Full time work, after a 13 year battle with severe mental illness..

I started a new job back in August of last year.

I had been volunteering for a homelessness charity for about six months, and when a short term position came up my boss suggested I go for it. It was kind of a dream come true for me- after thirteen years of unemployment and long term mental illness- a small part of me had almost given up hope that I’d ever be lucky enough to find a job which I could do and would actually enjoy.

I started a Social Work Ma at the end of 2014, because I had an idea that I could use my own experiences with schizophrenia and recovery, to help other people still fighting the symptoms and horrors of the illness. I had two absolutely amazing social workers when I first became unwell, and I wanted to be able to help other people like they had helped me.

Unfortunately, for myself, the timing wasn’t right. I had to quit the course after only two months, because the stress of it started to bring on my symptoms. I had completed an English Literature Ba a few years previously and believed that I understood and could handle academic stress; but the Ma was a whole different ball-game, and eventually I had to swallow my pride and acknowledge that my health was more important than continuing the course.

At that time one of the people on the course suggested support work to me, as an alternative to Social work. So I went out and got myself a job as a support worker working with young people with learning difficulties at a respite centre close to where I lived in Surrey.

It was brilliant for me at the time, and gave me crucial experience and learning opportunities. I enjoyed the job, but it wasn’t the one I wanted to do long term, and luckily I was sensible enough to work within the parameters which allowed me to keep receiving benefits whilst working 16 hours a week.

I stayed there for 18 months, and got a lot out of it. I realised though, that the client group wasn’t quite right for me. My experiences leant themselves to different areas, and my understanding of drug, alcohol and mental illness issues seemed to be pointing me towards organisations centring around homelessness, addiction, probation etc. I wanted to work with people who I could really support and empower, rather than only caring for on a day to day basis.

Not long after I left that position I discovered Thames Reach, and started volunteering at two of their schemes, spending one day a week at each. I immediately knew it was the kind of environment I wanted to be working within; the atmosphere, the people, and the sense of purpose were all right up my street, and it all felt right to me in a way which my precious job hadn’t.

I volunteered for a while and then my boss suggested I apply for a short term contract when it came up. She then extended it so I could continue working for 3 more months, and now there is a possibility that she might be able to offer me a permanent part-time position.

It really has been a dream come true. Whilst not being a full-blown social worker this position has offered me the same kind of work, just without the same legal powers, which with hindsight I’m not sure I would have wanted anyway.

Returning to full-time work after being unemployed and suffering schizophrenia is no mean feat, and I have definitely had moments and days where I’ve felt woefully out of my depth, and like I was pushing myself too hard. Schizophrenia makes doing anything normal very difficult, and it debilitates you in ways which are as undermining as they are mind-boggling. It took me a while to get used to working with people closely again, and negotiating professional relationships and scenarios.

When its been tough I have forced myself to do the British thing and keep calm and carry on; grit your teeth and carry on; bloomin force myself to get out of bed in the morning and carry on. I definitely had a month or two, back at the end of 2017 where I felt caught in a fast moving current, with no life raft and nothing to keep me above water. I went through some periods where a little nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying is this sensible, is this wise?

I ignored that voice though, and for better or worse I feel as though it was the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to take a chance; take a risk and dive in at the deep end. I feel as though all the stresses of the last six months have been part of a learning/readjusting curve, where my mind and body have worked to remember what fast-paced living feels like again.

It made sense that after such a long period of unemployment I would have a few bumpy periods and bad days where I felt as though I couldn’t handle it; and it made sense that it’d take some time to get used to the early morning starts, and the sensation of feeling ever so slightly tired all of the time. I had a few wobbly moments at work and my colleagues were brilliant- supportive, sympathetic and encouraging.

I feel as though I’m finally finding my feet again, and after such a long period of unemployment and uncertainty- it feels bloody brilliant.


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