EP: 166 The Silent Epidemic: Advocating For Yourself At Work While Battling A Chronic Illness With Julie Hamilton

Brave Women at Work | Julie Hamilton | Chronic illness

Hello everyone! How are you doing out there?

Here are some scary statistics:

In the United States, 6 in 10 or 60% of Americans have 1 chronic condition.

4 in 10 or 40% of Americans have more than 1 chronic condition.

This information is from the Centers for Disease Control.

This is unbelievable.

When I met my guest, Julie Hamilton, fibromyalgia coach, I knew that I needed to talk with her about this silent epidemic.

During my chat with Julie, we discussed:

  • Julie’s diagnosis of fibromyalgia and her healing journey
  • How she advocated for herself, especially being in Human Resources and understanding her rights
  • Julie shared more information on FMLA policies and other advice she would provide employees with a chronic illness, as well as managers and employees supporting those with chronic health conditions.
  • How we can build more inclusive workplaces that support so many people in the United States and worldwide.

We touch on Julie’s book, Chronic Illness at Work: How Managers Can Support Employees with Chronic Illness.

And more.

Listen to the podcast here

The Silent Epidemic: Advocating For Yourself At Work While Battling A Chronic Illness With Julie Hamilton

Let’s start this episode with some scary statistics. In the US, 6 in 10 or 60% of US Americans have one chronic condition. Let’s pause there. Chronic versus acute conditions. An acute health condition would be something like I have a cut. I need stitches. Maybe I broke my foot. Those things have a beginning, middle, and end healing. We don’t expect that they will lag with us and nag us ongoing. With a chronic health condition, it could be diabetes, Hashimoto’s, arthritis, or PCOS. Those are some examples of so many. With a chronic health condition, it keeps on going. It’s chronic, exactly as it says. It keeps nagging and dragging with us in our lives and work.

How about this? 4 in 10 or 40% of Americans have more than 1 chronic health condition. I find this staggering. This information is from the Centers for Disease Control. For this episode, I only researched statistics for Americans in the US but I’d have to do a little deep diving for all of our people all over the world who read the show. I know we all struggle with chronic health issues. I find the stats for the US unbelievable and appalling. It’s sad that so many of us are struggling with a chronic health condition day in and day out.

We haven’t talked about it in the show. I don’t see this on a lot of podcasts. I haven’t read a lot of blogs or articles on chronic health conditions and how so many people struggle with it. I haven’t mentioned this on the show before but I, too, have had my share of mysterious issues and chronic conditions from chronic pain in my back. I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which we’re going to talk about in this episode. I’ve had many types of diagnoses that have left me with chronic conditions and stuff that I deal with, too.

I mentioned that because I want you to know that you’re not alone if you are struggling with these issues. I wanted to bring it to the forefront with my guest, Julie Hamilton. It’s an important thing. 4 in 10 of us with multiple chronic conditions is a big deal. Julie Hamilton, my guest, is a fibromyalgia coach so she’s not only coaching people with fibromyalgia but she too was diagnosed with fibro several years ago and has had to learn how to take care of herself, go through the healing journey, and still be a productive employee and leader. She’s an author and is awesome. It was wonderful to speak with her.

Once I met Julie, I knew I needed to talk with her and share this with you, my community, about what I’m calling “a silent epidemic.” Many of us are suffering, coming to work, and not maybe getting the support that we need with a chronic health issue. During my chat with Julie, we discussed her diagnosis of fibromyalgia and her healing journey. I also have to share a spoiler. I don’t know if it’s her first but Julie ran a 5K.

If you have chronic pain, that is a huge deal. I wanted to publicly congratulate Julie on that milestone. I also am going to share some of her race pictures on social media. Be on the lookout for that and give Julie some congratulations as well. We also talked about how she advocated for herself during this time of healing, especially being, and luckily so, in human resources and understanding her rights. We talk a lot about rights on the show.

Brave Women at Work | Julie Hamilton | Chronic illness

Julie also shared more information on FMLA. Family and Medical Leave Act is a US regulation and something that people in HR are very familiar with. We may not know that with a chronic issue, we can leverage FMLA policies to support us through that healing journey. She talks about FMLA and goes into some of those details but she also gives other advice that she would provide employees with chronic conditions. We also talk about managers and leaders supporting those with chronic health issues.

We also touch on building more inclusive workplaces, which we do have a heart for here at the show. I want more inclusive workspaces and places. In this case, that supports so many people in the US and worldwide who suffer from chronic health. We touch on Julie’s book, Chronic Illness at Work: How Managers Can Support Employees With Chronic Illness. I’m going to pick up a copy myself because if I’ve had these silent issues, that means someone probably in my team is suffering and so much more.

Here’s a little bit more about Julie before we get started. Julie Hamilton is a Certified Fibromyalgia Coach and Life Coach who helps professionals maintain their careers and regain their active social lives. She has twenty-plus years of human resources management and director experience. When she was diagnosed personally with fibromyalgia back in 2009, she knew what policies and laws to take advantage of to make her job work for her and not the other way around. Julie calls Arizona home and she shares how she got to Arizona during the show, which is interesting, and also talks about that healing journey.

Before we get started, if you’re enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. I’d love to share a review that touched my heart. Here it is. “Many of Jen’s guests have spoken directly to me as a working mother navigating work, identity, life, and parenthood. Jen does a wonderful job of pulling fascinating insights and asking questions to break down complex topics, making them not only relevant but accessible.”

Thank you so much again. You sharing that makes my whole day. It warms my heart. Thank you for doing that. If this show has touched you in some way, whether it’s personally or professionally, it would mean the world to me if you would take a minute to go out and leave a rating and review. Make sure you follow us so you get the shows regularly in your feed. It’s simply important because I’d love to get the show into the hands of more women worldwide.

If you haven’t yet downloaded 1 or all 3 of my freebies, go ahead and visit my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com. The freebies that I have created for you, first one is 24 Career and Leadership Affirmations. Who couldn’t use a little bit of a mindset boost? I know that I can. They’re all there for you. In that same vein with mindset, 5 Ways to Manage Your Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is part of the human condition. We can’t avoid it. It comes up. I’m giving you five ways to manage it when it rears its head so you can be back in the driver’s seat of your life and career.

Finally, and this is one of the most popular ones on my site, is Getting Paid: 10 Negotiation Tips. No matter when you read this, I am passionate about helping women get paid and get the benefits that they deserve. It’s a great tool for you to use when you’re going into an annual review, a semi-annual review, a promotional conversation with your boss, benefits, or a conversation with your boss. It’s evergreen and it’s good anytime. Go to my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com to learn more and download those for free. Without further ado, let’s welcome Julie to the show.

Julie, welcome to the show. How are you?

I’m great. How are you?

I am good. Why don’t we start here? Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your backstory and how you’ve gotten to where you are?

I had been working as an HR director for long-term care facilities and some assisted living when I experienced some neck pain and had surgery. From that, I recovered from surgery but started having all-over body pain and I couldn’t understand what that was. I was blessed because I had a good family doctor who diagnosed me within three months of having fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia can be all-over body pain. It can cause issues with your nerves, brain, sleep, and a whole gamut of things with your body. With that, I struggled with my health, feeling good, and being able to work but I was also that HR nerd. Since I was the HR person, I knew what laws and regulations policies applied to me and that I could take advantage of. Between the doctor prescribing me medications, learning more about fibromyalgia, and using those policies that I could for my benefit, I was able to get my fibromyalgia under control.

I went from missing probably 2 days a month to 2 days a year, which was fabulous. I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2015 and my health tanked. When I say tanked, it was where my fibromyalgia went into a four-year flare. That’s like for a normal person without a chronic illness, a regular flu for you, and taking that times ten. That’s how I felt every day. For me to get up, be able to get out of bed, and do anything was a miracle.

Let’s stop there for a second. How long did you feel that way with that flare? You said it was four years?

Yes. It was the entire time I lived in Cincinnati. What I did was research it. I tried to learn as much as I could. Cincinnati is set in a valley by the Ohio River. Storm patterns would come and sit there for weeks. It was the high humidity with no sunshine. Barometric pressures and all of that affected me. I was in bed. During that time, when I was trying to learn more about fibro and how I can help myself, I came across the International Fibromyalgia Coaching Institute and became a certified coach so I could help others going through the same thing as I did.

Can you give me a timeframe? When were you bedridden? Give me the timeline. When were the four years that you were ill?

It started in June of 2016. I moved in at the end of May of ‘19.

Are you in a better environment, climate, and everything for you?

Yes. In March of ‘19, I said to my husband, “We need to do something because I can’t live like this.” We spent three months in a climate that I had lived in most of my life. I went back to that and I couldn’t live. I was still very sick. I came down to Phoenix, Arizona, and lived with my mother-in-law for three months. I felt great. We decided to move there and we have not looked back.

We’re knocking on all the wood everywhere. Are you pretty stable with the fibromyalgia?

Yes, I am.

That’s a miracle. I’m so thankful we’re having this conversation because we’re talking about employees with chronic illnesses. I’ve had chronic issues. Often, it’s not a visible illness. Fibro is one of the many “invisible illnesses.” I’m wondering, with you, would you say that life and work changed after being diagnosed? Has everything changed in your life?

Yes, every gamut of your life.

How would you say your life and work have changed since that diagnosis?

When I was first diagnosed, I could still do a lot of what I did. After I was in that flare for four years and I’ve been out of it for years, I cannot go back to the life I had. I can’t work 40-plus hours anymore since I was so sick. My body has never fully recovered from being in bed 90% of my life. That has changed. I have had to change my eating a lot and the things I eat. I’ve learned to manage my life and energies. I’m learning that now that I’m in a healthier place, I can be more physically active and do the things I love. I had to quit running when I was first diagnosed because I had too much pain. To get into my house, I had to walk up the steps backward but later, I finished my very first 5K. I ran it.

That’s awesome. Congratulations.

Thank you. That’s huge in a fibro world, a chronic illness pain world, or whatever you want to call it. I build in rest days.

I should have asked you this piece before but I want to pause on the healing journey for one minute. For someone who may be curious like, “Maybe I have fibro,” what are some of the symptoms? You’re living and dealing with this and it’s part of your life. What would you say someone should be looking for? If one of our readers is like, “I’m having widespread pain or insomnia,” and I know fibro can cause so many symptoms but what are some top ones that people should be looking for if they might be curious if it is impacting them?

Usually, how doctors diagnose you is using the eighteen trigger points on your body. If they press in these trigger points in your body and you have severe pain there, and it’s 10 out of all of them, then they can say, yes, you have it. There’s also a blood test. Not a lot of people are aware of it and not a lot of facilities are using it. They’re still using the trigger point method for that. That’s how you get diagnosed. With insomnia, it could be that. It could be another chronic illness or sleep apnea. There are a lot of things that go into it besides the widespread pain.

Would you say that that blood test is widely available? I’ve never heard of that either. Is that available across the US or in metro areas? Tell us about that blood test a little bit more.

It’s not widely used because one of the things with fibromyalgia is it can be hereditary. My mom had it. I found it out after I was diagnosed. I had thought that my brother had it because it can occur in men but is more prevalent in women. I tried to tell him to go get this blood test. Where he lives, they had never even heard of it. I don’t think it’s widely known. People with fibromyalgia still need to advocate and try to get that message out there so we can get that more utilized, I guess.

It’s more like they proliferated across the US, spreading the good word about the test and its validity. Now that we’ve talked a little bit about what it is and maybe how it’s diagnosed, let’s come back around to your healing journey. You’ve shared some of the things. Did you have to find the steps to your healing path on your own? How did that unfold for you?

It was a lot on my own but I also had my fibromyalgia coach. I utilized that and the training that I had learned from her. It is different for everybody. Let’s say, Jen, you have it and I have it. What works for me may not work for you or vice versa. Even though you try these things and I could tell you everything that works for me and I need you to do that, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. You’ll learn all this stuff but then it’s a lot of trial and error.

I don’t want to put you on the spot but maybe you know this. What percentage of the US or numbers of the US population suffer from fibromyalgia? Do you know?

It’s seven million but it could be higher than that. That is a lot of people. This is one statistic I can tell you. One is a chronic illness. People want to know what that means. Chronic means it lasts longer than twelve months. It’s not like a broken leg or a hip replacement because it’s chronic. You’re going to have it for over twelve months for the rest of your life and you seek medical attention on a regular basis. That’s the chronic part of it. There are 6 out of 10 people that have one chronic illness. 4 out of 10 have 2 or more.

If you go into a company that has 100 people and you say, “How many employees do you have that have a chronic illness,” they’ll say, “We don’t have anybody.” I’ll say, “Yes, you do because of what the statistics show. You probably have some that you don’t know about. We, with chronic illnesses, don’t want to tell you because we need our jobs and health insurance. We want to have a purpose in life, even though we have our sickness. We want to come to work to forget that we’re sick.”

I saw either in the book or somewhere when I was doing research for our conversation that it was 34% but it sounds like higher. There’s a big proponent of us who suffer from chronic illness.

I think more and more are going to be diagnosed because since the pandemic, we’ve been having long COVID, all those effects from that. The effects of the pandemic and shutdown is the stress. What stress does to your body can make some of these illnesses come out of dormancy that you have the genes in your body to have, I guess, is how I would say it.

I’ve heard about long COVID. It’s scary because you don’t know if it could be you. It seems like in my environment and area, there’s been a little bit of a spike in COVID. I don’t know if that’s in the Chicagoland area or nationwide but there’s been a little bit of a spike, maybe because people are getting together again. It’s wintertime. It’s scary because you never know when long COVID or any of this stuff could bubble up and hit you.

Let’s say that you’re already a diabetic or have some underlying health condition, and you add long COVID to that, it can exasperate everything.

I can only imagine. One thing we haven’t touched on that I do want to hit on is the idea of the emotional piece, the grief, maybe even the shame, and the depth of it. I’ve been diagnosed with probably a couple of chronic conditions right over my life. I’m going to be honest, Julie. I tried to overwork it and hide them. It never works. Did you have shame, self-blame, or any other emotion that popped up for you when you were going through either the diagnosis or the healing journey so far?

I didn’t have probably the shame. I had more of why me. Why does that have to happen to me? At first, I didn’t talk about a lot but then I was working in the medical area. I had to help my coworkers and I worked with nurses, having to help them understand what it was I was feeling every day. From day one, I’ve been an advocate. Not a teacher but educate people on what fibro is, how it can affect you, and how you can feel.

From day one, I’ve always been out there but one thing that you do deal with fibro or any chronic illness is depression and anxiety. You get depressed because you can’t do the things you used to. You don’t have that life that you thought was amazing. You can’t do some of the things you love. I have a lot of sensory issues so I have a lot of anxiety. I’m pretty proud of myself that I ran a 5K but I have panic attacks around people, which is silly. There are 9,000 people running the race. How am I going to do it?

One thing that you deal with in any chronic illness is the depression and the anxiety. Click To Tweet

You’re running a 5K and you have all these people around you. How did you handle that?

People say, “You’re outdoors. What’s the big deal?” It’s a big deal when you’re around people. I put my headphones in, got in my zone with my music, and ran on the edge of everyone. I didn’t run in the middle. I ran on the side and I could go around people. After the first 4 or 5 blocks, it thinned out. You had to focus on yourself and stay in your zone. I would be flipping out if I panicked.

Is the panic attack also a byproduct of fibro?

It has become that for me. It started with some medication that I was on. One of the long-term effects was suicidal thoughts and panic attacks.

I’m so sorry that happened to you. It’s like it wasn’t enough. You take this medication and it triggers a whole other. It’s almost like a whack-a-mole. You’re like, “I got those symptoms.” The whack-a-mole comes up and you’re like, “Darn it, here’s another symptom.” I’m like, “I’m going to smash that one down.” It’s terrible. One thing I am hearing that we didn’t touch on is the range of emotions in grief. With depression and anxiety, it feels like the grief of losing the version of yourself that you loved and didn’t know was going to go away. Is that true?

That’s very true. I twisted that around into a positive and said, “I have to embrace the life that I have. I want to live every day in a positive way and be present in the moment. I can’t grieve over what I had because I don’t have the energy anymore for that.”

Embrace the life that you have. Live every day in a positive way and be present in the moment. Click To Tweet

Thank you for sharing that and for going to that vulnerable place. It had to be hard. One other question, going back to my experience, is did you ever try to overwork it? Did you ever do that as I did?

If I did, I knew I would be in bed for a few days. I was in what I call that push-crash cycle for a while. I had to get out of that to feel better and feel good every day.

You knew it wasn’t going to be fruitful. To be clear with my chronic conditions, I was diagnosed at one point with fibromyalgia. I don’t think that’s what I had. I think, as I’m going down my healing path, that I have either mast cell activation syndrome, which is a whole other chronic condition, or histamine intolerance. Those can also trigger pain because of the excess histamine and the mast cells going awry in the body. I’ve tried to overwork sometimes when it’s not possible. I have a friend not named but she has a traumatic brain injury. She’s tried to overwork her chronic migraines as a result and it decimates her. I wanted to ask because it never works.

No, it doesn’t. If you’re on that hamster wheel, you are always in that push-crash cycle. Unless you come to terms with it yourself mentally, you are never going to get off of it. What you want to do is maintain an even keel every day.

It sounds like the end goal, easier said than done, is a form of, or whatever means, acceptance to you. It’s accepting where you are, what you can and can’t do, who you are, and where you are in this moment.

I do teach my clients. This is a phrase that I use with them. “Know what is important to say hell, yes to so you can say no to the things that aren’t important. Don’t say yes to everything. You want to say hell, yes to those things that bring you joy, make your heart happy, bring a smile to your face, and are feel-good.”

Know what is important to say yes to so you can say no to the things that aren't. Click To Tweet

I love me a good hell, yes, Julie. Is that what makes you feel joyful or in your heart, you’re like, “This feels right,” and my gut reaction is like, “Yeah. Hell, yes?” Is that where your hell, yeses come from?

Yeah.

There’s another phrase on the other side of this. If it’s not a hell, yes, it’s a hell, no. We’re here to eliminate as many hell noes as possible. I wanted to ask you about your company. I’m not here to disparage your company or any company that may not understand chronic illness but the purpose of the episode is I was excited to talk to you about your experience and also to bring awareness to chronic illness at work. I’d like to start with a company at the time you were diagnosed. Did they help you or not during that challenging period?

They helped me. Part of it was because I was the HR Director and I knew the policies but the other piece was I had a great boss. Kudos to her. She was willing to learn. We had great communication. We communicated well with each other. She did let me make some adjustments when I needed them because she knew that if I needed to come late, I’d stay late or if I worked night. I would go in sometimes at 9:30 at night and get home at midnight or 12:30. It was okay for me not to come in the next morning at 8:00. I might come in at 10:00.

She was understanding that you may need to flex your hours or work a little differently.

That’s why it’s important, whether you’re an employee or a boss, to connect and keep those lines of communication open because you never know when you’re going to need each other for something.

From an HR perspective, you know better than anyone. If you’re noticing maybe the employee has changed or their work productivity has changed, you can’t be like, “Are you sick?” You can’t ask, “What’s your illness?” How can a manager be sensitive to someone who might be struggling from a health perspective?

What I would do is call them in or have a little sit-down and say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been absent a lot here from work. Is there something going on that I need to be aware of? Is there anything that I can help you with?” That’s a non-threatening way of saying, “What’s up? What can I do?”

It’s not leading the witness but opening the conversation and giving them the opportunity to share, “This is what I’m struggling with.” Also, creating a safe space to do that. Let’s go to the other side of the table. We’ve talked about the manager but what about the person who’s suffering from the chronic condition? What advice would you give to that person so they can thrive at work?

You have to be your own advocate. You have to dig into what’s available for you. Ask those questions. Next, I would get a copy of your job description. I would look at that job description and note the tasks you’re struggling with. Come up with ideas on how to do that task with help or accommodation. Think outside of the box. Sit down and talk to your boss about it.

What I like about that is you’re asking the employee to also be an out-of-the-box thinker, not just come with a problem but potential solutions. Let’s say that you’re the manager and I’m the employee who’s suffering from fibro, for example. I bring this to you saying, “I’m very unwell. I’m dealing with this chronic illness. I’m in the throes of the beginning of it or understanding how to get on my healing journey.” Besides creating that safe place to have the conversation, is there any other counsel you would give to managers to make sure that their employees feel good while they’re at work?

You have to start with training with the managers. You’ve got to teach them your policies, the ins, and outs of it because they’ve got to know. They’re the frontline people. They have to know where to send their people. The other thing that I stress is HIPAA and the confidentiality of it. Do not talk to anybody at the coffee pot or break room about your employee’s health condition. That’s where a lot of people go wrong. That caused this distress with the employee but also to the coworkers.

Brave Women at Work | Julie Hamilton | Chronic illness
Chronic illness: You really have to start with training the managers. You’ve got to teach them your policies. Teach them the ins and outs of it.

If I have a chronic condition that I’m still grappling with and all of a sudden, I hear that everybody in the office knows about it, how trusting am I going to be of the work environment?

Who do you trust to go to if Sally who sits next to you is retaliating against you? You don’t feel safe going to your manager because he’s the one who told Sally.

You mentioned training. You also talk about creating a more inclusive workplace in the book and with all the work that you do. I heard manage your education. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but is this also including it? I have never seen it in an employee policy before. Should it be part of employee policy? Tell me about that. What are the other steps maybe that we’re missing to create an inclusive workspace that supports people who are dealing with this all over the country in the world?

One is to be aware of your policies. The Family and Medical Leave Act is awesome for individuals with chronic illnesses. If you don’t know how that applies to you, it’s 50 employees or more at once at a site. It can guard your job when you’re off work due to your health condition or when you have to go to the doctor for your health condition. It doesn’t count against your attendance so they cannot terminate you for that. That’s one of them.

The other one is job accommodations. If I can do my job with some accommodations, why not ask for them if it doesn’t cause the company an undue hardship? Those are the two major ones. The other one is discrimination. Just because I have an illness and need accommodations doesn’t mean that you have the right to discriminate against me or treat me differently than anybody else. Those are the top things that everyone, whether an employee or manager, needs to be aware of.

It’s the Family and Medical Leave Act if you’ve never had to use it. I’m sitting there thinking about pregnancy. I’m also thinking about an ill person in your family but I’ve never thought about it for a chronic illness. That goes for the training piece, not only for employees but also for their managers.

You want to make sure that your doctor indicates that it’s intermittent. Intermittent means that you’re at work and off work. Otherwise, they’ll mark it where you have to be off for X number of weeks. I didn’t need that. I just needed to be covered when I had a flare. When my fibro was at its worst, I couldn’t get out of bed.

For fibro, it can happen at any point. It’s not like it’s going to be next Tuesday. It can flare at any time.

I can’t say, “It’s going to happen next Tuesday and it’s going to last three days.” It might last 24 hours or 1 week. Crohn’s disease and lupus have flares. We don’t know when and how long. That’s why it’s important that it’s intermittent. Your doctor should be able to help you with that because they realize that if they’re treating you and they’re a doctor that specializes in that, they know that.

Can I play devil’s advocate for a minute? I could see this coming up and I’m sure you’ve either had to deal with this or have counsel for me on this. Let’s say you’re working for someone who has a little bit lower tolerance. You’re on FMLA. It’s intermittent. Have you ever had a situation where managers were frustrated with you because it’s intermittent? We don’t know when it’s going to happen.

You are seen as less reliable and productive, which may not be true. You are just going through a flare. Have you ever had a situation like that? If an employee has a chronic illness and is dealing with a flare, it doesn’t mean if it’s fibro or lupus, how do they deal with that negative blowback that’s saying, “I’m not as valuable, productive, and reliable to the team?”

The thing that you have to show is that when you are there, you are reliable. I do think that if you’re diligently working on your health and trying to feel better and get it managed as I did, you can reduce those flares, learn your triggers, and maybe ward them off and not have them as often.

If you're diligently working on your health and trying to feel better, you can reduce those flares, learn those triggers, ward them off, and not have them as often. Click To Tweet

I don’t want to get too down this rabbit hole but even with fibromyalgia, there is that mental component or the mind-body component. If you feel supported and not threatened or feel like, “I have to be there when I’m in the middle of a flare,” you’re probably going to be more productive when you are there because you feel supported by your employer. It’s like a cycling loop.

That’s why I suggest with fibro when you’re home, what you need to do is concentrate on feeling better and doing all those things that make you feel healthier and not sit at home and worry about your job. You’re going to be in a constant flare because stress will keep you there. That’s why I recommend FMLA to a lot of my clients who have a chronic illness because then, they don’t have to worry about their job.

Not everyone understands FMLA as you do. How much time can you use intermittent FMLA throughout the year? Can you go into a little bit more detail? It’s twelve weeks but I want to make sure that we go through those little details.

It’s twelve weeks if you’re a full-time employee. If you’ve worked 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months, it’s prorated. You could be a three-quarters employee and still be eligible. It can be prorated down from 12 weeks, depending on what percentage of an employee you are, whether you’re 50%, 60%, up to 100%.

Let’s say I’m a full-time employee. I’ve maxed out the twelve weeks during a calendar year. I’m making it neat and tidy for the show. Does it reset the next calendar year?

Yes, it does. You’ll have to get re-certified. That means you have to redo the paperwork, which should be re-certified for another year. It does have to be re-certified annually.

Recertification means you have to go to the doctor, get medical necessity, and submit the paperwork to HR for approval. I wanted to ask you about your book, Chronic Illness at Work: How Managers Can Support Employees with Chronic Illness. I feel like this is your gift to all of us who have chronic illnesses. What do you hope for this book?

Brave Women at Work | Julie Hamilton | Chronic illness
Chronic Illness at Work: How Managers Can Support Employees with Chronic Illness by Julie Hamilton

My hope is that it helps somebody and that it can bring the world of individuals like me together with the managers, connect those two people or parties, and create an environment where we feel accepted, seen, heard, and feel like we have a purpose and contribute like I’m contributing something. That is my hope, to get the awareness out there to help individuals come together and open everyone’s eyes to it.

One thing I have to applaud you for is that you went through the, “Why me,” stage, which is so normal when you’re diagnosed with any illness or you’re going through any type of devastation or very difficult period in your life. You went through that stage of why me but you’re using it for good. You’re using it to support other people and not everyone gets there. Kudos to you.

Thank you, Jen.

You’re making a difference. I want to make sure we mention the book. If you’re in HR and you deal with chronic illness, I want you to go and get this book. Chronic Illness at Work: How Managers Can Support Employees with Chronic Illness. It’s on Amazon. Is it available wherever books are sold?

It’s only available on Amazon.

Is it Amazon just in the US or all over the world?

All over.

I already looked it up. It’s on Amazon US but we have people from all over the world that read the show. If you have a chronic illness or if you’re HR or in leadership, this is good information. We need to support one another, especially when we have these invisible illnesses. What would you say are 1 to 2 ways that you believe women can be braver at work?

I have been the only female manager on a management team of fifteen. When you ask me what one woman can do at work, I would say we need to advocate and stand up for ourselves as females. I’m getting off of the chronic illness part but a lot of times, we aren’t treated as fairly as we should be. I’ve seen that as a female but I’ve also seen clients with chronic illnesses. We need to be advocates, stand up for ourselves, and communicate better.

It’s very valuable information that you’re sharing with women. It doesn’t matter what their health status is to advocate for themselves and speak up. I love the word advocate. We’ve used that a lot throughout the show. It’s being your biggest cheerleader and defender, and understanding. One of the other things that you shared that has been a throughline in our episode is knowing the data or research. You did a lot of work partially because of your job but because you also wanted to be an advocate for yourself. You learned how to do that.

We need to be an advocate for ourselves. Click To Tweet

I learned what could cause flares. When I moved to Cincinnati, I discovered that those light bulbs that look like little pigtails, squiggly wigglys, can cause a flare for me. I had to change 48 light bulbs in my house. I thought that could be causing it or be a partial contributor to my flare. It’s research like that. My husband says I’m a dog when it comes to that. I’m down and gritty. I want to know what caused it. I want to know the details and the whys.

That’s also part of the reason that you ran a 5K. That is something to be celebrated.

I am a determined woman.

You know what would be lovely? I don’t know if you’d be willing to do this. Did you take any pictures during your 5K? When we promote the show, I would love to feature a picture of you, either crossing the line, being on your run or something around that because that in itself is so brave and inspiring.

I’ll send you one.

When we do the promotion for the episode, we will include your photo. It’s not just about the voice but also about what a human experience to have someone bedridden. 2016 to 2019 are not that long ago, and then you’re running a 5K. You’re well on your path to being stable. I’m knocking on all the wood again, Julie. That’s not saying that you won’t have a flare again but you’re in a better, more resourceful place to deal with it. I want to celebrate that.

Thank you. I do try to celebrate every day. Every day’s a gift.

How can women find you or your work online? I don’t know if you’re taking clients still but for someone who may be struggling, have chronic issues, or need help or advice, we want them to get the book, Chronic Illness At Work: How Managers Can Support Employees With Chronic Illness. How can they find you online?

I have a website. It’s www.CoachingPI.com. The PI stands for Positive Influence. I use that in my coaching because, as you know, when we have a chronic illness, we can be very negative and down, and have pity parties. I don’t allow that with my clients. We look at the positive things, set small goals, and have happy dances. That’s where the PI comes in. You can also email me at JHamilton@CoachingPI.com.

Are there any social places that you hang out like LinkedIn or Instagram? Are there any places you hang out there?

On LinkedIn, I’m under @JulieHamilton and then on Facebook, I’m under Coaching PI.

Julie, thank you so much for making this happen and being so vulnerable and open to sharing your story. I also thank you for the work that you’re doing because it’s making a difference. I hope that people enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

Thank you. I hope they do too and hear from some of them.

That does it for my discussion with Julie. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. As a final reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts or any other platform you enjoy. Until next time. Show up, advocate for yourself, and be brave.

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About Julie Hamilton

Brave Women at Work | Julie Hamilton | Chronic illnessJulie Hamilton is a Certified Fibromyalgia Coach and Life Coach who helps professionals maintain their career and regain their active social life. She has 20+ years of Human Resources Management/Director experience. So, when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2009, she knew what policies and laws to take advantage of to make her job work for her. Julie calls Waddell, AZ home.

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