“My” Multiple Sclerosis journey part two

I recently came across my copy of the letter I wrote when my application for ill health retirement was turned down.

“To Whom It May Concern:

I wish to appeal against the decision not to award me early retirement on the grounds of ill health.

May I start by pointing out that I am actually 54 years old, not 49 as stated in your report.

I have been teaching in inner London for 33 years. For the last 29 years I have taught at Deptford Green School, a split site, mixed inner city comprehensive serving a very deprived area. Both buildings are on three floors. As the roll of the school has grown considerably the buildings are cramped with narrow corridors that become extremely crowded during lesson changes and breaks.

Since I started teaching in 1974 I have had no career breaks and my attendance record has been excellent.

I am an Assistant Headteacher at the school. In addition to teaching ICT at KS4 and responsibility for data and timetabling, I am second in charge of the upper school building, which means I have responsibility for the safety and welfare of both staff and pupils.

Since my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis I have maintained a positive attitude to my health but I am no longer able to carry out my duties effectively.

Your report states that ‘reasonable attendance appears to be maintained with adjustments in place’. My attendance record does not show the number of times that I arrived late or left the school early. It does not show how often I was in school when I should not have been. I have a strong work ethic and I am very aware of my responsibilities. My classes this year were year 11 pupils studying for GNVQ ICT. I had a responsibility to ensure they had the best possible chance of success and did everything I could to ensure I was in their lessons. When I met with the LEA’s occupational health doctor I expressed my concern that my union had told me I should be absent from school or my application would be rejected. I explained that I was not prepared to jeopardise my pupils’ chances and the doctor told me not to be concerned as they all knew that some people are absent when they should not be whilst others go in when they should not. It would appear that my union’s advice was correct.

Teaching ICT involves taking full classes of pupils in rooms which become very hot because of the numbers of computers and peripherals that are running as well as the heat generated by the pupils themselves. I am unable to tolerate these temperatures and frequently had to spend large parts of the lesson in the corridor. I taught these pupils for two years, they were fully aware of my health problems and appreciated the efforts I went to on their behalf. This was obviously not desirable and would not be possible with new classes.

As part of my building responsibilities I am on duty every break, lunchtime and after school as well as being ‘on call’ to deal with behaviour. As I have already stated, the buildings are crowded and behaviour is boisterous. My balance has deteriorated to the point where I need to use a stick when moving around the school. I often feel unsafe, particularly on the stairs. If I need to intervene in a situation such as a fight I have difficulty in getting to the incident and, once there, my poor balance makes quick and effective action difficult. I am also far less confident in dealing with intruders or trouble outside the school gates. As my MS has progressed I no longer feel that I can discharge my duties regarding the health and safety of pupils, staff or myself!

Stress and tiredness are other major factors. Both of these result in my symptoms becoming more pronounced. I am, therefore, less able to deal with situations and the stress levels increase. A vicious circle.

The school has been very supportive of my needs. For the last two years I have been able to work at home for one day a week (although, in reality, I have often been too unwell to work). This has put additional strain on my colleagues who have to carry out my duties when I am not there. I then feel guilty about this, which adds to my stress. Whilst this arrangement did help me maintain my role initially, it is no longer sufficient

I am also a carer. My partner had a serious brain haemorrhage 20 years ago.

In summary, I have tried very hard to do the ‘right thing’ by my school and my pupils. I could have easily had long periods of absence, receiving my full salary and increasing my pension but I did not believe that this was the right thing to do. I am fully aware that my illness is progressive and that my health will continue to deteriorate. I would not be able to maintain the pressure that I have put on myself over the past year and my absence rate would undoubtedly rise. This would result in additional pressure on my colleagues and a financial burden on my school.”

As I am now unbelievably better I always feel very guilty (I’m good at guilt) and worry in case my old colleagues feel that I was trying it on in some way.

This afternoon I’ve spent an hour on the phone chatting to Stuart, the colleague I worked most closely with for many, many years.

We were talking about how his health has deteriorated and moved on to what I’m doing now. He then said that he thought a medical paper should be written on the changes in me.

When I told him my concerns about other people’s perceptions he made it VERY clear to me just how ill I had been, how it had affected what I could do and how everybody was aware of this.

Thanks Stuart, after what you said and after re-reading that letter, perhaps this is one ‘guilt’ that I can finally let go of!

6 responses to ““My” Multiple Sclerosis journey part two”

  1. Gill, this is again an example of how you are different person now, when you read back the way you wrote and truly believed your condition has and would deteriorate even more, then look at where you are now with your health, fitness and ability to do anything! It really hits home

    It just shows that with hard work and a point in the right direction you can push back the boundaries of any challenge!

    You should be very proud of how far you have come.


    • I know! I needed the ‘permission’ of that conversation to move me forward again. Strange that I’d only re-read that letter a few days earlier and can still feel the emotions I felt as I wrote it. You are, as always, so right when you say that I’m not the same person. But you are also very wrong, you needed to give me a lot more than ‘a point in the right direction’. Remember our first training session? ‘Cos I do!!!!

  2. There should definitely be something written about the changes in your MS that you have accomplished through hard work & determination. Definitely let go of the guilt, thank goodness you got to retired when you did otherwise I can’t imagine how much worse it would have got.

    Also with your many years of experience with teenagers & my currently limited experience, when they are being selfish, self centred & bloody irritating, is it best to ignore it & let it blow over or just beat them! xx

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