BY: ALYSON ROGERS
For two and a half years, I worked at a social service agency for youth in Toronto. I worked as part of a team to provide basic needs and case management to youth from diverse backgrounds. Every day was different; on some, I ran workshops and danced to Drake in the girls’ dorms. On others, I spent hours in an emergency room with survivors of human trafficking that had just escaped their exploiter. Whether it was a day of fun or a day of crisis, I loved my job.
I loved my job so much that I was taking classes while working full time, with the goal of moving up within the agency. My job combined my passion of working with young people, ability to respond to sexual violence, and knowledge of disabilities. I loved my job so much that I worked through multiple concussions when I probably should have taken a leave of absence. I loved my job, but two months ago, I abruptly quit.
My departure was shocking to my coworkers, the young people I worked with, and even to myself. When people leave a social service job, they usually have something else lined up. I had no other job waiting for me, and it was not the time of year to be applying to master’s degree programs. Quitting my job came down to a choice; my job or my health. I chose my health.
In the span of a year and a half, I had four concussions at work. With new symptoms and challenges, this was the worst my brain injury health had been since my diffuse axonal injury in 2008. Even though I was able to do my job, I was on medication for the first time and felt like I was struggling to stay afloat in such a fast-paced and demanding work environment.
On top of what I was feeling physically, some of my coworkers didn’t take too kindly to the minimal accommodation (working day shifts) I needed. My own disability began to discredit the knowledge I had of various disabilities that dated back to before I even I had a brain injury. My goal was to move up within the agency, so I kept how much I was struggling to myself while sharing just enough to keep the accommodation I needed. It was a fine balance.
In the New Year, I took a short contract in another department; the work was similar, but I had the freedom to work at a pace that accommodated my brain injury needs. A few weeks in, I saw a huge improvement in my health; I had fewer symptoms, felt less fatigued and was able to participate more in my life outside of work. My contract ended early and I was expected to return to my previous position. This also meant returning to brain injury symptoms. I’d had a taste of a life that didn’t only consist of work and brain injury symptoms, and I wasn’t going back.
I got a doctor’s note, spoke to the appropriate external agency for support, and came up with my own ideas, but no further accommodations were available to me. I always knew that the decisions I made as a Youth Worker could lead to repercussions, but I never thought my disability would be used to carry them out. The writing was on the wall – I was done here. As much as I loved my job, I loved my health more.
On the last day of my short contract, I packed up all my things with the help of a few friends and slipped out the back door. I knew I wouldn’t be back. A few days later, I quit from home by e-mail. I had previously booked a vacation that overlapped with my two-weeks’ notice, and used my sick days to cover the rest.
Everyone was surprised by my abrupt resignation because I loved my job so much, but was it really that abrupt? For over a year, I worked in an environment that simply tolerated my disability. When I spoke about anything, let alone disability, I was met with eye rolls, and a flood of unrelated and unfounded complaints were brought to my supervisor. The youth group I facilitated couldn’t get any support, but blossomed after I left. When I had a medical emergency and needed to go to the hospital, I was left on my own until a supportive co-worker found me. Two of my head injuries were caused by the same environmental factor that remained unchanged at the time of my resignation. Looking back, I should have quit much sooner.
I loved my job. I miss the youth I worked with and the coworkers that supported me, but I have no regrets about resigning. I thought picking between the job I loved and my health would be a hard decision when I was finally faced with it, but it wasn’t.
I can (and did) find another job, but I can’t find another brain so I need to keep this one as healthy as possible.
Alyson is 26-years-old and acquired her first brain injury ten years ago. She graduated from Ryerson University and is a youth worker at a homeless shelter. In her spare time, Alyson enjoys writing, rollerblading and reading. Follow her on Twitter @arnr33 or on The Mighty.