I used to work for a conservative pundit. William (not his real name), a lifelong Republican, frequently appeared on right-wing talk shows as a financial analyst. Once a week a chauffeured car would take him to a TV studio where he would appear on Fox News. William also put out a series of conservative newsletters each week. I was hired to ghostwrite them. The only problems: I was a liberal and I was working with a chronic illness.
In retrospect, it’s surprising William hired me. I now suspect that he was unaware of my political views during the initial job interview. I certainly didn’t grasp the differences in our political leanings, or for that matter, what I was getting myself into by working for William.
It didn’t help that the job posting made no mention of conservative politics. Instead, William said the job focused on financial writing, which I had experience doing as a freelancer. However naively, the thought of financial writing crossing over into conservative politics never entered my mind. Even after William made his political views clear, it still didn’t quite register with me that I, a liberal millennial, would be working for a conservative baby boomer and writing right-wing ideology.
I’m not exactly sure when William learned of my liberalism and general contempt for conservative politics, but it was probably around the time he gave me the assignment of writing about The Strategic Defense Initiative, a program championed in the eighties by then-President Ronald Reagan to protect the US against ballistic nuclear missiles. Somewhere in the article’s introduction I wrote that President Reagan was “adamant” about the program’s efficacy. William didn’t like that and made sure to not-so-subtly point out that I wasn’t even alive when the program began in 1983.
While professionally I adopted some of William’s conservative views, our personal lives remained very different—William would often call me to brainstorm on his way to the gun range. He’d be driving a gas guzzler with his firearms and NRA membership card at the ready. Meanwhile, I would be outside harvesting rain water and charging my laptop from a portable solar panel.
On paper our relationship was rife with conflicts, but in actuality we worked well together. Though it certainly wasn’t easy, for me, anyway. Our constructive workflow was due in large part to the fact that I needed the work, badly. It was my only option in a recession-stricken job market.
Not surprisingly, the most awkward moments I had with William were on the left side of the political spectrum. One week he gave me the assignment of ghostwriting a piece on cannabis companies, perhaps thinking that, as a liberal, I would know a lot about marijuana. He even jokingly suggested that I go “downtown” and do some “research.”
Unbeknownst to him I didn’t smoke marijuana and was pretty apathetic when it came to anything related to cannabis. But I did my best to channel my inner liberal, though I never did the kind of research I think he had in mind.
There were times when I worked for William that I questioned what I was doing. Was I being true to my beliefs? No. Was I doing what I needed to do to earn a living? Yes. Walking the line between those two aspects of my life is one of the toughest moral dilemmas I’ve ever had to face.
Admittedly, I didn’t adequately consider how my work might influence people. Barack Obama was president, the Affordable Care Act had been passed, and in my view, the country was moving in the right direction. There was, however, a line of which I was unwilling to cross, and that included writing anything that was racist, misogynistic, homophobic or otherwise blatantly offensive to anyone.
I may have had an identity crisis or two while pretending to be a conservative, but I found reprieve from my guilt by voicing my beliefs away from work. And just when I felt like the differences I had with William ran too deep, we often found common ground.
Despite his fondness for oil and gas stocks, we both liked socially responsible companies like Tesla. Once William even arranged for us to test drive one of the early Tesla models, back when it first came on the market. I was excited about it, but something wasn’t right. I wasn’t feeling well and, much to my disappointment, I had to tell William I was too sick to do the test drive.
(Not) Working With a Chronic Illness
I had contracted two complex illnesses—myalgic encephalomyelitis and Lyme disease. Suddenly I was bedridden and lost my ability to speak and eat solid food. Driving a car was out of the question, and so was working with a chronic illness.
No matter how hard I tried to will my health back, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t work for William anymore. But to my surprise, he tried to keep me employed, quoting the “no one left behind” motto.
William picked up my slack for awhile, but weeks went by and I didn’t get better. As my health continued to fail, I realized that his motto was unrealistic—sometimes you have to leave a person behind, or in my case, tell someone else to leave you behind.
Eventually William moved on, and it’s a good thing he did. That was six years ago and, while my health has improved, I still can’t walk on my own or speak without difficulty.
One of the first things I did when my health got better was write William an email. I told him how much I appreciated his gesture to keep me employed. His response: “I was worried we lost you from this world,” and “At least you’re still in the fight.”
How to Live With Chronic Illness
William and I have lost touch since that correspondence. I imagine he’s busy working with my replacement. Sometimes I wonder about William’s new ghostwriter: Does this person agree with William? Or do they have to pretend to, like I did?
These are the fairly innocuous questions that float around my mind when I think of William. But the more persistent question I have, the one with more moral weight is: What would it be like to work for William with Donald Trump as president?
I can’t imagine working for William, pretending to be a conservative minion, with Trump as president. The thought of having to praise Donald Trump makes me cringe, especially now that I’m part of a group of people that the president has publicly mocked.
Perhaps it’s belonging to this community of disabled people that has made me more aware of precisely how despicable the president is. In turn, my disability has made me aware of the privileges I had as an abled-body person, and those I still have today. I regret that it took a life-changing illness, and losing some of my privilege, for me to truly empathize with the struggles of less fortunate people. I wish I had come to this realization sooner, when I had more health and energy to help other people.
Similarly, I wonder whether William recognizes his privilege as a wealthy, white male, or if he blindly contributes to the conflict our country has fallen into. I wonder whether he supports Trump’s agenda. He must, but to what extent? I wonder if he gets in his chauffeured car, arrives at the TV studio, and tells the audience how the president is making America great again.
I hope he doesn’t say that. If he does, I’m not sure I can preserve my respect for him, mainly because I know there’s much more at stake in this country than just the relationship I have with my former boss. Some of the stakes affect me personally―such as legislation that would limit the healthcare and civil rights of people with disabilities. Some of the stakes do not, and many of those issues, like immigration and reproductive rights, are the ones that need the most attention.
Since my time working for William, I’ve learned that, when it comes to people with whom I disagree on fundamental political issues, keeping the relationship intact can sometimes, but not always, be worth more than the sum of our differences. The hard part is making that decision—deciding if the relationship is worth salvaging and whether the person is capable of realizing how damaging their political views can be to our country.
In that sense, I do believe that good people can change, or at least coexist with each other, and in today’s tempestuous political climate that’s something to strive for.
BEFORE YOU GO…
1. Thanks for reading about my time working with a chronic illness!
2. If you would like to donate to support this blog I would be so grateful.
3. I am fundraising to pay my medical bills and if you’d like to help out by buying a shirt or hoodie I’d be equally grateful. I get about $5 for every shirt sold.
9 thoughts on “What It’s Like Working With a Chronic Illness”
Sounds pretty stressful – do you think that stress was any part of your getting sick?
I’m working with a counselor now to try to handle some of the huge stress inventory I’ve accumulated these past couple of years, especially including medically-induced PTSD.
It can’t be helping to carry such a load.
I don’t particularly enjoy engaging in political discussions as of late. Especially in those not conducted in person. It seems to be pointless, because people are not even open to hear other opinions. That aside, I cannot leave this page without writing a comment.
1. Is the title a bit of a click-bait? As I read, I was under the impression that you worked for the man AS you were sick, but then I read that you stopped working as you got sick. Could you clarify? I might be misunderstanding.
2. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I cannot be the only one. During my uni years, we were taught to argue from either side of the fence. It was all about the arguments and the power of persuasion. It showed you that you can be in favor of something, yet see the negatives, or against something and see the benefits. There are pros and cons to EVERYTHING. It’s sad that people don’t think like that anymore. They refuse to see it that way. Because of that, I saw nothing shocking in you working for someone with somewhat opposing views. It is credit to you and your skills.
3. I was happy to see that William turned out to be a decent human being (for a while I was worried, trying to guess your narrative). A prime example of how political preference does not have to make us good/ bad.
4. “The thought of having to praise Donald Trump makes me cringe” – that made me cringe. You went from being level-headed and logical to emotional. There is good in everyone, you know? If you cannot say a good word about someone whom you dislike, then you are not being objective or fair. That makes you selective to what you hear and see. How is that alright?
5. Wealthy, white males are Americans, too. Why should a wealthy, white man feel less worthy of the President’s attention?
6. “I hope he doesn’t say that. If he does, I’m not sure I can preserve my respect for him” Why? Because he has an opinion that is different to yours? Or that his stakes don’t align with yours? We all have different hopes and dreams. Just like you cringe, others might be rejoicing. Why is your dissatisfaction more important that the satisfaction of other people?
7.”Whether the person is capable of realizing how damaging their political views can be to our country.” – you know that can be also said about you, not just William, right?
8.”I do believe that good people can change” – in what way? Why do good people need to change?
9. I do like and agree with your closing sentiment.
“If you cannot say a good word about someone whom you dislike, then you are not being objective or fair.”
I disagree. The statement was an honest expression of personal feelings not an analyses of Trumpism. If Jamison was writing an essay on the voracity of policy, or the historical implications, then you would certainly want a more neutral tone. But, he is expressing his personal journey with an illness and work. Politics is tertiary in how it intersects here.
However, to address your point, I don’t hate or dislike Trump, I feel a great deal of sympathy for people who have personality disorders and are unable to moderate their behavior. Trump may, somewhere down inside, be a very decent person, but there is no way to fully realize this due to his impulsive behavior and self aggrandizing. He is simply incapable of seeing the world with empathy or a focal point not shining down on him. That is a sad way to live a life. It is also a horrible trait in a leader.
I have no desire to hijack this thread, so this will not be an ongoing discussion. I just wanted to offer a civil response to your pro-Trump views and opinion on your above statement.
Thank you for taking time to reply.
1. I said “If you cannot say a good word about someone whom you dislike, then you are not being objective or fair.” not as general commentary of this post, but to this: “I can’t imagine working for William, pretending to be a conservative minion, with Trump as president. The thought of having to praise Donald Trump makes me cringe”. Does my statement make more sense to you now? I wasn’t talking about his personal preferences, but his potential work. Again, not talking about politics, but about arguments, writing and different kinds of people.
My response was not pro Trump. It was pro reason, writing, and objectivity. You chose to see it the way you did.
“He is simply incapable of seeing the world with empathy” and you know that how? Or is that your personal opinion?
Just for background reasons, I double majored in History and Psychology.
To your question about making more sense, No, I don’t see how your expanded explanation improves your standing. The context of the entire article is about working with Chronic illness. With ME, psychological and or emotional stress deeply impacts physical symptoms. So it is supportive of the overarching thesis. Your supposition that he lacks fairness for simply not saying nice things is patently inaccurate within that context.
Secondly, your response was challenging the author’s distaste for Trump, however, “pro-Trump” could be inflating your position. Yet, it is perceived when you defend a political person. I don’t know of anyone who defends a divisive personality like Trump unless they support him in some fashion. You added no criticism of Trump or his politics, just defense, so it is reasonable to assume. But, to be fair, I do not know this with certainty.
How I know-
Trump has a textbook disorder; glaringly textbook.
symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder:
Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
Exaggerate achievements and talents
Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
Take advantage of others to get what they want
Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
Be envious of others and believe others envy them
Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation
What does your educational background have to do with anything? I am highly educated myself, too, but I don’t think that matters in a debate like this. I can have the same conversation with a person who collects trash and a doctor and agree with the former and disagree with the latter. It’s about the merit of your words, not your degree.
I feel like you took my initial comment out of context, so I tried to clarify it for you by quoting Jamison’s words. I hoped that way you could objectively see what I was referring to. The context of this post is NOT working with chronic illness. That’s actually something I asked Jamison about. His post talks about him working for someone and THEN becoming ill. If you look at the comment section, you will see that I am not the only person confused on the title. That just makes your persistent denial of my reasoning all the funnier. If I title my post “When I ate a rabbit” and then I write about reading a book about a horse, I hope that you comment about the horse and do not insist that the post is about a rabbit. But maybe you read my comment instead of reading the post in its entirety?
I was not challenging his “anti-Trump” opinion. I was challenging his objectivity as a fact writer (not for his blog, but a potential job). That is how things might be perceived, but that doesn’t mean that has to be the truth, and I’m glad to hear that you might somewhat agree on that. I asked very matter-of-fact questions. Not about politics, but about psychology and sociology more than anything.
If you studied psychology, as you say you did, you would know that diagnosing someone like that is not standard practice. A diagnosis needs to be backed up by thorough testing, not by opinions and superficial knowledge. See? Again. This is not me defending him. For all I know, he might have all the disorders in the world. But I will stand up for the fact that you cannot “know” that he has X, Y, Z. Unless you ARE his psych. In that case, you might be in trouble for releasing protected patient information.
Yeah good luck with all that. This is exactly why I said I wasn’t going to get into a drawn out debate because it always devolves into a shit show of my views are facts and yours aren’t and I don’t have the energy for people like you.
I’m sorry you were unable to prove me wrong. Come back some other time?
This section gave me a smile. He’d be driving a gas guzzler with his firearms and NRA membership card at the ready. Meanwhile, I would be outside harvesting rain water and charging my laptop from a portable solar panel.
We’re having the same problem in britain as the right wing become more exteeme and brutal. I get irritated by the idiocy of the public that swallow the propaganda without question, but at the same time i’m absolutely of the belief that many of the peoe that vote for them are good people (they don’t like change and are generally frightened). In regard to breaking your ethics to work, my father was of socialist left wing leaning but ended up working for an arms company to support his family. That’s life for you.