Epilepsy and The World of Work

Today, I thought I would share with you some experiences of epilepsy in the workplace.

Entering the world of work when you have epilepsy can seem like a daunting task, as a teenager I didn’t worry too much about it. I took my first job working in a chemist, while I was studying…safe place to be 🙂

My manager was excellent, and she also taught me that it’s never too late to change a career as she qualified as a pharmacist in her 40s after bringing up her family.

At university and I was glad to find that all my lecturers and friends were also very supportive when they learnt about my epilepsy.

So… I naively thought that my future workplaces would be the same.

Since leaving university I have had a couple of jobs, and I have received mixed responses to epilepsy.

My manager at my first job after uni gave no empathy when I had been unwell and required a day or two off work, he just gave pressure for me to return. When I did, he said, “This better not become a regular occurrence.”  About a year later another colleague was taken on, and when I had the courage to tell him that I had epilepsy I was hugely relieved as he had personal experiences with epilepsy, and wasnt phased by the condition at all. It was good to know that there was someone there if I needed them.

My most recent job shocked me the most. I faced a difficult decision of whether to mention my epilepsy at the interview stage, I decided to remain silent as I was afraid it would ruin my chances of getting the job. But, I got the job!…obviously.

Weeks later, there were talks of me potentially travelling with the company, thoughts of travel insurance and things were bothering me, so I decided to have a chat with my manager and tell him about my epilepsy. He didn’t take it the news well. Although he didn’t say anything bad, he went red, his eyes darted rapidly back and forth for the remainder of the conversation, no matter how many times I told him, ‘it’s mild’, ’It’s controlled’ etc. Things were never the same after that, he didn’t chat to me the same, I think he had become afraid of me in some way, and where we’re originally getting along so well, things had become tense and awkward.

What’s more, I discovered that nearly all my colleagues in the company had very old-fashioned views when it came to epilepsy, I heard them gossiping and laughing about another co-worker, thinking that all seizures are triggered by flashing lights or worse, that it had connections with insanity.  It was this moment that I realised that I could never be open and honest with my colleagues about my epilepsy as they were just not educated enough about the subject, and I was afraid of their judgements.

This company was the biggest that I had worked for, but its employees were the most unprofessional and closed-minded that I had ever seen and it shocked me. The experience at that company has been  the inspiration to this blog as I think it’s important to support people with epilepsy when they’re having a rough time and its vital reach as many people who don’t know about enough about epilepsy to stop stigmas.

 

My advice for work is to find something that makes you truly happy.

Doing a job you love, with colleagues you are also supportive of you.

 

You can find more tips and advice about epilepsy and the workplace at Epilepsy Society

Thanks for reading,

Becky 🙂

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Why am I here?

No, don’t worry I’m not getting that deep. I just feel that I should explain exactly what drove me to start a blog on epilepsy.

I have lived with epilepsy for over 10 years and I am utterly grateful to say that for the past few years it has now become controlled.

You now might be wondering, so why are you are you now writing a blog? But after I had controlled epilepsy I honestly thought that the struggles with telling people about it would be over, but they’re not. Only a few months ago, I left a job due to the fact that I knew my colleagues were unable to accept it professionally even though I insisted there was nothing to worry about. Many of my friends and family thought I was insane for leaving, but I feel that life is too short to be in a job you’re not happy with.

Naturally everyone’s experiences with having to explain their epilepsy to other people will be different. Personally, I have found that about 90% of the time I have received responses that I would have rather not had. For a long time I tried not to dwell on it thinking that there wasn’t anything that I could do to change people’s attitudes or feelings. But then I realised that other people’s reactions would change if they were simply more education about epilepsy.

Also, for a huge amount of time, I never knew anyone with epilepsy. I never had anyone to talk to about it, to share my experiences, my fears or my thoughts. For many years I only knew of ‘a guy who knows a guy’ with it and the odd person who had one seizure, which wasn’t exactly helpful. A few years back I was working with a girl who had epilepsy, I approached her one day and I brought up the topic about myself having epilepsy, she looked so relieved to perhaps not be alone, and we spoke for ages on the subject. I then realised that although I might have controlled epilepsy I am still helpful, and I would like to help anyone who needs it.