seek their advice regarding gossip and rumours – it has helped me no end!
- Perhaps, if you feel comfortable and confident, think about educating those who are spreading the rumours and gossip. You might find that providing them with some facts and truths (not necessarily about your personal experience, it could simply be about the illness or procedure) stops the rumour mill from working
How to Deal with Workplace Bullying
Bullying in the workplace is actually at a relatively steady high – nearly 1/3 of those employed in the UK (both temporarily, permenantly or on a locum basis) are being bullied at work, and the most common people who do the bullying are either their colleagues or managers. The vast majority of workplaces will have policies and procedures in place to manage and act on workplace bullying, but they should also have a policy for employees guiding them on how to raise these issues.
However, a lot of the time bullying isn’t reported out of fear of either not being taken seriously or believed, causing more problems in the workplace or getting the offending person into trouble. But bullying – wherever it is happening – has a severe impact on a persons mental health, leading to anxiety and depression, but also productivity and abilities at work. Things such as having regular sick days, lack of interest in their job and spending more time alone are warning signs that something isn’t right. Of course, if you witness any bullying, even if it’s not aimed at you, then raise it.
- Keep a documented evidence file about what is happening, including date and time and who is doing what. This will help no end when you raise the issue.
- Speak to a professional you trust – this does not have to be your line manager, someone like a workplace representative or well-being counselor (if you’re work has one) can also be beneficial as they can guide you through any processes
- Look into any policies or protocols you workplace has regarding bullying. Why? Because you can keep track of what your line manager/workplace should be doing with regards dealing with the matter, but also so you know how you can handle it
- Don’t retaliate – this should be number one really, but I can appreciate it is super hard
- Ask to move areas or roles (if appropriate) – this shouldn’t be instead of reporting the bullying
- Speak to your union or union representative if your workplace has one
- Seek advice and support from someone externally, such as your GP or a psychologist – dealing with bullying can be super draining and affect your mental health
How to Deal with Inappropriate Questions
I find there are two types of people in this category – those who are actually interested but don’t really know how to talk to you properly, and those who are simply nosey and don’t care how they come across. With any question, remember that you don’t have to answer it – you can walk away, explain that you’re not comfortable talking about that right now, or even put them straight! Sometimes, peoples questions come as a result of a lack of understanding or awareness, or even because they are worried about symptoms they (or someone they love) are experiencing.
- Think about what you’re sharing on social media, especially if you have friends on there that you’d rather not share with. As I’ve said before, I am open in sharing appropriate things (see, there’s that key word again!) on social media so I guess I can expect some questions. But if you’re not comfortable with that, you could consider setting up a separate social media account
- Don’t be afraid to simply walk away or refuse to answer any questions you are faced with!
- Consider telling the person who has asked you something inappropriate that you’re not comfortable because of how they’ve asked you/where they’ve asked you etc. You might find that they won’t do it again
- You could always throw the question back to the person asking by asking why they want to know
- Have a simple one-size-fits-all answer to questions that shuts the person down
- If you find you’re getting a lot of questions about the same subject or it’s from a similar group of people, you could consider – if you’re comfortable – providing a brief education session or giving relevant information leaflets out
The bottom line is that none of the things discussed above should be happening, and it’s definitely not right, so finding some management strategies can help, particularly if you are finding going into work quite hard. And remember, speaking to you union is always really helpful – was the best thing I ever did!