While I was still at school, prior to any mental health problem, I managed to hold down jobs as a barman, receptionist, waiter, factory worker and chef. I used to get up at 4.30am before school and go and cook breakfast for the hotel guests in a nearby village. Both, getting and keeping a job was never a problem.
When I went to Australia for my gap year in October, 2000 I worked on a golf course as a green keeper and in a restaurant as a kitchen hand. I worked hard, often working 17 hours a day, to earn my money to travel. There was never any problem with work. In fact I was valued as a good team member, who worked very hard and lead by example. Although I was never management material (I was always too worried about what other people thought about me, to be in a position to manage – https://puttingstigmatoshame.com/should-you-try-to-make-other-people-happy/), I enjoyed the challenge of pleasing my boss and creating productive working relationships with my co-workers.
I never had a problem finding work, even after I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It was staying well and holding on to positions that was the problem. In June 2005, after graduating I went to live in Bali. I earned my money through risk free, arbitrage betting. A loophole I found on the internet that allowed me to earn an average of £100 a day. More than enough to afford a lavish existence in the tropics. Earning my own money and being independent allowed me to flourish. I was not on any medication, I felt good about me – I was well. A car accident ensued (in which I was free from blame), however, meaning I went from a utopian existence to a convicted criminal, wound up in one of the most corrupt justice systems in the world. My work and my self-worth deteriorated, quickly followed by my health. It wasn’t long before I found my self incarcerated in a Balinese Psychiatric Hospital with a court case over my head. I returned from Bali, after a long legal battle, in August 2006, and I went to live with my Dad, hoping to find work and repair the damage to my delicate mental state.
My Father has always motivated me to work. He values the rewarding nature of a good days work and he encouraged me to find a job as soon as I returned to the UK. I joined an employment agency and soon found work as a trainee insolvency practitioner at a local practice. I spent the days filing and responding to telephone calls. Despite being told I was going to have a sales role with the company – out on the road drumming up new business, I never felt part of the team. I describe my time there as though I was playing golf in the dark, as I never had a defined role and objective.
I handled the stresses of working in an office with about 8 other people ok at first, but I soon started to struggle with my mental health. I remember joining my boss in a client meeting and being confronted by two middle aged gentlemen, wearing bright coloured golfing attire – long socks, bright caps, knee length checkered shorts and bright polo shirts. They were taking very little seriously. Their financial problems all seemed like a game. Well, I thought that these men were dressed up on my behalf. I started to feel like the lightbulb in the world of moths again – every word said and person in my vicinity focused on my every move. It was all a huge conspiracy with colleagues, clients, friends, family members, even the drivers in front and behind me, on the way home, entangled in the Andy Newson Saga. It didn’t take long for me to start to feel people were against me. My working relationships, quality of work and even my ability to hold a coherent conversation soon dwindled. I started to feel alone, despite the need for constant attention and recognition as the star of my latest episode. I wouldn’t sleep as racing thoughts would dominate my mind. Engrossed with feelings of grandeur and elation without any recognition that my whole world was falling apart around me.
This is what I was confronted with for many years. I also found roles as a stockbroker and as a Junior Financial Advisor. On both occasions, my employment was terminated due to ill health, with the same symptoms and problems persisting. Perhaps, with assistance I would have been more conservative with my expectations for work. I have always been, and received encouragement to be, very ambitious when it comes to work. I cannot say that my employers were not sympathetic, but I was in need of rest and recuperation, not the stresses of trying to perform well at work.
I think that, in order to hold down a job with mental health difficulties, you need to make employers aware of the challenges you face. That is why Putting Stigma to Shame has teamed up with Towards Work to bring readers, who may be struggling to find work, the opportunity to succeed in the workplace.
Towards Work (https://www.towardswork.org.uk) is a project run by Groundwork Greater Nottingham, covering Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Derby and Derbyshire. It is part of a national Building Better Opportunities Program which is jointly funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership’s European Social Fund allocations. Towards Work help people in their first steps of getting employment, education or training and specialise in overcoming barriers that individuals may face. The journey to employment or education with Towards Work starts with an individual needs assessment. A work coach and job broker will then work with you, in a personalised approach, to identifying the specific employability and skills training required for you to start your journey moving towards the workplace. For those who secure a job, Towards Work’s In Work Support will continue for up to 3 months, to ensure a successful transition back into the workplace.
The great thing I found about Towards Work when they came and introduced themselves to me, was that they encouraged me to seek employment in the field I preferred. My Job Broker was ready to find work in a field that would sustain and ensure that my work was both enjoyable and engaging.
For myself, I have identified certain requirements I have in the workplace. For example, I need regular breaks to ensure I am present and stress free. I need one person only in charge of me who can brief me, in a one to one, each morning, and who can be turned to in time of trouble. Colleagues need to be informed and understand that I may struggle. If colleagues are informed they may be more empathetic and understanding to my situation. I require a gentle introduction to the work required so that I gradually get used to, and cope with, the stresses of work.
Towards Work help to ensure a successful introduction to the workplace by understanding the individual barriers and circumstances each individual may be facing, and helping them to remove these barriers, whilst also working with employers to encourage inclusive recruitment and reasonable adjustments which may help with this transition. Towards Work recognise that every person’s journey is different and a person centred approach is paramount to helping them succeed.