19 May 2016

Solitary confinement

When my last temporary assignment finished a week before Christmas, I resolved to give myself a month off before looking for permanent work. Fortunately, I received a job offer two months later and took up a new role three weeks after that.

Altogether, then, I was at home for just under four months - and the experience nearly sent me over the edge mentally.

The downslide began soon after I signed on. In the past, I've been short-listed for almost every job I've applied for and haven't been rejected for any that I really wanted, ie post interview. Now the only response to most of my applications was resounding silence.

Understandably, my stress levels rose, in spite of the fact that I had sufficient funds to tide me over for several months. My main concern was that my age might have catapulted me onto the employment shelf. And so long as I was out of work, I felt in limbo and unable to move on with the next phase of my life, which was immensely frustrating.

As the weeks passed, all sorts of old anxieties resurfaced - and were joined by new ones on a daily basis. I ricocheted from one obsessive thought to another with no let-up. People talk about losing their minds and that was exactly how it felt. It seemed as if mine had become a separate entity, with my thoughts running amok like a bunch of crazed Gremlins.

This period coincided with a sudden growth in my boyfriend's pet-sitting and dog-walking business, which meant he was working seven days a week. We live in different parts of London, so our time together dwindled almost to vanishing point.

Not only had I lost my work routine, but also my weekend one, and, as a result, all the associated people contact. I didn't see much of my friends, either, as I felt unable to relax and socialise when I didn't have a job. Often days went by when my only face-to-face human contact was with supermarket cashiers - and with Aldi's high-speed service, even that was fleeting.

I became aware that being home alone so much was contributing to my mental decline; I simply had too much time to think. Although I've always been happy in my own company, and never short of projects to occupy me (even when not job-hunting), I began to feel very isolated.

I'm now in the sixth week of my new part-time position, which means I'm out of the house for at least three days a week, which has definitely improved my mental state. In addition, learning new processes has occupied my brain to the extent that there's no room for my usual anxieties - at least, not while I'm at work.

Isolation is often a feature of mental health conditions and my recent experience has shown me how that isolation can actually make such conditions worse.

Image courtesy of sakhorn38/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Of course, it takes great effort and courage to break out of that situation, especially if you suffer from, say, depression or social anxiety. 

However, whether that break-out means securing a job, taking up a volunteering role, or just arranging to see a friend for coffee, the pay-off is definitely worth it.

4 May 2016

We've got talent

I spent a couple of months unemployed earlier this year and became very despondent at the initial lack of response to my job applications.

On reflection, it's likely that this was because I was targeting administrative positions in schools, for which competition is fierce and where preference is, naturally, given to those with past experience in that environment. 

My job centre advisor, however, asked me if I thought age discrimination was at play. Although that hadn't occurred to me, I had been speculating as to whether my mental health status was to blame.

I mention both my blog and my novel on my CV and in applications, as I feel my writing achievements demonstrate some good skills and personal qualities. Anybody checking out my website or my book would quickly get an insight into my 'issues'.

Eventually, I began receiving invitations to interview and I made reference to having OCD at all three that I attended; later I wondered if that contributed to the first two rejections. However, these were also for school jobs and feedback on one second place outcome was that it was due to my lack of experience within education.

It would, in fact, be hard for me to conceal the truth of my situation. An internet search of my name - a common practice amongst employers these days - would soon throw up the same information as I choose to share.

Given my relatively high profile online, an employer would inevitably find out about my background sooner or later, and if they don't like it, then we're probably not the right fit for each other anyway.

All kinds of health conditions can lead to talented people being overlooked, as the BBC programme Employable Me demonstrated. This three-part documentary series focussed on five men and one woman, who all had disorders that were impossible to hide face to face: Tourette syndrome, autism and Asperger syndrome, which is a form of autism.

For these individuals, job-hunting had proved a soul-destroying experience and most had failed ever to secure an interview. 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
Yet tests revealed they all had astonishing talents that could easily be put to good use in the right setting. Happily there was a positive outcome for each of them, either in terms of identifying a suitable career direction or in finding work.

Many of us have great skills to offer because our brains are wired differently, whether these skills are directly related to our condition or not. 

In my case, I'm extremely well organised and have an excellent eye for detail, which may have developed as a result of my OCD - which is focussed on order and symmetry - or vice versa. Either way, these abilities are part and parcel of my slightly unusual make-up.

For others, simply experiencing a mental illness - or any other challenging health condition - gives them a greater empathy for their fellow human beings, which can be helpful in a variety of work environments.

Employers will never know what they're missing unless they give a chance to those of us who are a little different.