Back to Work and Return to Unemployment

by Chris Ovenden

Having epilepsy has meant that I have been in and out of jobs, for a number of reasons.  The first being health and safety, which is fair. After all, you can’t work long shifts in a warehouse where you can go hours without seeing someone. My employers tried moving me into an office, but moved me back when the two people employed to replace me in the warehouse couldn’t keep up with the work.  So I was in the office and the warehouse and eventually put back in the warehouse full time. Eventually,this after another seizure, Human Resources discovered this and were forced to let me go on health and safety grounds.  This also meant they could employ more warehouse staff.

Other jobs I have lost were due to companies adding more and more work onto my schedule until I cracked and forgot something or was late with something.  Over 17 years I have had 18 jobs including the one I am in at the moment.

The section in my life I would like to concentrate on is after being let go from one of the largest advertising/media groups in the world, where epilepsy was seen as a hindrance. I was unemployed for 2 weeks.

Some background information for those outside the UK: in the UK when you first become unemployed you go to the job centre and get put on Jobseekers allowance, this involves going to the job centre every 2 weeks proving you have searched for work and getting paid not enough to cover basic human needs.  After months of that you are allowed to progress to unemployment benefits, which just cover human needs unless you claim extras.  In the UK epilepsy is considered a disability and you can get disability living allowance if you work or not.

So the moment I was escorted out of the media companies building I was on the phone to my local job centre to arrange an interview and get the process sorted.  I believe I got an interview in just a few days. It’s a no suit and tie affair; just turn up in jeans and a hoodie.  They gave me the details of what to bring, like my CV and sent me a confirming email.

By the time I get home on the train I had already applied for jobs and I was ready to go.  I took my suit to the cleaners and updated my CV again.  I spent every minute of every day until the interview searching for work and applying for positions.  Once I got the the interview with the job centre and I filled in the forms, I got told that I would receive no money for 2 weeks.

I should point out its just before Christmas, too.  Fortunately I had money available and I had no gifts to buy.  I was given a little slip of paper giving me my dates to sign in.  The next date was Christmas Eve 2010 at 12:30.  Most years I take Christmas eve off. I stay at my parents over Christmas and it takes a day to get there.  But that year I grinned and bore it.  The assistant (whom I felt sorry for, as they must get so much abuse) asked about my epilepsy. She arranged a meeting after my next sign in date so I could get more money as part of the disability living allowance.  I grinned and told her that I intended to have a job before Christmas.  I said it loud enough that the “Scum” she normally deals with might be inspired to get a job.  All I heard was laughing.

I left the centre ready to get a job. I hate going the job centre but it does help some people. Most people abuse the system it was created to help.  I sent my CV out, I filled in applications.  I completed three interviews before Christmas Eve and on the 23rd of December I got a call from an employment agent. He saw my CV and thought I would be perfect for a role he was recruiting for.  The only problem was that the interview for the job was the next day at 2pm and I had to meet him first.  I pointed out that it was impossible.  The distance to meet the agent was too far.  But I suggested a Skype interview.  So I Skyped him to do the interview from my flat. I emailed him the completed forms and agreed to the interview with the company.

It was a 3 month contract with the possibility of being extended.  No one knew how long it could be extended for but three months of being paid good money was certainly better than nothing.  I rang the Job Centre to explain the situation about the job interview and they agreed that I could do my sign in at 9:30 as they have a slot free. I arranged for my parents to pick my stuff up that night so I can go straight from my interview to their home.  Things were looking good.

Christmas Eve rolled around. I had my suit ready, my shoes shined and I was ready.  I got dressed and off I went to the job centre.  I walked in smart as anything. I sat down for my meeting with them,  still having to do both.  I proved that I have been searching for work, even joked about moving it forward for the interview and said if I got it I was right about before Christmas.

After both meetings I knew that the times were against me.  I jumped on my train and made it to the job interview with 15 minutes to spare.  The interview was with a little contract Finance Director who was covering while the main FD was on maternity leave. We talked about the role and the company.  Where it was going, what I could do.  The usual interview things.  I was made aware that there were five people for the job and I was the last to be interviewed.  Second interviews would be in the New Year, if I was selected.  I smiled but kept my British stiff upper lip, as I knew that 2 weeks were going to be up and I may have failed (again).

I left a little bit on a downer. Everyone on the trains were in party moods for Christmas and I was unemployed, single, and someone who hates Christmas.  As I made my way to my parents’ home, I knew I would see my little brother so things were getting better. And my laptop was at my parents’ house so I could job search once there.  I reminded myself that things were not so bad.

Until recently the underground and train network in the UK were terrible for Mobile/Cell phones. Maybe it was just that I got off the last train but my phone rang from the agent with news. I was braced for the worst, however I was told no second interview would be needed. I got the job! Could I start on the 2nd January. My two week prediction was spot on!

The job was working in the accounts department, which is what I have done almost exclusively since I was 19. It was meant to be payables and receivables, which is what I started doing; however, the sales team in their non-wisdom on anything thought that sales administration should be done by the finance team because it had the numbers.  When I pointed out that they were sales numbers they were a little confused.  Mostly because I don’t think they expected the contract employee, who should be impressing everyone, to actually stand up to them. But also as it was a company where everyone had a degree.  I think even the cleaner had a degree.  I was the only one that didn’t and still doesn’t.

After a week of arguing between the sales director, the finance director, managing director and head office, they agreed that the work should be taken on by finance (me).  When I saw the spreadsheet, I stormed into the sales director’s office and asked about changing it.  I suggested making it give the same detail but refining the process and speeding up the task.  At this point I realised that the sales director was the sales director not because he earn’t the position but because he went the right school then college and eventually university.  In England you don’t have to be smart to attend the right places, you just have to have money.  Also his degree was a “Mickey Mouse” degree.  However his colleague pointed out that if the information was exactly the same at the end, and it speeded everything up, then they would happy for me to change it.  I spent 3 days refining the process and the spreadsheet.  What they wanted done before that took 2 hours I was now getting done in 15 minutes with my new process.

I was given an upgrade in title to Sales Analyst, rather than Accounts Assistant. I still did the accounts work but was passed the sales jobs, too.  Every time I was given a spreadsheet that a barely evolved ape put together, I would refine it.  This made the process go from 2 or 3 hours to 15 to 30 minutes.  I had my contract extended to 6 months.

The only problems with the company were that no one liked the FD (not even me, and he hired me), and there was a huge drinking and drug culture.  Lunchtime drinking was the norm, after work drinking was the norm.  At payday we would all be in the bar and a few would head to the toilets to have a conversation with their dealer.  I had said I would get out of the drinking culture when I left the media company the previous month but I was right back in it.  I only drank on the Friday in the evening but I knew it was a company I had to get out from when one Friday I was having my one pint of Guinness and before I knew it there were three shots lined up and another fout pints and people telling me that I was falling behind. I stopped drinking as much from then on.

I was four months into my six months and thought I should look for something else. Better to have the right job than any job, I reasoned.  I searched for contracts that would come up to start straight away. With only four weeks left of the contract I got an interview. It was for a theatre company, near where I worked before. It was a full time, basic accounts position with no extras. I completed the interview and a second and was offered the job. I handed in my notice at the contract role and was told that they were going to make me permanent.  I had reorganised the sales processes, I had redone the budgets for the next financial year and I was on top with the accounts work.  I was making work for myself rather than sitting around waiting on it.  But they accepted my resignation grudgingly (they even offered me more money).

My new job at the theatre company was meant to be the one that defined me as a person. It was meant to be the start of everything. Hopefully I was going to be there a long time.

I was honest about everything. I told them about my Epilepsy in the interviews. The finance controller actually told me that they employed people with disabilities and were an equal opportunity employer. In fact they already had someone with a disability in the accounts department. All they would need to know would be what to do in case of a seizure and for me to be honest about what was going on. I started my job. The person I was replacing had one week to train me, which was not enough. They should have hired a temp weeks before. However I learnt as quickly as possible and the old guy was gone. I was then sent emails asking me to do things and I would email back telling them I had no idea how. My first month was stressful but I got through it. The logic behind things was crazy, often you needed to do things five or six times, when there were easier more streamlined ways.  However I wanted to keep the job. I was there for the long haul so did things the crazy way rather than the streamlined and simplistic way.

In the second month they had to send out the quarterly figures to the board. I was given four A3 sheets, and three A4 sheets of paper (I remember the sizes and quantities) and was told to enter the information onto the master spreadsheet manually. All the information was taken from lesser spreadsheets. I did it the FC’s way. I also linked the smaller sheets to a copy of the master. I showed the FC, and pointed out that four hours manually typing work really was a waste of time. Linking work and updating the link takes minutes and gives the same answer. I was told that it was a waste of my time creating new spreadsheets, etc. I don’t think she  understood that eventually there would be no second copies, just the master and the smaller sheets, with the links.  But back to normal it went with the multiple ways of doing one thing.

As you are reading this you must be thinking, does this guy have Epilepsy? This story is all about work. The truth is I actually started the story intentionally just after a seizure. I was a couple of days short of six months seizure free. I had been drinking. I was enjoying myself and I was happy. However one morning I got up and didn’t feel great. But am a believer that eventually the day gets better and I will able to work. I had a seizure and needed a day from work. I lost a false tooth again, I let work know and was back within days.

I found out the pre-mentioned disabled person at the theatre company had diabetes. The FC was not very understanding with respect to my Epilepsy.

At the same time the company decided that they would reduce the size of the department.  They let the management accountant go and his work was passed around the department. A lot of it was deemed appropriate for me to do.

The seizures slowly increased over time in the next few months.  But I made every effort to help the department. I bought a book about Epilepsy and made notes for them to read. I don’t think they ever looked at it.

At the beginning of August 2011 my partial seizures were getting bad and I was semi passed out outside on the way to work.  I would pay for a guy to make sure I got off the train at the correct stop. Once my boss agreed to let me go home as I was halfway to work.  It turned out to be a waste of money as the guy got off the train while I was unconscious.  Luckily I did get off the train at the right place. I was picked up by my folks and delivered home to sleep it off.

Later in August I celebrated my 30th birthday (which was three years ago on the 28th August). That year it fell on the summer bank holiday weekend. I made a big deal out of buying cakes and things for people to celebrate. I had been consciously drinking nothing as the seizures were now out of control.

Just over a week later (6th September 2011) the following happened:

Like before I woke up feeling rough but made an effort to go to work. I knew I had a pair of black trousers, a white shirt and a black hoodie on that day. I got my train into London and from there I had a 30 minute walk to the office.  I always saw it as exercise and a way of clearing my head before having to deal with work.  Barely two minutes into the walk, outside Bank Station on Poultry Street (near the Bank of England) I had a seizure. The pavement is always congested with people coming out of the station to get to offices, going into the station and waiting for buses. So its common that you have to walk by the edge of the pavement or in the road for a bit.  I can’t say if I was in the road or on the edge of the pavement.  All I know is what I was later told by the paramedics: that I was pulled from under a bus in the road! Below is a picture of me post paramedic clean up in the ambulance.


This is just the face, as my white shirt was covered in blood. I was in and out of consciousness but managed to text my FC to say I wouldn’t be in. Once I got to the hospital I was cleaned up a little more as per the next picture.


The pictures were sent to my boss to prove the point that I wasn’t able to work.

From the time capture on the pictures the first was taken well after I should have been in work. So I don’t know how long I was in and out of consciousness until I could take it.  The second was an hour later.  My eyes blackened, I lost my fake tooth again, my tongue was bit to pieces, and my lips would split open every time that opened my mouth over the coming hours.  After my boss saw the pictures I was told not to come in until the next week.

The next week I returned to normal, still battered and bruised. I was whisked into a meeting the moment I arrived.  The meeting contained my finance director, finance controller, and me. At that meeting I lost my job.

The good news is, like when I lost the Media Company job, I did the same thing. I went straight to work looking for a new job and  I was employed within 2 or 3 weeks after losing this one.


One comment

  1. So do the jobs not believe that you have epilepsy or do they give you a legitimate reason for firing you when they fire you? And are there any laws in place there against firing people with epilepsy? I only recently started having my seizures more intensely and I’m still “undiagnosed” technically, but I haven’t tried to go back to work yet since February when they got worse, also because I moved, etc. It’s really a shame the way employers treat people with epilepsy and the lack of information out there still to this day. All of the medical personnel that have seen me having seizures have said it doesn’t look like I’m having seizures, yet all the research I’ve done shows that I have the symptoms of complex partial, simple partial, myoclonic, possibly absence, and some generalized seizures and I’ve seen videos of other people having seizures that look exactly like mine and those people have been diagnosed with positive EEGs. The lack of knowledge and understanding for epilepsy is saddening.

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