IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Had to Tell My Boss About My Poop Problems

Health issues are a questionable topic in the workplace, especially the ones that create an inevitable (and unfortunate) mental picture.
Publish date:
June 28, 2016
bosses, awkward conversations, poop, digestive problems, colonoscopy

As I sit here ready to eat my arm and struggling through my "liquid diet" for my first colonoscopy at the tender age of 27, I can't help but laugh to myself about my current situation.

The truth is, losing almost 20 pounds and feeling the need to be near the bathroom at all times is no laughing matter, but this is the way I've been coping. Struggling through these digestive issues with no foreseeable explanation in the future hurts my social life enough, but it's really taking a toll on my professional life, too.

You can read all the career advice books you want, but chances are you're not going to find one that tells you how to discuss your uncontrollable need to use the bathroom and how that effects your job. Unfortunately, I've been faced with this very awkward situation. And the fact that my boss is a middle-aged male somehow took the discomfort of this experience to another level.

I am somewhat new at this job, and I didn't want my boss to think I was some crazy hypochondriac or taking random vacation days just because I need more sleep. But I worried and worried (which made my stomach situation even worse) about how to bring up this subject without the two of us simultaneously dying of awkwardness.

I tried to mention it casually at a previous one-on-one, but it ended with him congratulating me for losing 20 pounds just in time for "beach season." So, now what?

It's not enough to deal with the ins and outs of figuring out a new job, but this added stress created a new level of challenges. Health issues are a questionable topic in the workplace, especially the ones that create an inevitable (and unfortunate) mental picture. In theory, these issues should be private and not something you need to discuss with anyone, especially your boss. However, it got to the point where this was impacting my day-to-day, and I wasn't willing to lose my job over this.

This sort of health issue isn't the same as needing your tonsils removed, but it can be just as debilitating. It's a delicate balance between sharing TMI and eliminating any concerns that someone claiming to be sick is actually taking beach days. But my boss needed to know the truth.

I've always had a questionable stomach, but my symptoms in the past six months have reached new extremes. Even when I'm not eating, I feel the urgency and anxiety that arises when you know a bathroom trip is imminent. I've been to multiple doctors, many websites where I've diagnosed myself with incurable bowel cancer (OK, so maybe the part where I'm a hypocondriac is a little true), and I still don't have answers. Many doctors just blamed anxiety, and told me I needed to "relax," and my problems would be solved. I don't know about you, but my immediate reaction to the command "relax" does pretty much the exact opposite.

I'm sure the people that sit around me at my office are very curious about where I constantly go. I've even developed some tricks so I don't look like a nutcase when I'm constantly speed walking to the bathroom. I've taken to obviously picking up my cellphone to pretend like I keep exiting for some important phone call, not another trip to the porcelain throne. But I finally decided that enough is enough.

I wanted to be able to have a straightforward conversation with my boss without conjuring up any terrible visuals or painful follow-up conversations. And if guys are squeamish when women bring up "that time of the month," discussing explosive diarrhea will really be a game-changer in the office.

I decided to go to my human resources director for advice. Like I said, this is not a subject I could find in a career self-help book. She sympathized, which — let's face it — is a little bit of the validation that I wanted. But she also offered some great advice.

She said to just be honest and transparent. At the end of the day, we're all human. Hiding the real reason for my need to work from home every now and then isn't going to benefit either of us. So I decided to just bite the bullet and tell my boss what was really going on. No sugar-coating or censoring.

To his credit, he was extremely understanding once he knew the actual reason. There were no follow-up questions, and he has been flexible and respectful when an unexpected issue arises.

We can read all the advice we want on how to negotiate a new salary, or what to do if you're faced with an office bully, but I'm here to tell you there's hope for people experiencing "shitty situations" everywhere.