Ask Ada: I’m Hiding My Disability At Work. Should I Continue?

Plus: Ada helps a man with Parkinson's deal with his newest roommate, an abusive brother.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

My Brother Moved In, And Now He’s Destroying My Health

Dear Ada, 

I have had Parkinson’s for seven-and-a-half years. Most of the time I am able to do things like travel, writing, yoga and singing. However, I live at home with my mother who has had cancer, and as both of us have physical problems, neither of us can look after the other, at least not all the time.

My brother has recently returned from Uganda and has also moved two of his sons (13 and 20) into the house. As he has no job and no money, he has taken over the cooking, driving, and I suspect the household finances. 

He can be quite aggressive, and his eldest son blanks me. I’m not sure if anyone would look after me if I was ill. They’d just leave me to deal with it. My brother and I are like chalk and cheese, we don’t get on or understand each other. In fact, we wet each other off emotionally and it’s exhausting. It’s an unhealthy, even toxic setup.

How do you think I should tackle this situation? It is affecting my health, well-being and confidence which makes me angry.

Sincerely, Living at Home

Dear Living at Home,

If you had a healthy relationship with your brother, I’d think that his moving into the home you share with your mother as a good thing. Since you both need help from time to time, it would be nice to have someone around to care for the two of you. However, it seems like your relationships are strained, and this living arrangement is toxic for you. 

Speak with your mother as a first approach. If it is her home, you might not have control over who lives there or who takes care of her and her finances, but since you’ve both been taking care of each other for some time, you deserve some clarity. A direct conversation with your about roles, responsibilities, and respect may be able to change your current circumstances.

She may decide to set conditions for everyone in the home, including you. Since most of you are adults, you can all be responsible for something, and this includes your nephews. Even the youngest one is old enough to help out by completing chores. 

In addition, your mother can set the tone that respect for each other is a must for whomever lives in her home. And any signs of blatant disrespect won’t be tolerated. 

But here’s the thing: your mother might not want to get involved. In that case, you need to make a decision. Should you stay or should you go? If your mother isn’t willing to help set firm rules and boundaries, then it may be time to look for a new place to live. 

Your mother might not want to get involved. In that case, you need to make a decision. Should you stay or should you go?

You know deep down that your living situation is unhealthy, and you need a stable environment in your life. Your sibling and his children are disrespectful and aggressive to you and you’re not physically able to care for or protect yourself. Plus, you’ve already indicated that they wouldn’t care for you if you were ill. 

Take the time now to create solid long-term plans for yourself. If any of your finances are mixed up with your mother’s, separate them, especially if your brother has access to the money. You may choose to move into your own place. If so, don’t forget to consider the many different types of assisted-living communities, especially the ones for younger adults where you can live independently. Consider budgeting now for a caregiver that can help you as your Parkinson’s progresses. You’re in the perfect place to interview for this role now.  Be picky! It’s best if you like whomever is helping to care for you. 

The bottom line is that you can’t control the circumstances at your mother’s, but you can take steps to safeguard your future and ensure that you won’t be in an abusive relationship with the people who should be looking out for your best interest. 

A Co-Worker Caught Me Taking My Meds. Should I Come Clean About My Illness?

Dear Ada,

I work in a male-dominated industry, in a thriving company, where I am one of the few women in my role. The men are very competitive and “tough,” which is fine. I can keep up with them. However, I have an invisible disability, that I work very hard to keep private. The other day, a male colleague, who also happens to be my direct competition at work, barged into my office and saw my desk covered in my many medication, vitamin, and supplement bottles. He then quickly excused himself and left, not even giving me a chance to explain. I feel extremely awkward now. I’d like to explain myself to him. I’m worried he’ll tell everyone else about the medicine and I’ll be viewed as weak. Should I approach him? How can I be more discreet in the future so that no one sees my medications?

Not Sick at Work
Let’s start with the easy stuff. If you’re worried about how to more discreetly take your medicine, vitamins, and supplements, consider preparing them in advance so you only need to carry a small container or bag of the pills, powder, etc. on your person each day. 

However, there is something I’d like to address. Male or female, there is nothing weak about giving your body what it needs to function at its best. You wouldn’t apologize for eating a fresh garden salad in front of your coworkers. So don’t apologize for fueling your body with vitamins and medications that are necessary to go about your day.

You wouldn’t apologize for eating a fresh garden salad in front of your coworkers. So don’t apologize for fueling your body with vitamins and medications that are necessary to go about your day.

Let’s first talk about your coworker’s quick exit out of your office. There are many reasons why he left so suddenly, some having nothing to do with you. Most likely, he feels awkward about intruding on your personal space, but doesn’t have social skills to make a proper exit. He could also be in recovery and was triggered by your pills. Regardless of the reason, he didn’t handle himself appropriately, and now you’re left feeling awkward about a completely normal experience 

I think approaching him is fine. I also think not approaching him is fine. But you mentioned that you want to explain yourself, so I think it’s important to meet with him. When you do, remember that you don’t have to “keep up” with him or the other men in your office. You’re already tough. Act like it’s not a big deal—because it isn’t. Ask, “why did you run out of my office the other day?” Or “you seemed bothered by seeing me take my meds. Is everything okay?”  

You don’t have to explain yourself. Simply let him know that there’s no need for him to feel uncomfortable because you don’t, and go on dominating your workday. 

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem