Chronic Illness and the Foreign Service

So, I’ve been diagnosed with (at least!) mild Sjogren’s and hypermobility. Also, obvious to those who see me, I also suffer from obesity.  Throw in some depression, random joint/muscle pain (likely caused by the hypermobility, but possibly having other causes), and general fatigue, and I think I count as a full-on Spoonie (sufferer of chronic illness).

This honestly doesn’t work well with the Foreign Service culture.  I’m trying, but it’s hard.  Foreign Service Officers tend to be extremely active, constantly on the go, work-hard-play-hard types.  I do not have the energy for that shit.  Networking and hobnobbing are hard.  Many of them are runners, while I remember when I tried to become a runner and the horrible torture that it was.  They want to go out for happy hours, bar crawls, etc., when I want to curl up at home on my couch.  (Yes, the FS also has a TON of extroverts, but that’s probably obvious.)  I like seeing people and hanging out, but I can only do so much of it before all my spoons are gone.

That’s not even talking about the travel that is (of course) expected.  I mean, a vacation in a hotel with my wife, where I actually get to rest, etc., is easy.  But I had friends who were constantly taking short, overnight trips up-country (aka away form the capital and decent bedding), and wondering why I didn’t do more of those.  (Now, the constant moving I can deal with, as long as I get a couple of days to decompress upon arrival.)

Healthcare is a special worry as someone with chronic illness.  I learned in Togo that the med units don’t often fully understand what I’m talking about, though having a med unit in the work office was extremely helpful.  It also meant that I tended to be the most frequent visitor.  “My stomach is upset; is it normal upset or do I have dysentery again?”  “I’m extremely weak and tired; is it a normal flare up, or malaria?”  Etc.

That’s not to say I can’t do my job.  As a political officer, it was my job to go to some of these events, including cocktail parties and boring conferences.  (I am slightly afraid that there might be footage of me falling asleep at a conference–that’s the general fatigue thing kicking in.)  Analysis and reporting, I can do.  I’m also good at languages and one-on-one meeting with people.  In fact, I LOVE those part of my job.  (We’ll soon see how I handle hours at a visa line.  Cross your fingers for me.)

I wouldn’t change jobs for anything.  This was my dream since I left college, 11 years ago.  It still is.  The work is interesting, it’s not too physically demanding, and I get to experience more than I ever could have any other way.  (I also have great health insurance, which I am using to the utmost!)

I really just want to 1) help other spoonies (including possible future FSOs) know about what life in the FS is like and 2) hopefully open my colleagues eyes to the extra struggles of spoonies.

So, I’ll end this with a call for questions.  Comments are open.


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