Today, we’re chatting with Meg Farrow about their experiences of finding and being in work as a disabled and neurodivergent graduate. With Astriid’s assistance, Meg has recently been offered and accepted a role with Advanced, a brilliant organisation who recognises her talents, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for her!
Hi Meg! Would you like to tell us a bit more about you?
Hi! I’m a chronically ill and neurodivergent psychology graduate trying to survive my early 20s. I spend most of my free time advocating for the disabled and LGBTQ+ community, dealing with the rollercoaster of being unwell, travelling or dreaming of my next big trip.
If you’re comfortable sharing, what are your chronic illnesses/disabilities?
I was diagnosed with autism at a very young age – throughout my childhood I embraced my neurodivergence and was proud of being disabled (though of course it had its challenges). When I was 20, I started struggling with symptoms of ME/CFS and arthritis. I was diagnosed with ME/CFS at age 21, and psoriatic arthritis at age 22.
How have you found working with a chronic illness in the past?
A lot of people with chronic illness will understand when I say this; transitioning to being a chronically ill person is hard. At university I did a full-time course and worked 5 or 6 part-time jobs just because I could. Then, in the first few months of being unwell, I barely left the house and had no energy to apply for jobs. I scraped writing my final dissertation in May 2020, and then the challenge of work appeared. Could I work at all? Is the working world accessible enough to people with chronic illness? How do I figure all of this out during a pandemic?
I’ve now been working part-time for 2 years and have had to change roles multiple times. I’ve had reasonable adjustments ripped away from me with no good explanation, managers who didn’t understand what being chronically ill was like, and my body breaking apart as I kept pushing it to do more than it was capable of. It’s been a difficult experience and it had a massive influence on my health.
Something you’ve talked about openly online is the impact that searching for accessible work has had not only on your physical health, but your mental health too. Can you tell us more about this?
At the end of last year, I was in a role that had taken away the opportunity to work from home with 24 hours’ notice. During this time, I wasn’t asked whether I felt comfortable coming to the office during a pandemic or what the effects of this would be on my health. I felt completely isolated, and each time I asked for adjustments or support nothing would happen. This happened with many of my colleagues as well.
Overall, I felt defeated. I felt like I didn’t matter in the workplace, and that I was a burden because I was unwell. I didn’t feel appreciated or cared for; I barely felt like a human being. I was off work for weeks because of the depression and anxiety caused by my work environment, and I knew I wouldn’t feel better until I changed jobs. I needed employment that supported me and appreciated everything that I had to offer.
How did you find out about Astriid, and what made you want to reach out?
I found out about Astriid from the lovely Life of Pippa’s social media. I saw that she was working for them and that their premise was to help disabled and chronically ill people find work opportunities, which was exactly what I needed when I was looking for a new role.
Can you tell us about your journey with Astriid, and how you got to where you are now?
I joined Astriid in the summer of 2020 but didn’t utilise their services until the end of last year. I received their newsletter of new opportunities every month, and in February I saw a remote working opportunity that caught my eye – a series of roles in an IT/tech company, which is a sector I’d been looking into in the past. I got into contact with the Astriid team to put me forward for the role and then was invited for assessment and an interview. By the beginning of March I was offered the role, and I started in April!
How have you found working through the pandemic alongside your chronic illness? Has this been a positive or a negative experience for you, or somewhere in-between?
Since I graduated in 2020, I had no idea what the graduate job market looked like aside from during the pandemic. I also had no idea what my limits would be in terms of working with a chronic illness. Almost all the roles I took during the past 2 years have either caused a detriment to my health (because I was doing too much – a classic Meg move), or they were in the office, which naturally caused my pandemic anxiety to escalate. This unfortunately caused a lot of negative experiences but has also taught me a lot about the working world and about my chronic illnesses, too.
How was the interview process and onboarding at Advanced? Were there any adjustments that helped you feel more at ease?
Advanced were great with their interview and onboarding process! They were very informative and communicative by giving me dates that I would find out whether I was successful, and what to expect leading towards my first day. I had my interview online, thus helping me manage my symptoms better and making my anxiety easier to handle as I was in my own environment. My main anxieties about interviews are not knowing when I would hear back about the outcome, which therefore drains my physical energy and makes chronic illness management difficult, but Advanced were very open and understanding about this. I also got a phone call from my manager before my first day to welcome me and give me an outline of my first month with the company, which was incredibly helpful!
What adjustments do you find most helpful in the workplace?
Working from home is the most important adjustment for me. I find there’s a lot less pressure to sit at my desk all the time, I can take breaks when I need to, and I feel more comfortable in my own space.
I also need to take more regular breaks while I’m at work to try and manage my ME/CFS symptoms, including cognitive difficulties, post-exertion malaise and chronic fatigue.
Finally, I find physical equipment helpful to deal with my arthritis, such as a desk chair that supports my back, and a keyboard and mouse that supports my wrists.
You have a wonderful online presence where you share your lived experience of being a disabled neurodivergent graduate, and plenty more. Where can people find more from you?
Thank you! I’m most present on Instagram and Twitter (@themxwithme) and you can find me on Facebook, too.
Thank you for chatting with us, Meg!
Here at Astriid, we match talented people with long-term illnesses with meaningful employment opportunities. We work with employers to make sure that they can meet individuals’ needs, and help candidates through all stages of their ‘work ready’ journey. You can find out more and sign up as a candidate or an employer by visiting our website!