My goodness work is hard work..

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Ensuring i keep up the gratitude journal!

As most of you will know i recently (and by recently i mean January now) started full time employment after 5 years of being on disability benefits. Due to the restructuring of the benefit system i was reassessed and despite having been deemed to never need to work again i was all of a sudden stripped of my benefits and asked to gain full time employment. As you can imagine this was exceptionally stressful and not exactly helped by the fact my current employer was unwilling to fund me going full time, which meant finding a whole new place of work.

I’m now coming into my fifth month and geeze louise it’s hard work. As my Aunt noted yesterday i began work at the absolute worst time of the year, when it’s pitch black when you go to work and pitch black when you leave; at the time i recall thinking ‘cool, so literally my skin will not have access to the daylight now, well that’s good to know’. I was also heavily using, and have been up until the past week, sleeping tablets to ensure i slept through because there was definitely no way i was going to be able to function at work without sleep. This meant i was groggily traipsing into work in the dark attempting to shake off sedation before i arrived. The combination of dark and exhaustion meant i came home and lay comatose on my sofa unable to make something resembling a healthy meal and staring at the ceiling awaiting a time that was reasonable to go to bed.

The past 4 months have essentially been a constant state of half existence, i realised early on that i could get through work but i literally couldn’t socialise without being too pooped to be fully engaged at work the next day. Furthermore i had gone from spending 5 days a week solidly on my own to being thrust into a busy office in which everyone wants to talk and people are coming in and out. Initially i said i’d give myself a couple of weeks of being a hermit at lunchtime and then i’d engage but actually i need the half hour break to just wind down. As a result the idea of seeing friends became a ‘erghhh more socialising’ rather than the treat is usually was which meant i was officially working to not live. As the washing piled up on my bedroom floor and the washing up grew new life forms in my kitchen sink i hit a breaking point and called for back up. Lucky for me that week my friend arrived with food and cleaning products (and i literally love her so much for that) and my mum arrived to help me sort my flat out.

It’s taken 4 months but i am beginning to get into the swing of things a little bit and am realising however great your organisation is you need to look after your own mental health, after all they’re not mind readers. When i first started i wanted everyone to think i was awesome and be all ‘this kid is amazing, you would never know she’s just come off benefits and is a wreck at home because she is so high functioning here she’s smashing it’….which is a fair bit of pressure to place on a human. I then burnt out and had no life and had to do a full on benefit system and reassess (yeah that’s a dig), i realised i was too sedated when i began my day and changed my hours to allow myself more time in the morning to wake up; i then organised to work from home once a week so i could have a quiet brain and i quit berating myself for not cycling everyday and caught the bus. At first i felt super frustrated, like i was the token mental health person and i was letting the team down because people would associate me with mental health and mental health with being a huge pain in the ass but i’ve since realised a few things:

  1. My mental health is first and foremost my responsibility and i need to speak up and vocalise what i need if i expect people at work to provide that.
  2. There is a big difference to chilling out on your own in a clean tidy flat with some candles watching a movie to lying comatose on the sofa in a mound off grossness on your own crying and snot covering your hoody.
  3. If you only eat junk food that requires a microwave you can expect to feel like poop, gain 10 pounds and wobble when you move but that can be ok if you exercise self compassion and acknowledge that you are doing what you need to get by for a bit and it’s not for the long term.
  4. It is very hard to do 10,000 steps a day when you spend 8 hours of it sat at a computer.
  5. That it’s ok to switch off at the end of the day, to not work overtime or stay late to finish something, that’s not a reflection of your ability or dedication, work is important and should be done well but no one is on their death bed wishing they worked more…
  6.  That actually when i do socialise or spend time doing things i enjoy outside of work i am more excited and engaged at work. This is a big revelation for me since those first few months of resting at every opportunity like a woman from the victorian period on a chaise lounge.
  7. That taking the odd day off here and there is so important and i should not assume that when i do people are contemplating why they employed me.
  8. Sitting at a computer in sterile lighting all day is not good for ones mental or physical health and whilst it may look like a cop out those DS breaks are something people should do….they should also quit eating lunch at their desks like there haven’t been 500 studies about why that’s stupid.
  9. The benefits system is ridiculous and unfair and will penalise me whatever i do, a case in point is the fine of £50 i was asked to pay because i only told them i had began work (that thing they made me do) 6 days after i started and not on my first day, because obviously everyone takes time out of their first day to make a 45 minute phone call…
  10. Once you share your experiences, even just a little, people are significantly more inclined to support you and cut you some slack, my colleague literally tells me off if i become too self deprecating, like ‘Hannah quit over investing because you think we think you’re rubbish because we think you’re great but doing too much work’, which is a cool vibe to have.

Things are slowly improving and a large part of that is about cutting myself some slack and ensuring i am enjoying my time outside of work. If anyone has been in a similar boat i would advise them to show a little self compassion and acknowledge if you were strong enough to get through your own challenges you can for sure get through this one ( ergh that sounds like a quote you’d find on a canvas and i HATE those).

Life Challenges Quotes Interesting 30 New Inspirational Quotes About Life Challenge Success

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Happy International Happiness Day!

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Happy International Happiness Day peeps! Today i chose to take a moment to reflect and be grateful for my amazing friends and family who have rallied around in the past week to support me when i had a bit of a ‘errr why can’t i function in life right now and why am i unable to approach the washing up?’ moment. My friend came by with prepared trays of food for a sleepover so that i didn’t need to cook, these daffodils and a bag of cleaning products so she could clean for me (luckily her visit prompted cleaning of the flat which was very much needed). My mum then came and took me for coffee and did some jobs i needed doing that were feeling overwhelming. It meant i ended the weekend feeling calmer and have started this week on a much better foot! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful day 

 

High Ho, High Ho, It’s Off To Work I Go….

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(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!)

 

Of all the things I could have broken.

My wonderful friend wrote this blog for World Mental Health Day and straight up i’m only just sharing it because i’m terrible at keeping up however it’s as important now as it was then. Her diagnosis is hugely misunderstood and seeing the responses of services to her has been very eye opening for someone who’s diagnosis gives them VIP status in mental health care systems. This blog is an excellent breakdown of her experiences and smashes through stereotypes as far as i’m concerned. Kudos!!

I broke my personality.

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So today is world mental health day, a specific day in the year where all the bloggers who have had mental health struggles or have them currently come out in full force to write about it. Turns out this year I am one of those bloggers.

I am not critiquing,  in fact I think its important that as many people as feel strong enough talk about there experiences without shame or fear. What disappoints me is that we are in a society that needs a specific day to do this. However, thats not what I was going to write about, thats a whole other rant for a different time.

I didn’t know what I was going to write about for today, I had a few ideas floating around in my brain, but I thought on a a day which aims to raise awareness and combat misunderstanding…

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Benefit Assessments AKA how can we penalise the unwell..

You have probably heard all about the benefit changes that are going on because the papers have been plagued by headlines like ‘Mum-of-four dies cold and alone after benefits were blocked for missing meeting’ and other ridiculously, no need for hyperbole kinds of situations. Universal Credit is a huge point of controversy due to the enormous waiting time (6-8 weeks) for payments which is leaving thousands struggling in the interim and causing a significant increase in the need for food banks, free school meals and emergency council support. Continue reading

The Alternative Gratitude Journal..

I’ve been feeling a little down following a benefit assessment last week so i decided to amalgamate this photo challenge that’s been going around and my gratitude journal into one; ‘the alternative gratitude journal’ – taking a photo each day of something that’s made me happy. Not only is it nice to reflect back on the week but it’s also encouraging me to keep on the lookout for lovely things so in a way it’s become a little mindfulness exercise!

Here we have: painted cows on the exit i take on the subway to my new home, flowers my cousin and his girlfriend bought me, a weekend with my family, an awesome (very Cambridge) bike outside my swimming pool, the lights up on oxford street and a bit of a painting i’ve taken out of hiding .

 

Final Guest Blogger: ‘A person who happens to have..’

So admittedly i am a little over my October month of guest bloggers but when Dannys blog on recovery language (see here) got my Aunt and i chatting about ability language i told her she must write me a blog! As far as i’m concerned if your eloquent in a passionate rant about something then you are destined to share your thoughts on that topic with the rest of the world. Once she got talking i realised how weird some of the terminology we use is and it’s certainly given me cause to reflect. As with recovery language not all of it will sit right with everyone but if we can all be aware of the gold standard then we can at least aim to get somewhere close – sort of like how i know i should eat large amounts of vegetables a day but i also intersperse this with carb heavy macaroni and cheese… Continue reading