I believe in truth telling as a journalist, but I lie about my chronic illness

May 27, 2020 01:30

As a journalist, I’m fiercely committed to the truth. I believe so passionately in the power of honesty it almost hurts. I’ve dedicated my life to this job and there is nothing else I can imagine doing than practicing truth telling every day. That’s why it might surprise you to find out how often I lie.
It’s not that oozing passion causing me constant pain. It’s a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). It’s a genetic disorder that causes overly lax tissues and joints. Cue the aching. I didn’t know I had it until a year ago. That’s also when I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). It’s common in people with EDS. In POTS, your autonomic nervous system, the one that controls everything in your body you don’t think about, stops working properly. Every time you change positions from lying down to sitting or standing up, your body malfunctions. There is no cure for either illness. That means I am now officially chronically ill. I wish I were lying.
I was 26 years old when the symptoms started. My news director had just promoted me to evening anchor at WPDE. I’d previously worked weekend mornings and was a multimedia journalist during the week. I was healthy and spending my days running around with cops and firefighters with my gear chasing the news and then anchoring it. Five days a week I worked out with a trainer. That’s why when I started waking up feeling depleted of energy, I couldn’t understand it.
Over the next two years I collected symptoms: Blurred vision, memory trouble, tremors, inability to temperature control, lightheadedness, constant nausea, headaches, white spots on my skin, shortness of breath, debilitating fatigue, and more, but I’ve got a word limit on this article, so I’ll stop there. It never occurred to me that once the doctors figured out what was wrong, they wouldn’t be able to fix it. The truth hurts.
At first, I didn’t want anyone to know. If people in this industry found out, I was terrified they’d think I was un-hirable. POTS is poorly understood and often misdiagnosed but is not rare. May 28th will mark one year since I was diagnosed. POTS is an undeniable piece of me. My motto is, "I’m not dying, so I have to figure out a way to live." My body reminds me it is sick every minute of every day, but that doesn’t mean I have to remind everyone else. I am a journalist and a fiancé and a dog mom and a sister and an aunt, and I also happen to be living with POTS and EDS. There’s a great quote about chronic illness that says, “I’m not faking sick. I’m faking healthy.” That’s why sometimes you have to remember to lie.

“Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him. Everyone will get used to it except me,” Alphonse Daudet, a sick French novelist, wrote.

This illness is not my fault, but it is my responsibility. The way I see it, if I want to continue being a journalist I must build a career that works with my symptoms. That means making choices. My symptoms are worse in the mornings. A morning show is not an option for me anymore. There's nothing I loved more than MMJing. When I became a main anchor I was offered the option to work with a photojournalist, but I vowed to continue shooting my own stories. A few months into this diagnosis I sat in my news director’s office and tearfully admitted I didn’t think I could do that anymore. I have had to turn down jobs that I would’ve once dreamed of taking. It has stung every time, but I am also so deeply proud of the responsible decisions I have made while learning to live like this. I want to have a long and fulfilling career. I recognize the only way that will happen is if I set my body up for success. Truthfully, I have to believe these choices I am making will land me right where I am supposed to be. 
I’ve also realized one of the most responsible things I can do is tell people about this.  I am constantly doing things to minimize symptoms or deal with them. I carry a rag in my purse for when my hands drip with sweat. I am always drinking water. I put my feet up on a stool under my desk at work. It’s all subtle, but to those who don’t understand, these things may seem odd. It’s much easier to just explain.

I’ve learned people can be quite kind when you give them a chance. My parent company has been wildly supportive. My coworkers have somehow managed to turn POTS into the greatest newsroom joke. Printer broken? It has POTS. Co-anchor has a headache? Must be POTS. Our sports director just lovingly refers to me as “POTS.” It has taken the stress off this thing that I never wanted in my life. It has somehow made it such a positive. I am comfortable and confident in this new version of me because of them and it has made all the difference. It’s true.
My boss encouraged me to do a story on POTS, and I’m so glad I did. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to help others with these illnesses through journalism and spreading awareness. If sharing my story helps another person, doctor, or researcher, my suffering is worth something. I am grateful to have been asked to write this article for RTDNA. Advocacy will certainly continue to be part of my life and if you are sick, too, I hope you find purpose in it, as well.
Make yourself worth your limitations. My news director has never doubted my ability to do my job. I’ve never given her a reason to question my value to our team. I’ve proven every day why I am an asset and I’ve earned a reputation as reliable and hard working. That’s why when I asked if we could sit in chairs instead of standing while field anchoring, she said yes without hesitation. It’s why when I wander around the newsroom in a Snuggie because my body isn’t temperature controlling and I’m freezing, she doesn’t bat an eye. It’s why on the extremely rare occasion that I have to miss work, she says no problem. It’s why I lie until it is absolutely necessary to tell the truth.
If you are a hiring manager and my story scares you, that’s a shame. What I see in someone with a condition like this is unimaginable grit. To wake up and fight your body just to get upright every day to go do the job you love, that takes a level of determination you cannot fathom. Each day I go to work I am so grateful to be in a newsroom. I have a unique appreciation for getting to do my job. I’ve imagined a day where this gets so bad I have to make the most difficult decision of all. I don’t expect my career will be cut short because of this, but you better bet, if it is, I will have spent my days in news cramming as much impact into them as I can possibly make. That’s where I choose to spend my limited energy. The truth is, I always feel sick, but you will rarely know it.
If you want to succeed with a chronic illness, you’ve got to be honest. Be honest with yourself, be honest with those who support you, be honest with your employer, and fib responsibly. If I got an application from a chronically ill liar, I’d hire that person. That’s the truth, and I sure do love the truth.


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