Hiding my Disbability at Work - How Corporate Dress Codes Fail to Consider all Employee's Needs

June 22, 2018

Wake up, make a smoothie, roll on the deodorant, next the makeup: concealer, yikes… more under eye concealer, foundation, powder, bronzer, blush, eye liner, eye shadow, mascara, lip liner and finally gloss those lips. Choose from my multiple black suits, as I look for one that has the loosest fit, I slide it on, button up my freshly pressed blouse, find the most feminine looking blazer and then slip into those four inch heels that I have decked out with those comfy shoe pads… P.s....they really don’t work.

These are some of the steps I used to take to get ready for work. I worked in the technology sales sector, which requires long hours, fresh-faced make-up, and of course the dreaded heels. And if you’re thinking it doesn’t require these things…trust me, it really does. It is even stated in some company policies that women must wear heels.


"It is even stated in some company policies that women must wear heels."

I hop on the streetcar and sway left to right until my stop. I’m half way to work and BAM, it hits me...the nausea, the instant bloating and the cold sweats. I mean serious bloating where I’m pretty sure I could convince my gynecologist that I’m about five months pregnant. This is routine for me, so just like clockwork, I know the drill, loosen the pants, pop the Gravol, rub on some anti-nausea fennel oil that my naturopath swears works (debatable) and hope for the best.

Am I hung-over? Ugh, I wish. Hangovers at least give you a reason to look like shit, scarf down a Starbucks double bacon breakfast sandwich with zero guilt because your still tipsy and drunk calories don’t count…or that’s what I tell myself anyway.

No, these are just some of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, or as I like to call it my frenemy DJ Crohny D. The disease, which has no known cause or cure, essentially makes you feel like you have the stomach flu 24/7. It comes in flares and there are little to no warning signs.

I was diagnosed at the age of 17. I had been loosing weight, hair and my appetite. My stomach was in constant pain. I wouldn’t eat due to the fact that anything I ate would cause me pain, which meant that I started fainting. My parents took me to Sick Kids and they told me the news. It was a less than optimal day for me, but more so my family. I think my mom felt badly for me because there was really nothing she could do to make my disease go away and she knew this was going to be a life long battle. The only known help for Crohn’s is injectable steroids, sleep, relaxation, a bland diet and the avoidance of alcohol. 

I tried to manage my disease through university as best as I could, using diet and exercise but then I started my first ‘real’ job, which caused real stress.  As a 23-year-old starting her career in the big city, I wanted the university lifestyle filled with social outings, I didn't want to go to bed early with a cup of herbal tea to reduce nausea. 

Going into a sales role I was sold (ironically) on the potential to make a lot of money at a young age. I had a university and postgraduate degree but was still struggling to find that dream job. I also compared my salary to my boyfriend’s salary, we went to school in similar fields and I couldn't help but think he was making double what I was. So I switched from working at my passion of communications, which is what I went to school for and decided to go into sales. I was told that the role would be demanding and would give me the opportunity to work with fun and energetic go-getters... which I was ecstatic about! 

The only thing that was left out was the mandatory heels, compulsory happy hours and the realization that a 60-hour workweek is the bare minimum you needed to put in. 

High heels…love them for a night on the town but for a 60-hour workweek they were just awful! I would buy expensive ones, cheap ones, so called comfy ones and they all sucked! It drove me crazy that females in my office had to wear heels. I understand my beloved UGG’s were not ideal for the office but really a fancy neutral toned ballet flat should be considered work appropriate. The heels were not making me any smarter, helping me sell or adding anything to my pitches. I truly believe that no one should have to wear specific shoes unless it enhances their job, for example, a construction worker wearing steel toe boots, makes sense right? I would dare any man in sales to try a day in my high heel shoes (figuratively and literally).


When I accepted the job I didn't think about how it would affect my disease, which was admittedly naive. I am stubborn at times and have always felt like I needed to prove that I am just as capable as anyone else. I think it is my inner feminism coming out where I need to prove that really we are all equal. As much as I wanted to succeed in sales and in this specific company, my Crohn's quickly spun out of my control, and it interfered with my success...which was an unfamiliar feeling.

I think it's important to raise awareness about the demands of society's workplace in certain professions, especially for females. I loved the sales profession. It is a thrilling field, filled with beautifully energetic personalities. However, it typically requires long hours, mandatory social outings with clients, full suits, nicely done hair, makeup and of course heels. I loved it, I was good at it, but my Crohn’s did not.

My first thought upon waking up at 5 a.m. used to be ‘only 17 more hours until I go to sleep.’ I never told anyone else at my company about my condition due to the fear of being seen as less valuable. I even avoided sick days because I wouldn’t want to be perceived as weak. I was always pushing for promotion, going the extra mile and yes I had a 3, 5 and 10 year plan. I kept telling myself that I didn’t really feel sick but in all honestly my Crohn’s did complicate my career. 


 A typical work outfit - with a loose-fitting top to hide any bloating.

From everyday details like choosing skirts and pants with elastic waistbands to being afraid that I was going to get passed up for the next promotion if my boss found out, my Crohn's constantly accompanied me to work, in more ways than one, I could never get away from it. There were many days where people genuinely thought I was hungover. They assumed that I was out late the night before but I was really just having a not-so-great day. Sometimes I would go along with it and say I was out with the girls to avoid the topic of what was really going on. I thought it was more glamorous to be hungover then have a disease.

And one day it hit me...what the heck am I doing to my body, and for what? A promotion? OK sure, money is great and it does support my 9-dollar fresh pressed juices obsession but no job is worth me treating my body like a punching bag and spending way too much time trying to look good for the client. 

I chose to leave all my amazing co-workers and now I have a new job… and I love it! I still dress to impress but I can wear jeans, flats, a loose top and cute blazer. Now when I wake up I rarely feel tired, my stress is reduced and I make time for things I truly enjoy. I’m on the same career path and you bet I’m trying to get that promotion but I’m just not killing myself to get there.

My new employers don’t know about my Crohn’s because now that I have a balanced lifestyle I haven’t had a flare in six months and my doctors tell me I’m in remission.

Workplace expectations can make it difficult to speak up about a disability. The fears of being passed up for a promotion, or being seen as weak, can keep people silent. Companies should take into account the wide variety of ‘life’ that people deal with, and how their dress codes may impact all employees.


by Anonymous


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