Epilepsy

Me Against Discrimination In The Workplace

Discrimination is a topic that I unfortunately am all too familiar with. A history spanning from the first day of Kindergarten and throughout my years in High School. As painful as the entire experience was, I enjoyed learning and had very many fond memories of school! My thought process was, once my school journey was over, the bullying would be over. The relentless name calling, pointing and laughing would be left behind with the school lockers and classroom doors. I assumed behavior such as this only existed within school. How wrong I was. Yes, bullying indeed came to an end once I left school and there was a wide wide world to explore. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I breathed a sigh of relief. My self esteem began to blossom and my confidence began to shine like the summer sun. However, in 2008 when I was diagnosed with Epilepsy, fear washed over me. That old familiar feeling of fear. Fear of rejection and humiliation. Unsure of how the world would treat me once discovering my diagnosis. Some friends faded away as I had expected them to and some vowed to never leave my side as I prayed they wouldn’t. I gave up working as to give myself time to adjust physically and emotionally to my Epilepsy diagnosis. After a little bit of time, regaining strength physically and emotionally, I felt it right to give working a try once again. I began working for a family owned store having heard so many positive things about this particular workplace. The store, in a family-friendly community, beautiful location and lovely exterior/interior seemed like the perfect place to begin working again! I made the decision not to disclose my Epilepsy diagnosis right away so that I might be given a fair opportunity to be hired in. The workplace started out simply wonderful. Exceptionally friendly co-workers, delightful customers, I began to feel a sense of independence and a renewed sense of confidence. I had excelled as one of the top employees, praised for my positive demeanor and great work. Over the course of time, I felt comfortable enough to reveal to co-workers and management that I have Epilepsy. I had even been excited at the thought of asking for their support during Epilepsy Awareness days and month! The high hopes of acceptance and understanding that I had, slowly over time came tumbling right out of the sky in a downward spiral. It wasn’t long before co-workers and Supervisors began to distance themselves from speaking so much with me. More and more I found myself mostly standing alone. Mostly working alone. Mostly watching the time go by until the end of my shift alone. Eventually, it wasn’t long before certain co-workers found it amusing to craft ways that I was left to pick up their unfinished work giving them ample opportunity to purposely and visibly whisper about the co-worker with Epilepsy. Now when I say ‘mostly’, I am not speaking of everyone. I am blessed to say there were a few co-workers that were wonderful to me even when I disclosed my Epilepsy diagnosis and I am happy to say that we are still great friends to this day. However, for those I am referring to, the treatment I received because of my diagnosis was very difficult to overcome emotionally and even physically. Most nights, I found myself walking out of the doors of work in tears. Waiting on the curb outside of work for my husband to come take me home sobbing, wondering how people could be so cruel. Some nights, I wasn’t even able to make it out of the doors before tears began to pour down my cheeks. Most workplaces will tell you that they have an ‘Open Door Policy’ and that ‘Discrimination will not be tolerated in the workplace’. After two and three attempts to inform management of the treatment I was receiving, only to discover my pleas were falling on deaf ears, I soon realized that in fact it appeared as though the door was closed and discrimination wasn’t given much thought at all. The emotional abuse and discrimination continued at work as my husband and I did our very best to stay afloat above my medical bills. At that point, I gave up trying to ask for help. False promises that it was ‘getting looked into’. Co-workers growing colder and colder. Growing more and more distant and disrespectful. Fearing that if I quit, I would be putting us in financial jeopardy I continued to take the abuse. I continued to take the abuse all in the name of a paycheck. Reverting back to that hurt and saddened little girl bullied all throughout her school years. I wasn’t liking the person I was returning to. My self esteem dented. My confidence dwindling. A day finally came where I had taken enough. So praying for God’s protection, I left the job that I had heard nothing but positive things about. Yet in reality, behind all of the outward beauty, lay discrimination, humiliation and nonacceptance for anyone who might have a medical condition or an outstanding difference. I experienced ill-treatment from co-workers and even customers when they took notice of awareness ribbons and buttons I adorned on my work shirts.  Since leaving this work place and taking time to reflect, it has caused me to be even more empowered to speak out about my Epilepsy condition. To be vigilant in standing up when I notice discrimination anywhere. Whether it be in schools, in the workplace or where ever it is happening. If you have Epilepsy or a medical condition and are being treated disrespectfully, don’t be silent. Speak up! If you know someone in your workplace with Epilepsy or a medical condition, don’t be distant. Befriend! If you notice someone disrespecting someone because of their medical condition, do something about it. Stand up for anyone being bullied or treated wrongly. Workplaces say they don’t tolerate discrimination but in reality, it happens every day all around the world. It will continue to happen until enough voices say ENOUGH! Say no to discrimination!

I am a happily-ever-after wife, an Epilepsy Diagnosee, Advocate for Epilepsy Awareness (The Epilepsy Network), life lover & Christ inspired! Life is a journey and I'm loving every moment of it. Even the bumps in the road!

3 Comments

  • Mer

    It didn’t seem to matter whether I disclosed or not. I could refrain from disclosing, they would find out, and I would go from compliments and accolades for great work to constantly being criticised for bad performance. If I informed them upfront (and rarely managed to get the job), somewhere somebody in the office would start the cycle of complaints. If I never disclose and they never find out (which requires not having a seizure at work), I am highly respected and appreciated.

    Interestingly, I have also been on the other side, trying to support people with epilepsy in the workplace. What I found was that when the seizure activity in my clients increased their capacity to function decreased. In other words, they just didn’t perform their job to the same standard. More often than not I was faced with the same knee jerk reaction that I received myself: they just wanted that person out of their workplace. Conversations about making adjustments to work loads and understanding that their capacity to do the job would increase when their seizure activity decreased were just dismissed. What made it harder was that their capacity to work didn’t just waver immediately before or after a seizure, often they would be affected all day and sometimes for weeks.

    Something really bugged me about this attitude of employers though; they could easily accept adjustments for somebody who was intellectually disabled or physically disabled, but epilepsy just made them want to fire the person. I would like to think that it was just that the erratic nature of epilepsy was too hard to make adjustments for. I don’t think that is the case. I have no idea why epilepsy seems to make some people defensive and sometimes outright angry.

  • Ellie V

    Hi Tiffany,

    I always follow along with your stories and Facebook updates, but rarely do I comment, but I feel really compelled to share with you after reading this. I was diagnosed with epilepsy while serving in the Marine Corps. I was also going through a divorce when I received my diagnosis. I felt that same fear. Fear that once I left the Marine Corps, nobody would want to hire somebody with my “condition”. Fear that I would never find somebody to love me again, because who really wants to deal with that? I’m happy to say, almost two years after my diagnosis and one year after leaving the military behind, I have found a wonderful job, where all my co-workers and the management are very understanding. They asked me for a care plan, just in case I had a seizure. They engage me in dialogue to learn more, rather than shunning me due to a lack of information. I have also found a wonderful boyfriend, who tells me that he wouldn’t change my epilepsy for anything, because when I’m having a seizure he actually gets to take care of me, when other times my independent spirit doesn’t allow for that. Thank you for this post. Sometimes I need to reminded that I am truly blessed in the situation I am in, and I hope that everything works out well for you.

  • Chris

    I know how you feel, while I wasn’t bullied all the time at school, I did get bullied from time to time. Never bothered me, I’m a tough nut to crack. But the realisation of epilepsy 15 years ago changed me. It let me with NO friends at all, people I once associated with would mock me in the street. The only people I had were family. Even now I only really have a few friends and family. When making new friends they soon walk away after a seizure, relationships only last weeks at best.
    But the worst is work, every job does its best to make you want to leave, to make you make mistakes, then blame you for them. I am not a stupid person and gave up showing people up sometime ago in my office, let them have their victory over me. But I still get put down for being smarter than them, and making mistakes. If only they knew that when I say it upsets and annoys me over things they say about me and epilepsy, that I do get offended rather than thinking its a joke.

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