Taking Hydrocephalus to Work
by Kellie Robinson
This article is published with permission of the Hydrocephalus Association. It first appeared in the Hydrocephalus Association Newsletter, Summer 1999.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines 'employment' as: 'The work in which one is engaged; business. An activity to which one devotes time.'
This definition holds a different meaning for each of us. Whether you work at home or in an office, the demands of working can be both fulfilling and taxing - often both at once.
How hydrocephalus affects you at work depends greatly on how your brain and body have reacted to shunt-related operations. As an adult with hydrocephalus who's been through a few revisions, I know that there are many factors, such as stress and pressure, that contribute to how well I function throughout my workday.
While most jobs involve some element of stress, this stress isn't necessarily bad. Some people actually thrive in a high-stress environment; but for the most part, the less stress we have, the better we function. If you have a condition like hydrocephalus, any form of stress can play a major role in how you function on a day-to-day basis.
Many of you wrote that you are easily overwhelmed if too many tasks are assigned to you. Confusion, memory and concentration problems, and anxiety about keeping up with co-workers were also frequently mentioned as work-related stresses.
Here are a few suggestions for dealing with stress in the workplace:
- Know your limitations. If you know that you work better on a part-time basis, it's important for your well-being to do so, if you can afford it. Pushing yourself may only increase your stress and add to your frustration.
- Learn how to concentrate. Many of us with hydrocephalus find that our ability to concentrate is short-lived. When we are asked to perform several different tasks, we are easily overwhelmed. Note your body's warning signs. Are you flustered, confused or anxious? If the answer is yes, then take a break from what you are doing to clear your mind. Walk outside and breathe some fresh air, or simply take a stroll around your office - but by all means, walk away from what you are doing, even if only for a few minutes. When you return to it, you'll think more clearly.
- Take notes. Forgetfulness is common, especially when dealing with multiple demands. Each day, make sure your desk is organized - too much 'stuff' can be distracting and helps to clutter your mind. Create a to-do list of things that need to be accomplished that day. When you are asked to perform a new task, get all of the specifics and write them down in steps. Having them in order on paper will help put things in order in your mind.
- Prioritize your work. If you have a lot of things to do, rank them in order of importance. If a particular project involves many steps, you might want to make note of these as well so you can check them off as they're completed. One reader suggested carrying around a miniature tape recorder. This way, you can always go back and review what was said and prioritize what needs to be done.
With this advice, and an awareness of your own needs and limitations, you can take steps to alleviate some stress on the job; but when it comes to telling your employer about your condition, you may feel more apprehensive than take-charge.
Telling your employer
Unfortunately, many people are intimidated by the prospect of telling their boss or supervisor about serious health problems. A first step is to talk to your company's personnel or human resources manager. Inform him or her about your condition and how it affects you in the workplace, and ask for assistance in communicating this effectively to your boss or supervisor.
It wasn't until her husband went out of town on business that Amy, a kindergarten teacher from Portland, Oregon, realized the importance of notifying her employer about her medical condition. With her nearest family members 45 minutes away, she 'realized there was no one left to help me in case of a shunt failure.' Amy decided to inform her principal at the school about her hydrocephalus, just in case. He told her he understood her hesitation to confide in him because of people's misunderstanding of neurological conditions. All in all, Amy says, her decision to tell her employer was 'well received.'
Though you aren't obligated to inform your employer about your condition, it may be in your best interest to do so. If your employer understands your condition, you can make him or her aware of how you learn. For instance, it often takes me two or three times of doing the same task before I finally get it and catch on. Be honest if you don't understand something. If you need a visual example, ask the person who's assigning you the task to show you something that closely resembles what she wants you to do. This way, you can get a rough picture of what needs to be done.
Reducing your stress level at work and informing your employer of your medical condition are two important components of a successful, and satisfying, work like. But what do you do when your attempts to be honest about your hydrocephalus aren't well received? In the Fall Newsletter I'll discuss what to do if you feel you are being discriminated against at work because of your condition.