After suffering a breakdown and spending time in hospital in July 2020, I was signed off work on sick leave and although I made a brief return to work I decided that I needed to make a clean break and therefore left my job in May 2021. After having completed 15 years in my old job the idea of looking for a new job filled me with trepidation and I still wasn’t sure if I had the confidence and capacity to get back into work.
Both my care coordinator and the wellbeing advisor at my GP’s recommended contacting the Richmond Fellowship who would be able to offer advice in seeking new employment. After sending my details through to Stella she arranged for me to speak to Barbara in the Surrey Employment team. Barbara was extremely patient as I talked her through my situation, my current challenges and employment history. Barbara was able to give me practical advice on updating my CV, relevant websites to look for jobs and how important it was to have a good cover letter to send off to potential employers. She also took the time to talk through my biggest concerns in dealing with a gap in employment history and how to explain the change in career that I was exploring. But just as important as the career advice Barbara also sent me several useful websites for sessions and courses aimed at improving my mental wellbeing and boosting my confidence ahead of any possible interviews etc.
From the list of sessions the first that caught my eye was “boosting self esteem” which I thought would be beneficial as one of the biggest challenges I had was my confidence had taken a huge dent and I couldn’t see why anyone would want to employ me. I had done a few online courses over the last year which mainly involved learning the theory behind coping skills, goal setting etc which mainly involved reading through the pamphlets provided and little input from me.
So after the first 40 minutes of the course run by Angie and Louise I wondered what had hit me! I had been asked for my input numerous times and I was really having to think about things and try and talk about them which I found particularly hard. Angie could see that I was a little out of my depth but explained how important it was to really participate in the discussions and that is how I would learn and benefit the most from the sessions. So although I was slightly dubious still I made sure I put in more effort for the second half of the course. But it was the “homework” that I was given that really got me thinking and I made sure I did the 3 things each day so I would be prepared for the next week’s session. Come the following Monday I felt much more confident in speaking within the group and by completing the homework it gave me a real sense of achievement. I decided at this point that Angie might be right!!
So over the last 6 weeks I have joined every course I possibly could and also joined the more relaxed/social sessions and coffee mornings on offer. After being encouraged so much in that first course I really pushed myself to come out of my comfort zone and just be curious in my learning. Angie explained it was about creating a toolbox of ideas and coping methods to deal with whatever issue you have. It may be that sometimes my usual coping method would not work and I needed to make sure I had lots of ways in dealing with situations.
I can honestly say that I have learned and taken away something from every session I have done. Firstly Angie and the volunteers are so good at explaining things and encouraging conversation but without making you feel awkward. They know when to push for answers but just as importantly when to give you space if you are struggling with an issue. And the skills that you learn are so practical and you are able to put them to use in every day life (like being mindful when you make a cup of tea/brush your teeth and different breathing techniques). It wasn’t just looking at the theory of doing an activity. Secondly I found it really useful to hear the experiences of the volunteers and see that they have come through very difficult periods in their life and they are living proof that it could be done. But thirdly (and perhaps most importantly) it was the ideas, experiences and support of the other members on each session that was so inspiring. Having poor mental health is so hard and isolating, so hearing other people explain their thoughts and difficulties which were very similar to me helped me realised I wasn’t on my own and I really felt understood. I found that whatever session I did there were always 3 or 4 familiar faces and everyone would encourage and praise each other for their achievements. Things that would seem so small or easy for some people are actually really hard, so to be praised and cheered for making these baby steps was brilliant. It meant that I had become much more confident within myself and much more resilient in dealing with my challenges. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be in the better place I am now without my fellow members.
So with these improvements in my outlook and coping ideas it meant I was able to tackle my job search with Barbara in a much clearer headspace. Barbara would send through any jobs she thought would be relevant for me and she helped to tweak my CV to look as professional and appealing to an employer. I finally got a breakthrough and set up an interview with an employer. Barbara helped put me at ease about what to expect and the types of questions that I would be asked. Therefore I was able to write down and plan out potential answers which stopped me worrying and getting stressed. This gave me more confidence going into the interview and meant I kept my head and didn’t panic while answering questions. The great news is that the interview went well and I have now been offered a job!
I can honestly say that without the help, advice, encouragement and new skills learned from Barbara, Angie, Louise, Carmen and all the members of the groups I joined I would not have been able to do this and wouldn’t be able to make the next step in my life. Although feeling scared and apprehensive I can now feel excited as well at the new opportunity. But I also know how important it is to keep learning and practising the new skills I have learned and I look forward to carrying on with any evening courses that are on.