My extreme anxiety dogged me for my entire education and it would be hit and miss whether I did well in an exam because it would depend on whether I was having a good day or not. My teachers put all my emotional issues down to the fact that my parents were divorced. They had no idea (neither did I) that I was being systematically abused. I was rarely asked how I was or what was bothering me. When I fell apart during my A-levels one teacher, who had obviously been nominated to talk to me told me to ‘pull yourself together’. She really did. As a mature student at University I had a much better time with counselling support and understanding tutors and I did well there although my anxiety still prevented me from fulling reaching my potential.
I have had a patchy work record because of my mental health problems, mainly through not having the confidence to go for decent jobs, or the energy to sustain a demanding career. I eventually settled down enough to work continuously for about ten years. If I needed formal support I sought it outside of work. Informally some people were more helpful than others.
Coming back into work after a long break because of health issues I have gained confidence through volunteering. It has helped me get structure back into my week and I can build things in as my health and wellbeing improves. Working with others in the same situation as myself has added a new dimension to work and I can feel fully myself. It is much easier to say I am going through a bad patch, or my medication is interfering with my thought processes. People just nod and I feel it’s all ok.
Barriers to work over my entire life have been both internal and external. I have been grappling with debilitating issues that I thought were normal and this has taken a toll on my health. Mainly it stopped me from achieving anything like my full potential. Where I have had the right support and encouragement I have done very well, but this has been very hard to come by. I have too often been labelled as ‘difficult’, ‘temperamental’, ‘a creative type’ or ‘high maintenance’.
The things that have helped me have been:
- the support I got at university through counselling and supportive tutors
- finding decent counselling support and a good GP outside of work
- an understanding manager who realised I needed more sick time than normal but that I made up for that by quality of work
- an occupational therapist who got me into volunteering in mental health
- peer support – all the way through I have been blessed with good friends
- recognising that I had a disability that wasn’t my fault
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