How do I deal with bullying at work due to my asthma?

I am 25 years old and have had asthma for as long as I can remember. Growing up with asthma was difficult because I was hospitalised on regular occasions. However, I was never teased or bullied because of it… In fact, my friends thought it was “so cool!” especially because “those steroids must make you well muscley”. If only! As I grew older my asthma died down, but I’ve always maintained a persistent dry cough. I hadn’t really given my asthma a second thought though, until now.

A couple of weeks ago I had a bad cold which unfortunately ended up on my chest (an asthmatic’s worst nightmare!). My cough got a lot worse. One day a guy at work asked if there was anything I could do to stop coughing because it was driving him insane. I said that I was taking my meds and that I just had to ride it out, but if it was annoying him I could sit in a different room for a couple of days. I thought that was it, conversation over.

I briefly mentioned it to my manager about a week later and he was horrified. He told me that this guy had come to him 3 months ago and showed him a document that contained the number of coughs I had done each day for a week! Apparently I’d already coughed 37 times by 10am! My manager told him about my asthma and said that he could listen to music to block out the sound but he had to stop this obsessive behaviour. He specifically asked that it wasn’t mentioned to me in case I took it personally.

Initially I was in total shock about it, but I am now totally paranoid at work and am trying desperately not to cough… I read somewhere in the forums about cough-variant asthma and I was wondering if anyone could give me advice on symptoms, diagnosis etc. Also, if anyone has advice on how to deal with the issue at work (boss seems to already be involved along with HR!) and gain my confidence back, I'd love to hear from you.

Thank you kind listeners :)

9 Replies

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  • Unpleasant office mates are no fun!

    Only advice i have is to work on staying clear inside yourself on the fact that (a) you cough because you're ill and not because you are trying to annoy someone (b) his irritation at your being ill is his responsibility to deal with.

    Of course you are affected - anyone who steps in our space affects us - but he's the one stepping into your space by making an issue of your cough. You aren't stepping into his space by coughing, no matter what he thinks and no matter what he tries to make others believe.

  • Don't feel bad because your work mate is a selfish, insensitive moron, and don't try to surpress your coughing - it doesn't help in the least and you only feel worse when you absolutely HAVE to cough.

    My own approach is to be up front about the asthma and try to make light of it. I pretend to be offended if someone else is coughing a lot because it's MY job and when I'm coughing a lot I'll ask people to try not to laugh too much at me acting like a cat with a hairball.

    BUT everyone is aware how ill I can get, and they understand how much I hate it so they try to make light of it too. In fact, last time I had a really big flare up I coughed continuously for 6 months and they were all so convinced that I was going to fall off my perch that if I stopped coughing for more than 5 minutes someone would come and inspect me to see that I was still breathing - and tell me that's what they were doing! The phrase 'Annie, are you still alive' always got the grumpy response 'NO' but I felt looked after even though I wasn't being fussed over.

    I don't expect that your moronic work mate could ever reach that level of understanding, but maybe if you got some literature for him to read he might understand what you're going through and stop being openly hostile. Your manager sounds like a nice person so maybe if you asked him to make the moron read the literature it might help. If nothing changes you could always make a complaint about harrassment - you have rights and being bullied because of something you can't help infringes those.

    I know how lucky I am and really wish you well with this.

  • My goodness his life must be preeeetttyyy empty if that's what he's got to focus on and complain about. Amazing!!!

    I'm currently off work long term sick.due to my asthma but when I was there every time I had a coughing fit (and I had lots as I was talking on the phone for five hours solid) my work mates would pop up over their desks like meerkats to check I was ok and not about to peg out lol!

    Maybe you could loudly discuss some of these examples with your other work mates while this 'special bloke' is in earshot so he can realize how unreasonable he's being? I often find humour gets through in a way nagging doesn't....

    If not, hr is the way to go.

    Good luck xxx

  • asthma4life, I think your boss should sort him out because he doesn`t sound like the kind of person you could reason with

    sound like he needs meds too, to calm him down :)

    good luck

  • Just to agree with everyone that he is being ridiculous, but just remember that his role at work is clearly so unimportant he has time to count coughs, so hopefully he wont be there much longer!!! don't suppress your cough, no point two people focusing on exactly how frequently you're coughing (think of it from his perspective, if he's making charts/graphs then you suddenly start trying not to cough you are really gonna affect his data, he's gonna have anomalous reductions to deal with - it'll make his life a nightmare! lol! :-P)

    glad your manager is being supportive, just make it clear if he says anything to you that he can just go to your manager about it, he'll be too embarrassed to do that, because your manager made it so clear he's being ridiculous, and have a laugh about it with your other colleges! good luck!

  • Oh dear, some people have far too much time on their hands - is he doing any work? Not much I can add to the replies above but perhaps give him a present of some ear plugs?! Good luck anyway, sounds like your manager is supportive

  • Thanks to everyone that replied. I appreciate your words of support. Work is getting a little more bearable and I'm now being monitored by the asthma nurse... Although I find paying a whopping prescription charge (almost £30!) a kick in the teeth!

    I think I'm going to talk to my boss about whether I can put some leaflets around the office and talk a bit more about it. I feel like it's a dirty secret at the moment! Maybe some fund raising would do the trick too.

    Hopefully this will all die down again if we ever get a summer ;)

  • Great idea about the fund raising. You couldn't find a better way to let everyone know about your asthma without sounding as if you're looking for sympathy. And your grumpy workmate will find himself having to stand up and be counted - either he supports your fundraising efforts or he outs himself as an insensitive, cough counting, grouch.

    Genius.

  • Glad things have improved a bit! The fundraising does sound like a good idea so good luck with that.

    Just wanted to say: have you looked into getting a prepayment certificate for prescriptions? It should cut down your costs a lot as it's a flat rate however many items you get. Always useful especially with asthma where sometimes you need extras like pred, antibs etc.

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