It has been a while since I last posted a blog, due to a combination of ill health and my attempts to return to work, it leaves little time to write my blog. I hope that you enjoy the first installment of my journey back to work.
After a car accident, I went from being the running, jumping, climbing trees type, to barely being able to get off my sofa. I went to the doctors several times, begged them to help but got ignored. I was accused of being a drug addict, faker, hypochondriac and more.
Eventually I found someone who was able to help and I was diagnosed with a combination of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Degenerative Disc Disease, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia, Early onset Osteoarthritis and Fibromyalgia, amongst other more challenging complications and injuries. This only added to my existing concerns with Dyspraxia and Dyslexia. (None of which are easy to spell)
I spent a lot of time listening to people tell me what I would never be able to do again, and I believed them. Things began to get worse, to the point where I was forced to give up my business as a driving instructor on 31st July 2014. I became depressed and desperate, and with my partner getting his diagnosis of Non Hodgkin Lymphoma, things grew ever darker.
I applied for thousands of jobs but as soon as they discovered I had a long-term health condition they refused to hire me. That was when I decided to go self-employed again, but this time doing something I love, theatre. I realised, that it was going to hurt regardless of what I did, but doing something I love would help to keep my brain occupied enough to reduce the pain until I went to bed; even then, it's worth every sleepless night and every ache it causes.
It took me a while but eventually I found something that helped (although didn't cure) and my mission to return to work began two years ago. I first tried going to the Job centre (JCP) to see our disabilities adviser, everything I asked for help on, was declined. When I asked what she could do she told me "not much." The staff barely knew what options they had to improve our chances of returning to work. I asked if they had a disabled friendly employers list, no. I asked if they would help me write my CV as I was over qualified for the jobs I was physically able to do, I was told I should just accept whatever came along. It was quickly established, through an offhand comment, that my return to work was much more important than my health or even survival.
Each route I tried with the JCP was thwarted. I tried joining the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) which sounded fantastic and appeared to have so much potential. Unfortunately though, the adviser's knew nothing about how they could help me with my specific needs, nor did they offer the mentor scheme anymore and all of the free courses which were promised on the gov.uk website were no longer available. What's more, there was no accounting for people with disabilities on this scheme.
We were given the same tight time-scales as those without the added struggle. I sat and listened as the job centre adviser, who was supposed to help me, put up barrier after barrier; telling me the things that I needed before I started my business wouldn't be available until after I no longer needed them. I asked how I could get around my disability and was informed to simply "not tell the potential employer so as not to put them off." Which would mean I would get no protection from the law should the new employer try to discriminate later on.
Over the next two years I applied for thousands of jobs. Sometimes I would get through to the phone interview, but being as I was over qualified for many of the jobs I applied for, the inevitable question arose. Why had I applied for such a low-level job when I was capable of so much more? As soon as they found out I had a long-term health condition the atmosphere would change and I found myself being rejected for jobs I could do in my sleep.
Fed up with this I returned home and gave up on the NEA and the JCP only to watch a news report telling me how people with disabilities were not returning to work because they were on "too much benefit" and their money should be cut, to the tune of £30 per week. I listened as the politician being interviewed told the reporter how people with disabilities put up barriers and how there were many fantastic schemes they could go on to help them return to work. This is not my experience.
It's all well and good finding a job, but the problems soon crop up once employed. Many employers are so concerned about sickness rates, many people who do find jobs end up back on ESA within a few months and there is no support system for this. Instead we get punished with cuts and criticism. Many of my friends who do work with a chronic illness are often bullied, demeaned or sacked within months of starting their new job.
Eventually, having had enough I decided to open my own business so I could employ people like myself and so ACTION ADVENTURE THEATRE PRODUCTIONS was born. My policy is to hire anyone who would otherwise not have the opportunity and to help them achieve their dreams, all I ask is the right attitude, a bit of raw talent, dedication and a the willingness to learn.
It is key, in order to truly help disabled people back to work, for us to support and encourage each other, instead of punish and beat those living with painful conditions. With my fantastic team and amazing Business partner (Jenny Gilbert) I am finally able to take the steps needed to return to work. Sometimes, we have to realise that those we love, who are now sick, are unable to do the things they did before. Not everyone can work, but most want to, so ask yourself, what can you do to help keep a chronically sick person sane?
I will be detailing more on my experiences on returning to work in further blogs but I would love to hear about your experiences, so tell me... How have you found returning to work with a disability?