One thing after another…
Things started to decline for me mentally when within two weeks I was made redundant from my job of ten years. Then, my Dad, who lived in New Zealand, passed away suddenly and I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye or pay my respects. I had a second care job for eight years that abruptly ended when the mother of the young man I supported unexpectedly died.
Following that, my mum was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and I cared for her until she passed away. After I lost my mother to cancer my world collapsed and I sank into a dark place where I was reliving the unbearable pain and suffering of her last few days.
I fell into a dark depression as I felt I had lost everything. I can now reflect on how bad I was and what led to it. But at the time??
I was lucky I had good support, and I also worked very hard to get myself up on my feet again. I was starting to feel quite well in myself when the pandemic hit. At first, it felt like a 3-week national holiday but as it went on I realised I was regressing and becoming trapped again in my own home.
Arty-Folks invited me to a Zoom workshop and even though the anxiety was overwhelming I knew I needed to do something to stop me shutting down again into those all too familiar thoughts and feelings of emptiness, desolation, and aloneness. I’ve always had a problem talking to people on the phone so I expected Zoom to be the same. It was hard at the beginning but because everyone was chatty while creating their artwork I felt ok. Sometimes Zooms were quite lively and we had a laugh when Lorella played some popular songs on the ukulele and made us all sing along.
I was then introduced to the New Perspectives peer support group on Skype group which really helped me have conversations with people. I learnt that I could communicate online without needing to be in the same room and to have light hearted, normal conversations, just what people used to do before Covid, and it was nice when I got positive feedback for my artwork from my peers.
I chose to attend the project in-person in August, and I was shocked at first. We were sitting individually on separate tables set quite far apart from each other and it felt awkward and unsociable. It took at least 4 sessions before we felt relaxed enough to speak to each other and have conversations across the room. It was quite strange to watch the Zoom group on screen so comfortable and chatting with each other while we were in the Room and struggling to connect. Coming into the Room we had expected to go ‘back to normal’ and instead we entered a topsey-turvey world!
I know, at first I didn’t like how we were moved to different seats every few weeks. Now I am pleased, because it has made me talk to different people rather than staying in my comfort zone -and it really worked and built my confidence! Because staff made us mix and mingle we have managed to bridge the Covid physical distance and have meaningful conversations as well as fun. Now we are so comfortable with each other and socially close but physically we are still keeping our distance – and it doesn’t matter! Isn’t that incredible?
When I started looking for a job I was just looking for anything that I felt able to do. I didn’t have much hope that employers would want me because I had been out of work for so long and before that I had only been a carer to my mother. Talking to Arty-Folks’ life coach made me realise how low my confidence still was but I didn’t want to set my hopes too high, overreach, and then fail. To my surprise I did get a job in care but after a couple of weeks I felt I had made a huge mistake.
My anxiety about work started to mount up and there were nights I could not sleep as my heart was racing and my stomach turning. I talked my feelings through with my coach every week to better understand why, what was making me feel that way, and what could I do to change these feelings of being trapped. In one of those conversations something clicked into place and I was then able to put my concerns across with my employers in a calm, reasonable, logical, and confident manner. My manager listened to me and responded well, and it broke the ice. 4 months later I am still working there and it is going well. I do still think that I did sell myself short because I lacked in confidence, but I also know that this job is a stepping stone towards a role that will be more challenging and rewarding.
New Perspectives has helped me turn a corner, to shift the balance from being mentally unwell towards resilience, and I know now that from now on I will be able to handle what life throws at me. Being in this support group with my peers who were all looking for jobs, education, or volunteering has been amazing. I love the conversations we have as soon as we walk through the door. We all talk about what is going on in our lives and it really helps to offload stress, worries, and negativity. It’s such a nice atmosphere and there are times when everyone is on fire and the conversations are sparkling, and everyone feels included and able to converse with a good bunch of friends.
When all of us have opened up, we all have shared and we have all listened to each other, we are then ready to do the next bit – the Qigong or yoga or relaxation session. I hugely enjoy these morning exercise sessions because what we do is led by the group. After exercising we all sit together as a group and we have lunch while we chat. I used to hate eating in front of people, and yet, here I am eating and chatting! I couldn’t have done that before the pandemic. Now, it all feels so natural and normal. We feel close and there is such a good level of trust between us which I think is now more important than ever. In a strange way the pandemic has helped. It has created a level playing field for everyone and keeping a physical distance has helped me feel less pressured.
I joined New Perspectives in August and I started working in October. 6 months ago I didn’t think that I had any people skills anymore to work, that I wouldn’t be capable of taking on responsibilities, that I would let people down, and that’s why I settled for a job that I can do easily.
I have surprised myself. I can talk to people, I have skills, I am knowledgeable, and I am not as stupid as I thought I was. I feel independent and my own person again, with my own and earned money. I am present in the room, my opinion matters and my voice is heard. I am standing my ground, I can get through it. I am clearer in my head than I have ever been. People have remarked that the sparkle in my eyes is back, have noticed that I’m not keeping my head down anymore, that I’m not scratching my arms compulsively, all those little signs of distress other people saw but I was often not even aware of.
My anxiety can still hold me back and I can still get panicked out at times but I am able to handle it and work through it. Looking back, I can see how all the different small steps have helped me, how being listened to and having an understanding with other people was so important to me. In future I would like to work in mental health and I would like to use my own experience to help others.
I can do this job and I am enjoying it, but I can do more.