(Because i’ve continued this photo gratitude journal thing here is someones teeny tiny snowman)
It feels like an absolute age since i last posted but a lot has happened and i said from the very start that writing this blog should never be a source of stress, otherwise it becomes a little contradictory like ‘hey people here’s some ways you can stay well, o by the way i’m sat crying in a corner right now trying to this darn blog’.
The last time i posted i was super stressed having had my benefits cut and given 4 weeks notice to sort my shit out. My previous employer wouldn’t increase my hours which meant finding a whole new job, scary at the best of times but particularly so when you’ve been in the same job for 6 years and have been working less than 2 days a week. I had a good degree from a good University but would a company want to take the risk of employing someone full time who seemed to have had some kind of mental health moment and then not worked properly since?
Being told to suddenly go full time or risk not being able to do basic things like eat or have a water supply was really intense but also a good motivator, i do like to eat after all. I had always planned to go full time in my last job which i deemed a ‘safe’ environment having worked my way up from being a very unwell volunteer to a very organised employee. There is something reassuring about working in an environment in which people have already seen you unwell, it sort of takes the fear factor out of it, like ‘cool i’m not going to be shunned and then quietly asked to leave through the back door, good to know’. It was therefore a bit of a shock to realise i was going to be going full time, like literally the biggest thing i could imagine for myself, somewhere totally new. It is a testament to how well (and how frustrated by the benefits system) i am that i gave myself a week to crumple and then started looking for work, got myself an interview and started my new job within that 4 week period i was so kindly given.
Part of me is loathe to say that my benefits being cut has led to anything positive because the governments approach to disability is cruel, soulless and demoralising. The experience of a degrading assessment requested out of nowhere and the ruthlessness of being given 4 weeks to find work has been exceptionally stressful and i am lucky that i have been able to stay well; but that strength has nothing to do with the benefits system. I do not want to be considered a success story because there is nothing successful about pushing people quickly into work without providing them with the necessary support and tools to do so. All the success in this story is my own doing.
12 hours a week to 37.5 has been a huge shift, the first few weeks i was running off adrenaline but as i go into my third month i’m starting to tire. My evenings largely revolve around purchasing food that does not require cooking on my way home and then passing out on the sofa; it’s funny how tiring literally not moving from a desk all day can be. Getting to know a ton of new people and pretending to remember everyones names whilst subtly craning to see their name tags is no mean feat so i am both tired and i have a sore neck. I had ambitiously planned to socially integrate every lunchtime in the staff room but actually the half hour lunch break in the cafe alone is still a necessity to give myself a minute of breathing space. Learning new systems, protocols and skills requires mental energy which quite frankly i haven’t needed to consistently use since i did my degree.
All that said i am having the best time, yes im exhausted but there is something which beats the reassurance of having been unwell at work and that is being valued on my competency. For the first time since being unwell i feel respected for the work i do, not in spite of my Bipolar but regardless of it. It’s refreshing for my colleagues to only know what i choose to divulge about my illness and there’s something empowering about being in control of that process. Sure i still share a lot because i feel it’s important not to shy away from conversations about mental health, even more so in a non mental health setting, but my teams first impression of me is of my skills and the attitude i bring into my work, not my history. It is reassuring instead to know that companies are catching up, that HR teams can be exceptionally supportive of mental health needs and that colleagues can openly talk about their anxiety in places where those conversations could easily be swept under the carpet as they have, and continue to be, in so many workplaces.
I have taken three lessons from this experience; firstly that i am much stronger willed than i gave myself credit for, secondly that the benefits system and all those involved with it suck and thirdly that a company does not need to be based around mental health to have a supportive and amazing attitude to it.
(First day of work, versus the ninth day of work, suuuuuch a tired face!)