Monday, 26 April 2010

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step....

As the saying goes, its not the destination that matters, but the journey that you take and my journey over the last 20 years has certainly taken many directions.

My ultimate goal is to get my arthritis back until control and head back to work.  Some may think thats a fairly simple goal but I've also decided to fulfill my passion of supporting people.

It was my original aspiration when I was at school but that was also at a time when society didn't really think outside the box and so with it being deemed more suitable for my disability, I was steered towards a career in administration.  

Me being me, I dug my heels in and studied Maternal & Child Welfare and passed.  Still the hurdles were there and while I had the qualification, people wanted experience and I couldn't get the experience because I kept being pigeon holed into administration.

So for 10 years I worked in administration and while I enjoyed it, got promoted, gained further qualifications, I always felt something was missing.

It was only when I needed major surgery and ended up 'losing' my job that I turned to volunteer work.  No-one at the charity batted an eyelid at me wanting to support people, in fact they encouraged me and over 4 years I taught self management to adults with arthritis, and personal development to teenagers with long term conditions.

Unfortunately there wasn't an opportunity to do it as a paid job so when it came to returning to work, I planned to follow my passion....

I approached a job broker that helps disabled people back into work and shared my aspirations.... I don't really remember anything being mentioned as to what support there was for me to update my qualifications or even how to get into that field of work.  It seemed that my previous experience in administration was getting more attention and in the end because I was returning to paid work after 4 years, I found myself applying for yet another administration job.

I guess for me, it was an area I knew, had confidence in but part of me wished I'd pushed harder to do what I truly wanted.  I ended up doing this job for 5 years and what made me stay that long was the great team I worked with and I also became a mentor to a colleague.  It was part of the way to what I wanted to do and I decided that over time I could progress to my ideal role...

As with any journey, there are always hills and this particular one was an uphill struggle.  Personal events and the need for a hip revision had brought back my depression.  I struggled to cope but was always upfront about it with my employer.  

A couple of the senior management team didn't seem to understand, and would comment that it was a good thing they could leave their problems at home.  As wonderful as this would have been, those who have personal experience of mental health problems know that having a support network is paramount.  Instead of having the pressure taken off, it was as if it was being added, with me being given a heavier workload and when I couldn't cope was told that maybe this wasn't the job for me.  At one point, after being off sick for a couple of days, a return to work meeting was turned into an informal disciplinary... When I highlighted this to someone in HR, I was told to stand my ground but I just felt completely drained.

In the end my GP signed me off so I could mentally prepare for the big operation that lay ahead.  

My hip revision was met with complications and I had extensive bone loss in the femoral shaft which meant I needed bone grafts.  I had pins and surgical wiring to secure the hip and had to be non-weight bearing for 3 months.  

I was scheduled to return to work in the January 2009, although not to the same role.  In fact I didn't know what role I was returning to and was being sent the internal vacancy list during my time off.

My other hip was then scheduled for a total replacement in May and so I took the decision to resign.  I truly didn't want to go back and while I missed the team I worked with, I couldn't face a job change and not feeling supported.

During my time off I received a lot of help from my medical team which allowed me to do a lot of soul searching and I realised I still wanted to support people.  After taking the last year to get my physical and mental health back on track, I then took one more small step.......

I talked things through with a career advisor to see which routes I could take to get a support role and decided on a degree.  It was originally planned that I would go to University but as I have more surgery scheduled for later on this year, I decided to have a look at Open University.  A few friends have done courses through them and really sang their praises.

I spoke to one of the advisors and with their help I built up an action plan to work towards a degree in health & social care.

The first two courses I'm doing this year, Y178 Understanding Health and SDK125 Introducing Health Sciences: A Case Study Approach, do not have a residential aspect which means I can have my surgery during the course and not have to worry about time off.  

I also have the assistance of the disability resource team throughout.  For starters I'm having all my course material comb-bound to make it easier on my hands and a digital dictaphone will help with note-taking.

The 1st course starts in June and it finally feels like I am fulfilling a lifelong dream.....

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams" - Eleanor Roosevelt

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