I joined up with Status Employment at the beginning of 2008 and must admit I didn't expect much. After turning my back on two government sponsored back to work schemes for those with mental health problems I expected more of the same.
I was introduced to an Employment Consultant during my first meeting at Status and knew from the outset of the conversation that things were going to be a little different. Over coffee and a long chat we discussed my 10 years of mostly failing to sustain work and the fact that whenever I did it normally ended in a break down and visit to hospital to recover. It's not that I didn't want to work; I really did want to work and often went out of my way to prove that those with mental health problems could work and I would end up doing far more than was expected of me – resulting in the inevitable burn out.
The Employment Consultant set me at ease and pointed out that Status Employment wanted me to not only get a job, but also keep that job. It was the second part she seemed adamant about and was a breath of fresh air to know that I would get support after getting the job and not just before.
In the following months I was assigned my own Employment Consultant who spent the first few weeks just getting to know me. She wanted ‘To see what made me tick’. I was not quite sure about this strategy, as it seemed to involve very little actual finding work, still I went along with it.
I found myself a promising position as a ‘Motorcycle Instructor’. My Employment Consultant seemed pleased about it but was a bit concerned about the lack of formal paper work to go with the post and the fact I would be self employed. In hindsight I can see that her concerns were justified, but feeling enthusiastic to start work of some kind I went to the first few training sessions. Needless to say it didn't work out: it was a lot of responsibility for not that much financial reward, working unsociable hours where I would never get to see my wife to be. Also, it was seasonal and I would have to find something different to do come winter. With my wedding due in August and the imminent loss of all my benefits, I had to find work that could support me all year round, being too stubborn to take handouts from my wife on a permanent basis.
My first Employment Consultant left and at the beginning of summer I had a new Employment Consultant assigned to pick up my case. Now the huge folder of notes that my first Employment Consultant had taken came into their own and my new Employment Consultant was able to get up to speed with who and what I was. She quickly distilled the type of job I needed. Despite me loving the excitement of jobs like Motorcycle Couriering and Instructing, it was decided that mostly I needed stability – an employer who would understand the to's and fro's of Bi-Polar and give me the chance to perhaps, even develop a career again.
The other condition was that it had to be for an organisation that wasn't solely there for profit and that I worked part time. The part time bit upset my sensibility that I was just as capable of full time work as a ‘Normal’ person but my Employment Consultant was probably right.
I started attending a job club run every Thursday and applied for job after job. With my Employment Consultant's guidance I filled out numerous forms, but with the restrictive criteria sometimes I would come away without filling out a single application form. Even when I really couldn't be bothered the encouragement was always there.
Finally, I had an interview for a part time library position. I had no worries about the interview until my Employment Consultant mentioned that I would have to do a mock interview with them first. That was a terrifying, but rewarding, experience and put me in good stead for the real thing. I attended the library interview and thought I had done averagely. I didn't get the job but on my Employment Consultant's recommendation I got some feedback about how I did. The feedback from the library was extremely positive and I had actually met all the employment criteria. This was great news for me personally as it meant I was considered employable by a proper, respected organisation and not just dodgy cash in hand outfits. Also, I hadn't had to lie about my Bi-Polar or try to disguise it in any way.
I went back to filling the application forms with new vigour, and two weeks before my wedding an interview came up for a position with the NHS as a Trainee Clinical Coder. You couldn't really ask for a more stable employer. My Employment Consultant offered to attend the interview with me but I felt that this was really something I should do on my own. As always my wishes were respected. After walking out of the interview I felt that I had flopped it somehow even though I couldn't be specific about why, so I went back to preparing for my wedding. Two days before the big day I received a phone call telling me I had been given the position! Really I was stunned. My Employment Consultant did warn me that the NHS could be a slow beast and that a previous client had taken nearly six months to actually start work.
By November I had a second medical to attend, the last in a long chain of events that led to my employment. It was distressing at times having to wait so long, knowing that I had a job but not able to start work. I had forms to be filled, references to be checked, a criminal record check, a medical with a nurse, a report from my Psychiatrist and a medical with the NHS specialist doctor.
What kept me going was the support from Status Employment and the knowledge that it was a stable job with a respected employer. I was chomping at the bit to get started but I knew it would come in time. My Employment Consultant and I prepared a support plan to help me once I got started and I knew it would be some time till I waved good bye to Status Employment.
To be honest I really don't know where I would have been without Status Employment. After I lost all my benefits, money was getting tight and I would probably have considered going back on the Motorcycle Courier Circuit where questions about your past aren't asked; although no doubt this would have resulted in the same hospital admission calamity months later when the stress finally overwhelmed me.
Some things I have learnt from Status Employment is you need the patience of a saint and a solid determination, but you can get a good job with a mental health condition. Also, you don't have to lie about who you are or where you have been.
In my interview with the NHS I talked openly about my condition and it was regarded with no more surprise than discussing a broken leg. Really most good employers just want to know that they can trust you and you will do what they are paying you for.
Almost three years on, I have just received a promotion and am now a Non Accredited Clinical Coder. This means I have been put up another NHS Band. My next step will be to sit my ACC exam and become an Accredited Clinical Coder. Also, by accident, I seem to have become the office roving coder. I visited Caterham Dene hospital on my way home today and will be off to Crawley hospital tomorrow. I really love getting out and about, almost reminds of my couriering days but not so cold! I hope to start volunteering again in my conservation work. I think a total change, in the outdoors which I love, will help my well being all round and maybe give me the skills to live the dream of owning a small holding one day.