Having epilepsy whilst working and studying for a MBA

 

Graham Loan was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2017. However, his diagnosis hasn’t stopped him from forging a successful career and has provided him with different opportunities at work which has allowed him to learn new skills and has led to a recent promotion. Here he shares his story.

 

How did you feel when you first found out you had epilepsy?

Although my awareness of epilepsy had grown since my first seizure, I wasn’t really prepared for the diagnosis.

I’d had tests and scans at the hospital but they hadn’t found anything of concern. I’d known people at work who’d had seizures but had been a one-off and never resulted in an epilepsy diagnosis. I hoped I was the same so it came as quite a shock.

 

We always say that epilepsy is more than seizures. Do you feel this has been your experience?

Absolutely! The seizures are over in a few minutes but the recovery from the muscle pain and injuries from falling can take weeks.

Now when I regain consciousness, the first thing I think of is my driving licence being taken away for another 12 months – that’s the part that stays with me the longest.

The medication takes a lot of getting used to with some side effects feeling worse than another seizure.

 

What kind of support have you received from your employer?

I’ve been given time-off to recover from seizures and a phased return to work to avoid any re-occurrences.

I’ve also had flexibility in my working hours to allow me to attend hospital appointments or wellbeing clinics at the Epilepsy Scotland office in Glasgow.

Discussing my epilepsy with my manager and HR has allowed them to identify skills I didn’t personally recognise in myself.

This has meant they could offer me opportunities that fitted a business need and accommodated my epilepsy.

 

Have you faced any challenges with your epilepsy in terms of finding employment? If so, can you give an example?

I’ve been very fortunate to have a supportive employer and great colleagues around me. They’ve been able to accommodate changes to reduce my exposure to stress or new working hours.

Being offered different opportunities at work has allowed me to learn new skills which has led to a recent promotion.

 

Epilepsy

How have you managed your epilepsy whilst studying for an MBA?

Before my diagnosis I’d completed a course to allow me entry onto the MBA.

I was concerned that the stress of additional study would affect my health. However, after speaking to the disability support team at The Open University, I felt comfortable that small changes such as deadline extensions would make things easier.

The tutors each year have been incredible and clearly read my student profile. They always contact me directly and ask how things are before the start of the module and if they should be aware of any support I might need.

This year, my tutor is even letting the class know when the screen may flash during online tutorials and that some students may want to look away for a few seconds. Simple little things like that make a big difference.

 

Do you feel your epilepsy has stopped you doing what you want to do?

There are some things I legally can’t do such as drive a car. However, I would say it has made me more determined to prove it won’t hold me back doing other things.

You sometimes have to be creative. For example, we’re just back from what should have been a road trip in the USA.

Instead, we changed our plans and travelled up the west coast using the train which was a great experience. This was something I would never have considered before.

 

What would you say to someone who has been recently diagnosed with epilepsy?

I would encourage others to do some reading on the Epilepsy Scotland website. However, sometimes that reading can create more questions than answers.

I read lots of stuff online for a month before picking up the phone to the Epilepsy Scotland helpline and it was the best thing I could have done.

They were able to answer all my questions and point me in the right direction for a free bus pass and disabled persons rail card which were incredibly useful to help me get to work.

I really wish I had contacted them sooner, rather than bottling up all my concerns. Also, speak to people around you at work. I am happy to speak about epilepsy and raise awareness as most people know as little about it as I did.

Often others having that little bit of knowledge will make those around you more confident that they would know what to do in the event of a seizure occurring while they are around.

 

Is there anything you would like to add?

Try to understand your seizure triggers. It took me a while to notice a pattern of stress, poor sleep and alcohol that were factors each time.

Once you are aware of those, consider what you can influence yourself to get the best out of the medication you may have been prescribed.

If you would like to share your experiences of living with epilepsy, please email David Coates our Communications Officer on dcoates@epilepsyscotland.org.uk or call 0141 427 4911.

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