I have lived with mental health issues for nearly 20 years of my life and this has included depression, anxiety and unhealthy coping techniques. These issues developed as a child but were not picked up until 2012, when at 22 I was given a diagnosis and started treatment.
I like to use dark humour to cope, so a common joke I used was that I left university with a single honour in Film and TV studies and a joint in “Depression and Anxiety”. But at the end of my degree, any confidence I had in myself and my future was gone.
I had been living under the illusion of ‘wellness’ when in fact my unhealthy mindset, coping habits and perfectionism had led to a false confidence and – like a manor house built on crumbling foundations – it was going to fall eventually.
This worsened when I graduated. Finding employment in the real world is already competitive but it can feel hopeless for those living with a mental health condition and who cannot even big themselves up in the mirror, let alone at an interview. Every rejection and dismissal was “proof” that I was unemployable and not worthy of someone investing their time or training.
That changed when I applied for the Work Connect Scheme with Action Mental Health and the HSC Disability Placement Scheme and received a six month placement in the Health and Social Care Board. I then was successful in securing a place on the HSC Intern Scheme for 2016-17.
Initially, I was terrified that everyone would find out how useless I was. Instead, the people I worked with were patient, supportive and accommodated my mental health appointments. They even took the time to talk about mental health programmes they had seen on TV and it was so validating to hear someone say “I didn’t know how hard it was”.
I have received overwhelming support from an organisation of people telling me that I was worth this opportunity, their time and their investment. I still have “dark cloud” periods and often need to drive myself to keep getting up and work through it, and it’s reassuring when colleagues have to remind me to take breaks and proper time off to recharge and avoid burnout – I’m still a perfectionist.
I have also been given wonderful opportunities by the Equality team to speak at events for the Disability Placement Scheme and to share my mental health experiences. Being able to stand in a room with people facing similar issues is a wonderful thing. I’ve even attended and spoken of my experiences at HSCB and BSO Board meetings! It was lovely to hear that my story got a room full of board members to reflect on the struggles people with Mental Health issues are faced with every day, and to realise how much of an impact the Placement Scheme has for people with such issues.
Mental health issues may not be something we chose but it is our choice to live and improve our quality of life despite them. I successfully applied for a permanent post in the Business Services Team in BSO and started in in January 2018. For the first time in six years; I am no longer planning for recovery, but instead planning for the future.