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Yasmin Belgrave

Yasmin Belgrave

Yasmin talks about how she is finding transitioning from university into the world of work

You can read Yasmin's blog forThe Blind Spot where she shares her epilepsy story.

Life after education: finding work

Personally, I find that one of the hardest things about having an invisible disability is revealing to people that you are disabled. I am not ashamed of having epilepsy at all, but trying to gauge the right time to tell people you don’t know very well, whether it’s in a social or a more formal context, can be very difficult. After being diagnosed at the age of 13, I learnt very quickly how important it was to be able to discuss my condition not just for safety reasons, but also for my own mental wellbeing. As my epilepsy has been uncontrolled for most of the 11 years since my initial diagnosis, I have had to speak about it not only with friends and family but with strangers too. Whilst I know that many people find this prospect daunting or uncomfortable, I find talking about how the condition affects me to be both therapeutic and liberating. However this doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to do. Unfortunately, we live in a world where there is still a very stigmatic approach to disability and it is this fear of being looked at or treated differently that can make vocalisation harder.

After leaving university at the end of 2014, my condition significantly worsened. I went from having a seizure every few months or so to having them every two weeks, sometimes having two in one day. This combined with the fact that I was going through another medication change at the time prevented me from looking for a job. During this time I felt low in confidence and began to question whether I would ever be able to pursue a full-time career that I cared about. I worked extremely hard in order to get a good degree and I wondered if it had all been in vain. Eventually, with the help and support of my friends, family and Young Epilepsy and their Transitions service, I picked myself up and things began to improve.

Seven months ago I started taking another new medication and since transferring I haven’t had a single seizure. It has been a wonderful relief to have a break from them after such a long time, and it has meant that I have finally been able to start looking for a full time job. However as I have discovered, this process can be quite difficult when you’re simultaneously living with a disability- particularly an invisible one. Knowing when to tell people that you have epilepsy in social situations is difficult but for me it’s a breeze in comparison to figuring out the right time to tell your would-be employer. As a general rule I have been recommended not to include the fact that I have epilepsy on my CV or in cover letters, being told instead to wait until the final stages of interview to reveal my condition. This advice doesn’t really sit that well with me. I’ve thought about it a lot, considering the pros and cons of the different options.

Many people choose not to disclose the fact that they have a disability when applying for jobs, and the decision on whether to do so or not is of course a personal one. I respect everyone’s right to that choice. I just don’t like being made to feel as if I am doing something wrong or lessening my chances of getting a job by disclosing details of my condition. Essentially having epilepsy doesn’t define me or anyone else who happens to have it. I don’t want to be remembered by potential employers (or anyone else for that matter) as ’the girl who has epilepsy’. Yet part of me feels that by not acknowledging it, I would be contributing to the idea that disability and weakness are one and the same. I am proud of the fact that I have a disability, because I know that everything I have achieved thus far was accomplished in spite of it. It is an important part of my identity. In my mind, to reveal that I have epilepsy to people is to tell them of my strength, not of my weakness. It saddens me that this is not yet universally accepted but the general consensus will not change until we give them reason to change it. It may take a little longer to find a willing employer but if it ultimately means working for someone who accepts me as I am, I think I’m ok with that.

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