If you personally know me, you know that ever since I could talk I’ve wanted to be a part of the best security agency in the world: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Now many people have that phase of wanting to be some secret agent and save the world after watching Criminal Minds or any other law show. But my desire for being in the FBI was much deeper than that. I built every life choice I made around my future. I made a plan of how I would get to my end goal. But what if I told you that within 3 hours your entire life plan goes out the window. What if I told you that not only this, but you were one step away from reaching your goal? Would you give up? Would you throw in the towel? If I’m being honest, I debated it.
First off, I’d like to start out by explaining my life plan. Something important to note is that the FBI has a very difficult drug, alchohol, and law requirement when you apply. Never can you have tried anything with weed, underage drinking, speeding, and the list goes on and on. Because I knew this, I was an overly good child. I never tried anything at a single party (no matter how much I wanted to). Most people knew it was because I wanted to be in the FBI. I never had those younger experimental days due to me just focusing on my future. Make sure to remember this for later. Ever since I could remember I knew that I would attend college. No matter which college I would attend, I knew that I would pick whatever major would lead me to government or security. So, due to CRPS, I attended the University of Mary Washington. On the first day, I walked into my advisors office and said, “what major/minor/classes do I need to take if I want to go into the FBI”. That is how much I had tunnel vision into my goal. I proceeded to major in Political Science with a minor in security and conflict studies. I made sure to get decent grades. From freshman year of college on I spent countless hours researching the best way to get in. I finally found the collegiate hiring initiative. This was a program that brought recent grads into entry level jobs in the FBI. So, I did it. I attended college, got the grades, and applied for the collegiate hiring initiative in spring 2020. After I completed the very long application process, I completed the interview. Let me tell you how that went.
I got an email that I got an interview for the FBI in the fall of 2020. I scheduled the interview and completely prepared. Then I got the news that I would be doing treatment in Baltimore. Come to find out, the same day I started treatment would be the same day I had the interview I had been preparing for since I was born. Both were incredibly important to me and my future. So I decided I would do both. I drove up to Baltimore early that morning, did intake for treatment, went to my hotel with 2 months worth of things, changed into a formal outfit, and then interviewed over Telehealth in my hotel room. Once I finished my interview, I went back to the hospital and started day 1 of treatment. When I got back to my room that night, I was exhausted. I pulled out my phone and opened my email. That’s when I saw it. “Alexis, we’d like to congratulate you for a conditional job offer with the FBI”. What. The. Hell.
My life seemed like I had the chance for it to improve. I was actually excited for my future! I immediately began filling out the many long, excruciating forms. Many of which had to be done to begin the background check. In other words, it felt like the rain clouds were clearing- who would’ve known they were just moving away so the hurricane could come in.
Once I got home from treatment, I set up an appointment at the FBI Richmond field office. This was so that I could get my fingerprinting and drug testing done. Naturally both came back clear. I then had a 3 hour phone conference with a former agent to go over my SF-86 form. Basically it is a form that examines every single aspect of your life and who you are as a person. Stressful, but I wasn’t too concerned because other than my illness, my life wasn’t very exciting. Finally I got the polygraph test. This was the last thing I had to get done for the background check to start and then for me to start my career. This is also when shit hit the fan.
The polygraph was never something I was concerned about. In all honesty, I wasn’t even stressed when I went. I knew I had never done ANYTHING. I was actually super boring (ask my high school/college friends). I was more worried about the interview than this. So, the morning of the polygraph, I got all dressed up and went back to the Richmond field office. A very cool-looking agent came out to get me and introduce herself. She was going to give me the test. I went to the bathroom and got water and then went into the polygraph room. For 2 hours, the agent went through every question she would ask with me before I even sat down in the polygraph chair. They were pretty simple answers for me because, again, I had never done anything. Then she began explaining the test. She said that the polygraph test works entirely on the nervous system. The nervous system. The freakin nervous system. This was when I thought of several cuss words in my head. Before I continue, I’d like to explain MY nervous system.
Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder
*My explanation is not a scientific scholarly explanation. This is the way I understand it so that I can try to beat it. If you are interested look up this disorder on Google Scholar or better yet ask me.*
I want to preface this by saying do not look up any condition you are diagnosed with. Let your medical team explain that. I made that mistake when I was first diagnosed with FNSD. And let me tell you I was pissed at my team (yes the team that ended up saving my life. But it was rocky for a while there). Let me explain this condition to you with the way I understand it. After a whole year of explaining it- I finally understand. Functional Neurological System Disorder is a condition where your nervous system doesn’t function correctly under stress. My FNSD came to be a few months after I got diagnosed with CRPS and only got worse with time. It actually didn’t get diagnosed for 4 years. But this condition usually comes after a traumatic event (like surgery and never-ending pain).
Here is how it happens. There is a trauma that basically snaps the brain into not a typical response. That means that it avoids the normal pathways and creates a new one. This rerouting can be traumatic to the brain because that is no longer its normal function. Now when there is a stress response, the brain uses the new “FNSD” pathway. In order for the stress to go through this pathway, it has to present in other ways. This leads to many symptoms such as: tremors (me), stuttering (me), blanking out or freezing (me), seizures, paralysis, loss of balance (me), and so much more. The longer the brain uses this new pathway, the harder it is to get it back to the original. As time goes on, your entire nervous system alters the way it functions. We are talking breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, sweat, every single normal bodily response to stress has been altered. Now, every time this person has stress (traumatic or not) the nervous system will react in atypical ways. However if the trauma continues throughout time (like in other chronic pain patients) the path will get more and more cleared. My neuropsychologist explained it as a road in the snow. She said that the more cars drive down a road in the snow- the more that the road will clear and stay cleared. So you can think of it like my main road in my brain needs to be plowed and the side street has become completely cleared. In order to better understand here is a diagram of the brain and the “glitch”:
Now I’m sure you are thinking “wow Alexis interesting, but what does this have to do with the FBI hiring process”. Well, person I can’t see, this has absolutely everything to do with it.
A polygraph examination basis its data on the nervous system. Yes, I said the nervous system. Well shit, my nervous system doesn’t function properly. Meaning all of the measurements will struggle to show a response to a lie because it’ll be all over the place no matter what. When I told this to the agent, she responded with “not a problem I see people even with autism”. Yes that was a direct quote. First, incredibly ignorant, second I didn’t say I had autism. But I proceeded with the test. While she was asking the questions, she repeatedly came over to fix my blood pressure cuff and straps around my body because the machine was showing I had reactions even though she didn’t ask me anything. Hmmmmmm, respectfully, I wonder why lady. After the first 10 questions of the test, the agent stopped me. She said “why is the drug question going off”. I laughed. Guys I literally laughed. I thought she was kidding! If you know me, NEVER have I done any drugs. I never even got hooked when I became in this much pain! That was when she proceeded to interrogate me for an hour or so. I was broken. I was upset. I felt like everything I worked for was being destroyed because of something I was being accused of. That’s when I asked her when I needed to come back for a retake. I figured I would talk to disability and then proceed from there. That is when she said the words that broke. me. down. “Alexis with scores like this, you failed. You failed multiple questions and your test doesn’t look good”. There I was. Crying to an agent at the Richmond FBI field office. (I bet not many people get to say that!) I just couldn’t believe it. For something I had never done and a condition I can’t control. *For those of you who don’t know if you fail a polygraph in the FBI- you fail and can never in your life be in the agency. Yes, I said ever.*
If you know me, you know I fight. I was not going to go down for a condition I have and can’t control. I called FBI disability services. They told me that there was nothing I could do because it’s not like I had any accommodations anyway. I literally was brand new and with a conditional job offer lady- no I didn’t say I needed accommodations before I even knew I had the condition. Also, disability is supposed to be a resource that has your back. That lady had no one’s back and can’t wait until she can retire. I called my pain psych that day (shout out again Dr. Effie) and asked her. I asked if my polygraph would ever come out normal. She said no way. She said that what it measures are the exact things FNSD affect. Let me explain why. At the beginning of a polygraph- the prompter will ask you a test question: A question where you intentionally lie so that they can get a baseline of your nervous system. So, if you have high blood pressure- then they will know your blood pressure is already high. But the problem with me is my nervous system is irregular. My baseline could be completely different if taken 2 minutes apart. Hence, there will never be a way to know if I am lying, or if my nervous system is reacting. This is also why my entire test didn’t look good.
Now, I know this has been long- so let me cut to the chase. Why am I writing this? Is this to expose the FBI? No- I’m still grateful for the agency that protects our country. But is this to expose the lack of knowledge our country has on conditions like mine? Absofreakinlutely. People need to be educated about conditions and what is out there. I’m not meaning that we should teach every person every possible disease someone could have. What I mean is that people need to be taught to listen and accept that there are conditions out there that are “weird” or unheard of. Ignorance is ignorance. We all have to deal with it in our every day life. But this agency’s ignorance led to a complete halt of my life. The life I have fought for. There must be other ways to test someone’s integrity without measuring something so unscientific. The United States is one of the only countries in the world to use a polygraph for most security agencies. For me, that means I don’t have a chance in any of those agencies. I wasn’t heard. I get it. I will try to figure out my new plan. But this cannot go on. The FBI completely discriminated against me and my disease. I do not throw around that word often. But in this case it is necessary.
I know one thing about my future. I will fight for every single person fighting any disease. We will not be discriminated against. There aren’t any jobs that “we just can’t do”. If we put in the work, we should be able to get an opportunity. I am exposing myself today with the failure of a polygraph because I am certain it was only due to my condition. There is no hope for me going into the FBI. I won’t ever get to walk into the academy and pour my heart into saving lives. I won’t ever get to put the American people first. Does that bring tears to my eyes? Of course. I have shirts, plates, cups, pictures, tours, and so much more to remind me of the failed dream. I always thought my disease wouldn’t stop me from reaching my dream-no matter what. Well, it stopped me, but in no way I could expect. It hurts the most knowing it had nothing to do with my skill or desire to help. It was all due to my freakin damn FNSD…. I’ll cry about it for a while- I’m sure. But I will also speak out. This isn’t right. It also makes me wonder how many other people’s dreams fail due to their illness. If it could happen to me- I’m sure it can happen to others. As much as my heart hurts, I know that there is a different plan for me. I’ve always had my plans not work and then something better comes out of it. So here’s to hoping for a better future. But for now I’m going to go eat a pint of ice cream and watch Criminal Minds in a puddle of tears (you think I’m kidding).
**I just want to emphasize on this again. I will always fight for and fight to educate those who have ignorance towards conditions like mine due to lack of knowledge. This needs to be changed. We are waisting incredible talent and dedication due to preventing those passionate from having a job. I will educate, I will write, I will post, I will record, I will speak, I will interview, I will not stop until I am heard.**