Why am I always saying sorry for having additional medical needs?
I even apologised to the HR department at my work for my disabilities.
I’ve written before about how trigeminal neuralgia affects my work and how my eye disease affects my day to day life. I started back at work a couple of weeks ago after maternity leave and my manager told me that my desk had been reassigned permanently in the year I was off. This is fine – I partly work from home, I work at different sites in different cities and, as I’ve come back to work part time, I would only need a desk at the site closest to my house for one morning a week, on average. The company I work for has grown by hundreds of employees since I left on maternity leave and the offices have completely reshuffled to accommodate everyone. My desk has been swallowed up by another department and I’d have been asked to move desks one way or another in the last year anyway, mainly because my whole department can be moved more easily than others.. There is only me working in my department in the North West!
The problem work now face in finding me a new desk is my occupational health plan: a list of requirements that my employer is expected to follow in order to meet my medical needs at work.
Between spacing staff out for the pandemic, fitting in endless amounts of new staff and keeping departments together, I can’t just be squeezed in a corner somewhere.
I need to have a large, dim computer screen, with a blue light filter. I need to be facing a wall and in dim lighting. I can’t be facing a window, or next to a window, unless the blinds are closed. Due to air hitting my face triggering my trigeminal neuralgia, in order for me to be in as little pain as possible, I cannot work in direct line of air conditioning, or near an open window. My company also (helpfully, for someone affected by cold breezes) has an open window policy in work for their COVID guidelines.
I apologise for my illnesses a lot.
“Sorry, can we please not have the air con on, because it’s hurting my face?”
“Do you mind closing the blind that you’ve just opened? Sorry to be a pain!”
“Am I okay to shut that window? It’s hurting my face. Sorry again.”
I say sorry.
Over and over and over and over again.
I’m sorry that it puts everyone else out that I’m in pain. I’m sorry for the inconvenience of everyone having to sit in the dark, so that I can see my screen. I’m sorry that me being in the office means everyone else can’t have their working environment they want they want it, because of what I need.
It feels even worse for me in the last couple of years, I think, because I used to work in a department where everyone knew my special requirements, so I wasn’t constantly explaining myself. For six months before I went on maternity leave, I sat in a little corner of an office that belonged to a different department. This meant explaining myself, again, to colleagues I’d never worked directly with before. More explaining myself and more apologies. When the facilities team were setting up my new desk and removing the light bulb from above my work station, I was apologising for the inconvenience.
When on the phone to my manager on my first day ‘back’ at work, from the comfort of my own dark little desk at home, he said that he’d asked HR to find me a desk and I reminded him I had an occupational health plan in place. He told me who he’d been speaking to in HR and I said I’d drop them an email to check they knew about the working environment that I need.
I’ve since read back my email to HR and I apologised for having disabilities that require a slightly different working environment to someone fully able bodied. I found it necessary to type out that my needs are ‘awkward‘ and that I’m ‘sorry to be such a pain‘.
So why am I doing it?
I’m a bloody hard worker. I’ve been at the same company for six years and worked very competently in several different departments. I’ve always put everything into my work and I know I go above and beyond what I’m paid for.
So why am I still apologising for living with vision loss and having a chronic pain condition?
It was somebody’s job in occupational health to give me extra breaks in work, to specify that I need a dimly lit, warm working environment. It is someone’s job in my HR department to liaise with department managers to find me a space to work and it is someone’s job in the facilities team to set up my desk. It’s up to HR to communicate my needs with the team I’m working with and it’s my employer’s responsibility to accommodate my disabilities and not discriminate against me.
Still, I always feel the need to say sorry.
I wasn’t born with additional needs, but I developed them in my twenties. I was used to being able to do anything, any time, anywhere. I never had to ask anyone for anything and now I have to ask other people to set up a desk for me, so I can do something as simple as just settling down to do my work.
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