Being a carer changed my life.
When I graduated in 2012 from University of Birmingham, I was dead set on working in children’s services. My first job post university was as a family support/learning mentor in a primary school in Sandwell. I enjoyed the role, it was fast paced and varied and I loved working in an educational setting. I got really involved in helping the Pastoral lead with safeguarding concerns and associated meetings.
I applied for an unqualified role as being in two non-statutory placements at university knocked my confidence a little in applying for a local authority post. I worried I wasn’t able to take on a LA role.
I left my job as learning mentor in October 2012, as the maternity cover contract wasn’t extended so I chose to move to Staffordshire and began a life there with my husband. However, I struggled to find a similar post. I applied for about 9 jobs before giving up and going into care work. I became pregnant with my son and had to give up work for a time. Nevertheless, after having my son in April 2014, I found that I didn’t really enjoy being a ‘stay at home mum’. I suffered with post-natal depression and was desperate to get into a qualified post. As I began to recover (with my GPs help) I was suddenly hit with a massive blow to my heart and mind – my husband at only 29 years was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
My life became incredibly difficult.
My husband’s condition worsened over the next 18 months and I struggled with being a new parent and felt torn between the boundaries of wife and carer. In November 2014 I began working for a private advocacy organisation – Health advocacy UK , my friend’s mum and now my best friend and mentor, Lyn, had set this company up and was looking for a social worker to complete the team. I began to review and challenge CHC decisions and found the work a good distraction from being a carer to my husband, however I struggled to balance caring responsibilities and my work often fell behind. I felt torn between my career and my personal life. Lyn was extremely supportive of my circumstances and never pressured me to increase my work load, never forced me to choose.
In November 2015 my husband sadly passed away. The cancer had spread quickly from his bowel to his liver to his spine and his recent radiotherapy treatment had not worked. After his death I tried to push my trauma into the background and as a result had a bit of an anxious breakdown early the following year. I re-applied for other social work jobs but just wasn’t able to take on the responsibility with my brain still so focused on grieving and the pain I was feeling. I felt like all my empathy had been drained away and I was no longer able to help and care for others.
I took a break from Social work for a few months to get myself back on track and give myself time to heal. I was convinced I needed a complete career change and that I’d never be myself again.
Rediscovering my strength
Lyn really believed in me and slowly helped me get back into social work by supporting me with mental capacity assessments and over time and with 6 months of counselling I began to feel less anxious and began to challenge my thoughts. I realised that I could help others again, I just needed to deal with my own trauma, it wasn’t my fault what had happened and I was different but that was okay.
A year later I can now walk into an assessment without stuttering and without telling myself that I cannot do my job. I can relate to a lot of the families of service users that I work with who care for their relative. I understand the strain and the emotional challenges that they face. I have also recently been working with young people with eating disorders and although I can’t pretend I know what they are going through, what I can say is that you can go through a rough time and yes it will be hard but you are more than what you are going through and your strength can get you to where you want to be. That aspect of things I can understand completely, and it has definitely changed my practice.
I’ve taught myself that this anxiety, this voice that rears its ugly head at times is only a voice trying to challenge me and that I do not have to listen to it, I ask it- what evidence do you have to say that I can’t do my job? Absolutely none.
I have found strength in my experiences, learning to turn negatives into positives in that I can relate to service users more and I have learnt to believe in myself.
I am just about to embark on my first LA post in a learning disabilities team and I am beyond excited. I finally feel that my struggles have paid off and I am excited to see what the future holds.
Thank you for reading my story and I hope it inspires you to know that despite your struggles you can really do what you want to do if you want to do it.
Contributed by Steph Jarvis.
While you're here...
If you’re working with someone who is dealing with grief, it’s important to be aware of the different resources available to develop your practice in relation to mental health issues. One Stop Social host a range of helpful tools, including the following: