Charlotte has worked at the University in three different roles since 2007. In that time she has been diagnosed with IBS and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). She has had to have long periods off work and has found the University’s processes were sometimes unhelpful.
at the time of the interview – 2016
Charlotte is an Administrative Assistant at the University.
at the time of the interview - 2016
Charlotte has chronic IBS that began in 2009. At that time she had been working in a senior administration role at the University for about 18 months. Initially she took time off work thinking it was a bad case of food poisoning. However, as the weeks progressed the symptoms became so severe that she could not stand upright due to the abdominal spasms she was having.
Charlotte tried to return to work after two months, having met with her line manager to explain that she needed a more desk-bound role than before. However, despite the line manager's agreement, she was asked on her first day back to resume previous non-desk based duties. Charlotte said that she realised at that point that she would always find it hard to say "no" as she did not want to let her manager and colleagues down, even though it meant making her condition worse. As she continued to be very unwell she had to take more sick leave. She said her IBS severely affected every aspect of her life at that time and in the end she ended up being unable to work for nine months.
Charlotte returned to work after securing a lower-grade, fixed-term role at the University, hoping that the role would be less stressful. However, in 2013 she was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). The causes are complex and personal and the effects for her are ongoing. She suffered from a range of symptoms, including anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares and bad sleep, fatigue, and severe feelings of distress. She said that her C-PTSD caused her to take a year off work.
“…the physical stuff is easier to discuss with people and not feel too exposed or too vulnerable. The mental health stuff is still [difficult, out of] a fear of stigma…. Some people just don’t understand it, and it’s very exposing…
During both periods of being off work Charlotte went through the University's procedures. She said that although Occupational Health were interested in her problems, they did not appear to be in a position to help or intervene on her behalf. Due to the physically stressful and emotional nature of having to discuss difficult personal issues, she was reluctant to do so if the person or department was then unable to help. Further, she felt that the rationale and aims of the processes that Personnel enacted – such as arranging multi-party meetings – were not always clearly explained. She said that this uncertainty added to the stress and anxiety she suffered and contributed to her being unwell. She reflected that she did not feel these processes were always enacted to benefit the employee and often felt like they were a means to end her employment.
Charlotte said she has now developed ways to help manage, but not control, her IBS and C-PTSD conditions. This has allowed her to return to work two years ago, securing a part-time administrative assistant role in a new department. She knows that she has to be careful as her symptoms change over time and it is not always possible to predict what causes bad episodes.
Charlotte’s current contract is fixed-term and is renewed annually. Being part-time provides the best balance for her, even though there is some uncertainty whether the contract will be renewed each year. In particular, she explained that at work she projects an image of someone who is coping and is highly competent and capable at her job. This has led to requests to take on extra duties or new roles in the team. She says that after her previous experiences she now resists these requests, explaining to her line managers what happened previously (without going into too much personal detail). However, while her current line manager is supportive, she worries that the way she has found to manage her conditions might affect future contract renewals and job security/prospects.