Mental Illness and Employment

Have you ever been afraid of social situations? Have you ever felt left out? Have you ever watched your friends and felt like you are in a different world? Have you ever had delusions that were so horrific you could barely stay alive?

If this is just the start of the story maybe you have a long and enduring mental illness?

My name is Ruth. When I was twenty I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I had straight A’s in my A Levels, I was applying to universities and I was deeply depressed. I fought the depression. There were days, even periods, when I felt happy. I helped myself by reading books, writing poetry, making crafts.

The real problems started when instead of feeling depressed I started to feel high. I would be in a world of my own. I would spend lots of money. I would think things that were not true at all. Some days my psychosis was dramatised on television, as I watched the pictures jump out in front of me. One day I heard a voice from God telling me he loved me.

Here I write about what is only the beginning of what this terrible illness entails. What I would like to talk about is the hope and the survival. From the very beginning of the illness I gained hope from the fact that I could still do things. I began to do some volunteer work and I slowly made my way through an English degree. Five years later I started a job working with other people who had disabilities. I was able to do voluntary work and some permitted work (permitted work is working for less than sixteen hours while you stay on benefits),but my dream of having a permanent job seemed distant and unlikely.

There are many things which make it difficult to function when you have been mentally ill for long periods. For me it has taken about ten years to be able to fully say I am recovered. It is difficult because with a lot of mental disorders the person is ill because of an imbalance in their chemical make-up. I have been put on different medications over the years and had to live with not only side effects, but medications just not working. Hope came for me just two years ago when I was put on clozapine.

From this period I started to move on. I did voluntary work at a charity shop and I applied for a course as a teaching assistant. Although I didn’t finish the course I began to realise that I had a problem trying to concentrate on things. I developed the practice of being mindful and tried to apply it to my life. After this life lesson there came a ray of home. Just as I was finding life difficult my mum had received a phone call from someone about a programme called ‘Workable’. This programme was designed to help people who have been long term ill, back into employment. I had put my name down for this some time ago, but I had no idea that my life would be enriched and enhanced by this experience.

I filled in an application and went for two interviews for the job. I felt inspired by the experience and dreamed about getting the job and working as an occupational therapist assistant. In the end I did get the job. Over the years I have tried to balance the illness in different ways. I have had counselling, used Chinese medicine, wrote mood charts, and practised creativity. I have also tried to keep my life as balanced as possible. Bi-polar disorder is an illness of extremes, but you can take control over it in simple ways. You can walk everyday to prevent depression, you can develop a good sleep pattern and you can eat properly. The opportunity of this job has been really therapeutic because it brings increased structure to my life and makes me realise that I am not on the margins anymore. I am now able to be the balanced and happy person I always wanted to be.

In my job as an occupational therapy assistant there are various aspects that have been put in place to help me in the job. I do supervision with the occupational therapist I am working with. I also have a support worker who I work with once a fortnight. I was also allowed to start working at sixteen hours and work my way up in my own time. I am also allowed to come in thirty minutes late because the medication can make mornings difficult.

I would just like to say to anyone who has a severe and enduring mental illness not to give up hope. Try to hold on to the picture of yourself as someone well and someone who is valued in the world of employment.


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