When I Was Mistreated At Work Because of My Epilepsy
Do you know when it is time to quit?
To quit complaining?
To quit a relationship?
To quit a job?
My first real job out of college was the first time I learned about when it is time to quit. I had just found a job in the midst of the recession and wasn’t about to let go of it. Back when the housing market crashed, finding a job was slim pickings. Especially when it came to commuting to one via bus. I have complex-partial seizures that for years were unable to be controlled by medication. Luckily, I hit my mark of being seizure-free for an entire year and was able to get my driver’s license. Getting around town was a breeze and I found a position I could commute to in my new car.
The company wasn’t perfect, but I thought it would add value to my resume while earning a bit of cash to pay the bills. The thing was, I should have stuck with my gut and quit while I was ahead.
For a while, everything was going well until I had a breakthrough seizure on my commute home and totaled my car. I lost my license and was back to using public transportation. I was scared, sad and embarrassed to tell my company what happened. All I could think of was, “What if they fire me?”
The first response when I told them about the accident was, “You didn’t need to tell me that!”
That was clue number one. I was expecting something along the lines of, “Thank goodness you’re OK.”
They kept me on because I was able to take three buses there and continue the 9 – 5 Monday through Friday schedule. That was clue number two. I could have found a job closer or a company that would let me work remotely. But I was too scared I wouldn’t be able to find a job in the tough economy. So I stayed with the company that day by day I was losing respect for and losing interest in working there.
Clue number three came at the same time as one of our worst winter storms of the year. My manager was having the president over to her home for an important meeting. She asked if I could come too and of course, I would never miss a meeting with the president of the company. Despite the storm, I stood out by the bus stop across from my house, snow up to my knees, praying for the bus to come.
The buses were running behind that day because the storm had pretty much shut the city down. The upside to dealing with the commute there was that the bus stopped a block away from her home. I was a little late, but I thought she would understand. I knocked on her door and it swung open. “Hi,” I said hesitantly. Her cold stare made the temperature outside drop a few more degrees.
She looked me up and down and said, “You should have worn a longer coat.”
She turned swiftly around and I trotted inside after her. I set up my computer in her living room, praying she wouldn’t fire me. “*Bob’s running an hour behind schedule. He lives close by but he said he can’t get out of his neighborhood because of the snow.”
The president finally was able to dig his car out, and arrived at her home to have a quick 15-minute meeting. When he left I politely explained to her how bad the snow was and that I needed to get home. Most people have always offered me rides knowing my situation. I’ve always been grateful and would offer something in return. Cookies yes, gas money no. I had high hopes that she would be like others and extend an offer for a ride to at least the bus station downtown.
I suppose I could have asked, but to be honest, I didn’t want to be in a car with her when she was clearly that upset over the situation. I got home safe and sound and warmed up with my pets and husband who always keeps me laughing.
The very next week after the weather had cleared, the president brought me into his office. My mind immediately went to, “Oh crap! What did I do? Did this have anything to do with me not being able to drive?”
He greeted me with a smile and closed the door behind me. “Hey Dani, so there’s a new position that opened up. You’d be working with another manager, but I think you’d be a good fit. We’d give you a bump in pay too.”
I happily accepted and we got to talking. Much to my surprise, he wasn’t aware of my situation and felt terrible about me getting to the meeting via bus in a snowstorm. “Heck, we could have just had a conference call. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
I never understood why my epilepsy bothered so many people in the company, to the point where even my manager and HR lady kept it quiet from the president. What was it that bothered them so much about it? I never had a seizure at work and even if I had, I doubt they would have known. Not many know what a partial-complex seizure looks like. Plenty of times people have been just as confused as I feel after them, not knowing why I was unresponsive and acting funny.
If more people understood what epilepsy is, I probably wouldn’t have encountered such ignorance at work. I felt so ashamed to have an illness that I have no control over. I shouldn’t ever have to feel that way, and in retrospect know that I should have quit working there a long time ago.
*This name has been changed to protect the individual.
SK Life Science, Inc. and Kantar Health. “Seize the Truth About Epilepsy Perceptions (STEP) Survey.” February 7, 2019 to March 27, 2019.
Getty image by Torwai.