“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
This post truly has been a long time coming, because it really should have been written/published when I actually began my new voluntary role as Head of Marketing and Communications with Time To Inspire, way back in the beginning of May! However, so many other bits of content need to be created around that time – particularly the Cats Protection series of posts (you can read the final post with the links for all the others, here) because they really had to be timed in accordance with getting my brand-new, little kitten; Ruby. Finally finding the time/opportunity to write this blog post, I was filled with the inspiration to talk about all the things I’ve thought about, learnt to deal with, have fortunately experienced, and things I’ve found myself confident enough to feel I can give advice on…
In High School, we were taught that it was your GCSE exams, then A Levels, and then University, in order to get a decent job. There was never any education or information given on Apprenticeships, College courses, voluntary jobs, or online learning; it was as though the way we were taught was the only way. This mistaken belief meant that after passing all of my 9 GCSE exams/subjects, I went on to a new School to study my A Levels and, after two years, as they crept to a close, I almost automatically began applying to Universities to study Law (when the abuse eventually ended just before my GCSE’s, I found myself developing an interest to be in a profession where I could help others who might go through a similar traumatic experience).
This complete lack/absence of knowledge on the fact there can be various routes to some types of employment, meant that when I began hallucinating just over a week before the day, I had three A Level exams; I added the conviction that I wasn’t going to get anywhere in life now to my reasons to make my first suicide attempt on that examination day. I remember being so focused on keeping track of how many tablets I’d taken that I only got half way through the first exam in the allotted time, then I only answered one question on the second exam, and just wrote my name on the third! Afterwards, I remember crying and telling the teacher who was our Head of Year that I had nothing left to live for because I had failed everything and would never get into university now. If only she’d told me that there were so many other ways to improve my education and to get a job, I might have felt a little bit more hopeful.
As it’s turned out, I now have an affinity to the marketing and communications industry that I had never experienced with my aim to work in law – which is something I’ll talk about later in this post. However, having that experience of applying to university… and yes, learning the overwhelming nature of the criteria to attend has made a difference to me now; but more so knowing the price of the courses and the huge challenges that come with applying for and then getting funding and grants to cover your student fees…Having that insight has meant that having a voluntary job at the level of hierarchy I’m now at, leaves me thinking of all the people who have thousands of pounds worth of debt and have spent over four years studying so hard, but are still struggling to find a job. I’ve struggled not to feel sympathetic to those people, but I’m also trying to keep in mind that I’ve worked my butt off too – maybe in a totally different way/context; but still. I have worked hard to get to where I am in my life and career-wise.
I. Do your research on the employer to show a genuine interest and passion for the job
II. Re-read your CV and covering letter to remind yourself of what they already know about you
III. Remember the role’s advertised responsibilities to give examples of your ability to fulfil them
IV. Get plenty of rest/sleep prior to it so that you feel energised and can show more excitement
V. Provide examples of the skills or experiences you have that other interviewees might not
VI. Allow time to prepare practically for the interview e.g., downloading any apps etc.
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘a voluntary role isn’t a real job’ then please just stop reading – because I recognise the incredibly massive and obvious differences, but I will promote a sense of equality in terms of responsibilities and hierarchy. Volunteers shouldn’t be seen as any less important or less skilled than paid staff as though a wage dictates and defines just how knowledgeable and experienced you are. I mean, in the marketing and communications industry, it actually tends to be quite the opposite – those working voluntarily typically have more experience because they’ve been able to work a few roles at once and/or because they’ve been able to move between organisations and roles more easily without being subject to a strict contract with regulations surrounding notice periods etc.
So, with that said… My first real voluntary role in my recovery, was in 2014 with Time To Change (an organisation running a huge campaign for less mental health stigma, but they were denied further funding a few years ago) and it involved being at a shopping centre in Leeds and handing out leaflets raising awareness of mental illness – I actually blogged about it here. I remember feeling so proud wearing the Time to Change t-shirt and being given a badge with my name on it! It was the first time in a long time that I had felt as though I was being really productive and experienced some level of importance! I felt wanted.
To have gone from handing leaflets out to now – nine years later – being the Head of Marketing and Communications for this new Community Interest Company (CIC) Time To Inspire? Well, I get those nine years are quite a long time and that perhaps, to some people, this level of progress is kind of normal and almost expected… But for me, it’s quite surreal. I mean, it’s not as though I’ve been working consistently for nine years because so much has happened in that time; I’ve lost sight of my future on so many occasions – I’ve done things to end the chance of me even having a future on numerous occasions – but somehow, I’ve found my way back into the light. And for me, to be viewed as capable of taking on such a senior role, is a huge testament to my mental health recovery. It’s illustrated that I truly started at the bottom and worked my way up.
I know that one huge element of people climbing the career ladder can be the consideration of whether they’ve stepped on anyone to do so… l think that this is obviously an element that is perhaps more relevant when it comes to a more formal, office setting and you’re applying for a promotion. For me, I think it’s perhaps been applicable more in the blogging world and then how I’ve used that to give me a boost up the career ladder. But it hasn’t been so much about stepping on people as it has prioritising, I’m NOT Disordered and doing all I can to improve it and to publicise it in the hope that will offer me a better chance of helping others through my content.
I guess that leads nicely onto talking about priorities and how it’s a topic that has become not only so much more important now that I have this role, but also; it’s a much more regular task that seems to be challenging me – at the very least – daily. Before this job, my priorities have typically only been around my blog and working on content for it and writing my new book. It’s kind of ironic that just when I was getting the hang of figuring out which document I need to work on and when by considering the deadlines or planned publishing date for each blog post and aspects of the book; I’ve put myself in the position where I really need to figure all of that out all over again!
When it comes to juggling the tasks for my job, my blog posts, and my book; it’s taken me almost two months, but I’m feel like I’m getting there in terms of prioritising to the best of my ability and to a level where none of these responsibilities are negatively impacted in any way from each other and from my inability to manage/maintain all of them at once. I think that it’s really helped that I struggle to ‘admit defeat’ and that I have so much passion and excitement for all three of these commitments because these qualities have made me more determined and more dedicated to the need to learn how to balance all of them.
So, the secret? Balancing having a routine around them with being versatile and flexible. So, the pattern I tend to adhere to is to work primarily on my book and blog posts during the week because I’m trying to publish a blog post at least once a week and with it seeming to be on a Saturday, it means I need to have a post done for then. Which means that I then use the weekend to do the majority of my Time To Inspire work, tasks, and responsibilities. I also, however, recognise that I need to check my work email inbox throughout Monday to Friday and this might sometimes mean that I have to fulfil urgent tasks during those days.
One of the most troubling beliefs I had when my mental health was at it’s most poorly (2009 – 2014) was that I was destined to commit suicide at a young age so as to highlight the failures and mistakes of mental health services. I was fully convinced that this was my purpose. I mean, I’m very sceptical when it comes to religious beliefs; but I do agree with something my Nana always said: “everything happens for a reason.” And so, I looked for a reason why I had been born and then why I had gone through the abuse and then I wondered why my mental health had gotten to the point it had…
Thankfully (sort of, at least), I was sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act in 2012 and admitted to a specialist psychiatric hospital where I underwent two and a half years of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). In Therapy, I was taught to rationalise this belief and consider the evidence there is to the contrary of it rather than completely solely zoning in on anything that supported it. And in having this improved insight and more balanced thought process, I was in a good position for when the time came that I found myself recognising that actually, I had gone through all of that hardship, to create I’m NOT Disordered and become a blogger and use my experiences to help others. I felt a purpose. A reassuring, passionate purpose that wasn’t anything even remotely similar to that which I had felt from the conviction of being destined to commit suicide.
Having gone between a number of different career paths that have varied from wanting to become a horse-riding instructor to wanting to work with children as a Play Therapist – and literally everything in between over the years; I’m comforted to have finally found an industry where I truly feel like I belong. And I recognise that might sound strange to some people who may believe that there are so many other careers out there – outside of marketing and communications – where it’d be a lot more understandable for a person to feel they have ‘found their calling.’ I mean, don’t you get a lot of medical professionals and emergency service workers making statements similar to that? How often do you hear someone talk that way about this industry? Do you hear many people say that creating social media reports and designing publicity materials feels like something they’re just meant to do. Something where they finally feel that they have a home in the working world.
Having missed out on university, and then spending three years really poorly with my mental health and then an additional two and a half years in a psychiatric hospital, it’s been incredibly hard to resist the thought and feeling that I’ve ‘wasted’ an enormous part of my life. A huge chunk of time when I could have been furthering my education or finding my way onto a rung on the career ladder. And instead, I was running away to towns and cities all over the country, making suicide attempts, being in hospital hooked up to drips, being on life support twice… All of that can very easily feel like such a waste of valuable time, but rather than struggle with that notion; I choose to look at it from a totally different angle. Instead, I believe that I had to go through all of that or I wouldn’t have found the passion that has obviously been behind me managing to successfully land this incredible opportunity and role with Time To Inspire.
In recognising my keen interest and skill in marketing and communications, I began searching for relevant volunteering roles on www.reachvolunteering.org.uk and I was drawn to this role, but I recognised that I might not have any real understanding of the cause Time To Inspire are all about (supporting parents who are struggling typically through mental illness and/or legal procedures). But I thought about it for a while and found motivation to apply in the thought of my Mum bringing me up as a single parent for my entire life and thinking about whether this entire journey with my mental illness has impacted her wellbeing too. It left me feeling passionate and more invested in the role; which I tried to utilise and illustrate in my interview with the company’s Founder and Director; Alen Tomasic.
Having a slight lack of empathy has helped me around the thoughts on having a purpose though. It’s meant that I’ve sort of thought of this role as a bit of a welcome break from the focus on relevant mental health issues and on trauma and abuse. It’s meant that I’m not completely surrounded by things that might be a bit close to home – too close, sometimes. It feels nice to put some attention and thought into something that doesn’t totally affect me and which I don’t feel completely and utterly overwhelmed and emotional around. It’s also really refreshing to be working in an area where I’m learning a lot about things that I might not have normally gained knowledge of. Things where my thoughts, feelings, and opinions aren’t shadowed or phased by personal experience that might result in both a warped view of the topic and a pre-conceived attitude in my actions.
And so, having ‘gratitude’ for this job is an intensely ineffective understatement.