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Epilepsy Blog Relay: My coworkers and my epilepsy

This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™. Follow along all month!

Leila’s Story

I have exciting news: I got a new job! My previous one was rewarding but stressful and wasn’t doing anything good for my mental or physical health. Though it was bittersweet, I left to follow what I have wanted to do for years: be a school counselor.

I work at a local high school with 2,000 students. It is so busy all the time and I love it. I can already tell how positive it has been for my health and overall life. I could go on for a while about the reasons I love working in a school (and working in this school). But this piece isn’t about how much happier I am at work! It’s about what I remembered once I started working: I have epilepsy and I need to figure out how I want to deal with it in the workplace.

Epilepsy in the Workplace

It crossed my mind initially because I needed to request off time for the Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland Expo in California (more to come on that in a later post). I didn’t really want to tell my boss about my epilepsy; I had avoided doing so with HR when I applied for the time off directly. He needed to also approve it, however. I told them all it was for a health conference and I was attending as one of the expo participants to help others with their health experiences and to learn more about things occurring in the field. That sounded pretty good to me! During one meeting about it though, I (without thinking about it) bluntly said it was an epilepsy conference.

Related: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Epilepsy

Telling coworkers about epilepsy

I didn’t really realize what I had done until after the conversation. I was simultaneously proud of but scared for myself. I imagined what many of us do–will I be treated any differently? What does my coworker think of me now? Do I have to work harder to earn respect? I looked back on that conversation with him and realized how he didn’t appear to treat me any differently, as some people have. Now that it’s been a while since I blurted it out to him and nothing has changed. I get treated with full respect and am given responsibilities just like my coworkers. I was nervous that the topic would get brought up in an awkward way but my brain had another idea (as usual)!

I told one other coworker directly about my diagnosis and she was surprised. She asked a couple of questions but also hasn’t treated me any differently. Since I went to EADDL and used social media to follow my days there, a few more coworkers have found out I have epilepsy. They haven’t said anything and I have decided I won’t either. It’s not something that concerns my daily work life and, to me, it doesn’t need to be given much thought in my workplace.

It is always important to make sure that you are safe in your work environment, so telling someone at work can be wise. But you don’t HAVE to do so (at least in the United States). You need to judge how comfortable you are in the situation. Don’t assume that people will treat you different or will judge you inappropriately. If you work with understanding and kind people, you should be accepted. It is a good opportunity to spread awareness and understanding about epilepsy.

NEXT UP: Be sure to check out the next post tomorrow at https://livingwellwithepilepsy.com.

Follow Leila Shields:
Leila shares stories on stigma and epilepsy based on her experiences and what she hears from others. She was diagnosed with Epilepsy at age 8 and is based in Pennsylvania.

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