Charlie nominated her workplace for a Helping Hands award. She is 21 and was diagnosed with epilepsy 2 years ago.
“It started out with absences, which for years were put down to ADHD and general attention issues. But after starting my A-Levels in 2017, I started experiencing uncontrollable ‘twitching mannerisms’ which got more frequent and certainly more obvious. I always put them down to tiredness until the day I experienced my first tonic clonic seizure, just after my 17th birthday. In 2019 I was officially diagnosed with epilepsy. My poor attention span was no longer to blame for a serious medical condition.
It became almost impossible to find work once I disclosed having epilepsy. I applied for over 80 jobs in the space of 2 years while trying to get my A-levels. But in 2019 my epilepsy became so severe I ended up in ICU for a few weeks. As a result, I had to leave Sixth Form with no qualifications and no job.
In late 2019, I got a job at Dixons Carphone Currys PC World, working as technical support and in-store customer service advisor. I was too scared to mention that I had epilepsy, so for the first month or so, I didn’t tell them anything. I had finally got a job and I didn’t want to be unemployed with a failed education. So, I kept quiet about my health, until I found it too hard to hide.
I was still experiencing frequent absence seizures during the day while serving customers and talking with colleagues. I also had nocturnal seizures, which caused extreme tiredness and confusion in the mornings. I spoke with my line manager and before saying anything, I just burst into tears because I had the horrible feeling that they would let me go after disclosing my epilepsy.
I managed to get my words together and explained what this illness caused me to lose in life. All he had to say was, ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Not everyone in life has the same opinion. I hire colleagues based on performance not demographics and you, Charlie, outshone all of your peers during the interview stages. I’ve not come across anyone with talents like yours in years. You belong here and we will support you no matter what.’
I then spoke with the store manager, David. He helped me to talk to the full management team and teach them about epilepsy and what how it impacts on people, especially in the workplace. It was clear that none of them had experienced anyone with epilepsy before or only knew of the stereotypes. Despite this, we all came up with a plan in case I had a seizure at work and any adjustments that could support me day to day. I was allowed my snacks and drinks at the front desk to keep my sugar levels up, and extra rest breaks if needed. I have regular check-ins with my managers Amila and David about my health and anything else they can do to support me.
My managers and my colleagues at Currys have been my rock over the past 2 years. Nomy has been the duty manager every time I’ve had tonic clonic seizures. When I’ve felt a seizure coming on, he doesn’t hesitate to act and take me away from danger, keeping me safe and providing the necessary help. When I’ve had my uniform cut off by paramedics, my colleagues have lent their jackets, or anything they have, to help maintain my dignity during those situations. They’ve not once laughed, judged or changed their behaviour towards me since disclosing my epilepsy and they’re all truly honourable people. I don’t feel the need to hide my disability from them anymore.
My seizures are now under good control with the help of medication and routine. But without the Hemel Hempstead Currys PC World team, I would not be who and where I am today. They were thrown into the deep end with me and my health and not once have they ever let me down. For this I owe them everything.”
Accepting the award, Nomy and David said: “Thank you so much for this recognition. As a store, we are incredibly overwhelmed by this award. It’s certainly brought us closer and started healthy discussions around epilepsy."