The Anxious Commute

As many people are aware twelve months ago I had my first day of an Occupational Therapy placement. This was part of my solitary year of studying the health and social care vocation at the University of Derby. I am grateful for the support and warmth received by all. As this experience proved to be the major catalyst in my poor mental health of 2018 and meant that I pursued a different route than what I was hoping to.

A year on, I am rebuilding and improving myself step by step, finding avenues where I want to produce good for others. As well as improve my own self-worth and self-esteem. I hope that you appreciate this short story which I wrote for my Introduction to Creative Forms module’s assignment in the winter of 2018. It details my emotions on the commute on my first morning and acts as a tribute with respect to those who strongly battle through mental health challenges every day.

Placements are not easy but with anxiety they can feel like waddling through treacle. Poor mental health is not always clearly visible but please do not turn away if you see someone in anguish. Always be kind. Listen fully with your heart. 

It is a 5:45 am; far too early to want to hear my alarm blare out but despite this I obey this unnatural call. Groggily, I
put on my spectacles and switch off the siren. Relentless cars pass the window as dawn is breaking on this mid-April
morning. Sitting up on the edge of the single bed facing the wooden wardrobe, I blink and make a drowsy stagger,
feeling my way towards the en-suite wet room.

A yawn expels from within me; I am still not comfortable with the hour of the day. My fingers fumble as I prod the
light switch, activating the extractor fan, alerting me to more noise telling me the day is about to begin. Aiming to
steer myself from sleep I shower and prepare for an exciting new chapter. As I brush my teeth feverishly –
remembering it is important to present well; my eyes feel heavy.

My first proper thoughts of the day are dazed and querying my level of sleep. Back in the bedroom, I get dressed into
casual, familiar clothes knowing I will have to get dressed again once at my destination. It is clear that the mind is
unsettled, excitement undoubtedly present but so is anxiety. I attempt to push back these nerves by reminding
myself why I am doing this.

I take a glance at my mobile phone sitting beside my glass bereft of the water I had drunk in the night and find there
are no important notifications to attend to right now. Fully clothed, I draw open the tawdry curtains, letting in the
mildly warm sunshine which is peeking through the silvery thin clouds. More vehicles are embarking on their early
morning routes as if the night never existed. I check my rucksack as I have got some time; pencil case – tick, notepad
– tick, a folder full of documents – tick.

My neatly folded uniform sits within a bag for life, clothing that will define my chosen career path, a plain white polyester tunic, bottle green trousers made of the same material and newly purchased black trainers. Tucked within the left shoe are my name badge and a bright green nurse’s watch.

I take a deep breath, scan the room for anything else I need. No, I am good to go.

A final anxious check. Keys; securely attached to my lanyard are lifted over my head and around my neck, jangling as I reach down to make my bed. I take my phone off the charging cable. Still void of notifications and messages. Nervously I look around my room as I remind myself of why I am doing this. Deep breath in and deep breath out. One more check. Wallet; enough money for the day and Mango card inside for the fare, I put my leather pouch into my jeans pocket.

Now I am ready, just need to pick up my pre-prepared lunchbox from the communal kitchen. Feeling shaky I open my door to the outside world. The corridor and floors above, silent. I grab my lunch and notice dirty plates of flatmates in the sink left to soak – hoping that by the time I return they will be clean and not just sitting idle. I take some initial steps outside with the rucksack on my back.

The air is calm; my mind is not. With my free hand, I check the time on my phone, still no messages and I yearn for some form of comforting communication, but it is only 6:15 am. No-one else I know is out of bed. I walk past my window making my way into
the city centre — eyes focused on the route ahead of me. Straight down Friar Gate, turning right onto St Peter’s
Street, a left onto East Street, across the road stands the modern bus station. Very few pedestrians around, mainly
delivery lorry drivers, working quickly to escape the imminent rush hour.

The automatic doors of the terminal open and I locate bay number three where I will pick up the bus and sit on a
bench anxiously with my bag beside me. My nerves have gone on the attack. Still, fifteen minutes to go until the bus
arrives. I get my pre-paid Mango travel card out of my wallet and then seek solace from my mobile phone to shut
myself off from the surroundings.

I send out a Facebook status update which goes out to friends both near and far from me. The message tries to
convey I am excited and confident, however, inside I know I am sinking within the cold metallic seat. I send out a
tweet offering a motivational quote to my followers; again, attempting to remind myself of the objective and the
reason I’m putting myself through this.

Seven minutes until the bus approaches; I blink and audibly yawn again. I look towards the convenience shop,
distracting my frazzled mind with thoughts about food. Not sure what to eat tonight once I get back – an inner voice
suggests I wait to see how today goes first. A small number of reactions to my Facebook post demonstrate that
people are waking up and starting their day. Five minutes until the bus makes its way to the bay door. A text from
my Mum cradles me during an insecure moment. She sends me best wishes and informs me she is proud of me. I
respond. She can probably sense my nerves in my reply.

Buses from other bays pull in and out as passengers exchange greetings. The radio informs the listeners to traffic
news, but my mind does not register the obstacles which affect that morning’s traffic. My phone vibrates again. The
University cohort’s group chat shares my emotion. Today we are all united, nerves jangling sharing the same anxiety
of what lies ahead for the next ten weeks and promise to be supportive of one another. I decide to send a message
of support to those equally worried. However, before I hit send, another message of support flashes upon my
screen.

I feel my heart race as I see the red bus pull up and as the bay doors open, I feel cold air brush past me. I shiver, and
frantically I check my phone is sat comfortably in my pocket. I grip my travel card as I put my arms through the loops
of my rucksack — others who had been gathering while I was in a trance stand to attention and climb aboard before
me. This gives me another chance to breathe in and out, closing my eyes for a second, I hold myself within the
moment before stepping forward as if I was due to skydive.

I step onto the bus, issue my Mango card against the reader and mumble sleepily “Good Morning” at the ticket
machine beside the driver’s steering wheel. I heard the beep signalling the travel card has been credited. I scan the
sparsely filled bus with my eyes for a place to sit, I choose a window seat fairly near the front and place my bag for
life on the seat near the aisle and remove my rucksack. I clutch it tight like a young child in my arms as I hear the
driver turn the ignition key and the engines rumble.

The bus doors close behind me, and the vehicle begins to reverse. There is no going back as my senses become live. I
feel the fibre of the seat act like Velcro against my jeans. I feel my phone vibrate again; I scrabble around in my
pocket for it. I look at the luminous screen and the recent flurry of messages and notifications which have now
appeared. I respond to them, unaware of the journey before settling and taking in the route.
Passengers come and go, the talkative, silent, sleepy, focused, men, women and children all share my journey and
world. The journey was uneventful but I feel my breathing is increasing and my heart is undoubtedly pulsating at a
faster rate as we enter the town of Ilkeston.

Soon it will be my time to indicate I want to step off. The bus jogs along the main road outside the 1980s built
hospital and I do one more check of everything within sight before pressing the bell. “Bus stopping” illuminates and
with my heavy load, I waddle towards the doors of the vehicle.

The sun, now higher in the sky than when I left Derby brings an inviting warmth to the car park. A queue of
uniformed schoolchildren politely wait for me to disembark. I thank the driver as I tap off the travel card and step
down and into the foyer of the community hospital. I send a quick text to my Educator to announce my arrival. I wait
for her and peer around sheepishly, trying to hide my anxiety. There is no going back home now

I am forever grateful for all those involved with Occupational Therapy whether they are qualified in practice or those on the lecturing team at the University of Derby for their valued part of the multi-disciplinary team which acts as a vital role within health and social care.

I loved my time as a University of Derby Occupational Therapy student, I was proud to be a representative in the 2017 cohort’s first year and to be named runner-up for College Star of the Year nominated by my peers. I am thankful for their warmth and determination as they carry on working towards their own goal to make sure life is worth living and full of fulfilment. 

To learn more about the vocation please look at this NHS video on how Occupational Therapy can benefit an individual – https://www.nhs.uk/Video/Pages/Occupationaltherapy.aspx

Another great resource is the Royal College of Occupational Therapists

For further information on the University of Derby’s Occupational Therapy programme please consider looking at the website – https://www.derby.ac.uk/undergraduate/occupational-therapy-courses/occupational-therapy-bsc-hons/

Starting afresh in my career: Jumping from Lilypad to Lilypad

We are all faced with choices and opportunities to do something that we feel will make us happy through our lives. This may be pursue a relationship, travel to a new place, move house, take up a new hobby, make new friendships among many other things. For me, I am delighted to confirm that I will be starting a new chapter in my life which will present a new career and path, in this blog post I look on how I have decided to take the plunge in retraining myself to become an Occupational Therapist after nearly ten years of employment and what I have achieved in my career to date.

A little over twelve months ago, I was starting to seriously question what I want to achieve in life, feeling that I ought to make a change at some point and something in the not too distant future. My initial thoughts included a consideration about relocating myself from my home city of Derby and looking at something very new and somewhere where the grass appeared greener for my liking. The pondering of moving north of the border to Scotland whetted my appetite for a spell in view of moving to the towns in Stirlingshire such as Falkirk and Stirling.

Concerns from loved ones were raised as they did not feel due to my autistic shyness that I was ready for such an adventurous choice of changing my life that dramatically. The second worry from people of what I would do for a career if I made this move. Admittedly, it was more of a pipe dream, so I quickly backtracked that option but my desire to do something different kept crossing my mind .

Since 2007, unclear with what I really wanted to do for a job properly after completing two A Level qualifications (in Sports Science and Geography) and not ready to go off to university, I have worked at a local accountancy firm in the city centre of Derby once moving back from rural Lincolnshire. During the summer months I also gained the European Computer Driving Licence qualification

I was initially interviewed to be an administrative assistant and do an apprenticeship at a local college and spend time helping the tax department, but after impressing the then senior partner of the firm I was offered an accountancy apprenticeship however after one year of learning the first year of the AAT (Association of Accounting Technician) course I was called in and asked whether I’d like to assist the IT manager providing I found a course to aid my progress in the career.

A search started for something that would stimulate my mind and be possible to replace the AAT apprenticeship I had begun and that would give me a day release method of learning. Finally after a few weeks of looking, I inquired about doing a Higher National Diploma at the University of Derby in the subject of Computing and Internet Technology. Studying an average of three modules a semester all seemed a positive move learning a variety of different modules covering programming, web design, networking and database technologies.

However difficulties ensued when I was informed that due to lack of funding the HND would be scrapped, with little pastoral care from the course leader I had to find equivalent modules to support my career choice. Acting as my own middle manager between my workplace and the university to coordinate this, I managed to complete all available modules to me within the time frame I had set myself to achieve this qualification despite the various hiccups. So after starting in the autumn of 2008, by the summer of 2011 I had learned enough ready for a graduation service in January the following year.

Taking a shine and interest to learning about how to design and code websites, in addition to studying and the four day working week at the accountancy firm. I had contacted a business owner who had asked for volunteers who assist on re-developing a website he and a business partner had set up which was aiming to be a basic social platform for those interested in gardening to communicate, swap ideas and possibly even their plants – however due to the emergence of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms it was losing ground.

Offering plenty of food for thought, the business owner and his colleague were impressed by my attitude and I firmly became involved in trying to give it a new lease of life however technical and financial difficulties made it almost impossible for me to achieve the ambitions, but me and the business owner have stayed in relative contact since then and he has been very supportive of my career movements.

On top of this opportunity, I also looked at my interest with football statistics and contacted volunteered myself to help with the data entry on the Association of Football Statisticians website which they offered me the chance to fill in the data of the results, goalscorers, bookings and teamsheets of several League Two (English Fourth Division) for the end of season run in. It gave me a sense of power knowing that these statistics which I gathered from reliable sources would be forever be stored and used elsewhere by others interested.

After a period of twiddling my thumbs from activities outside of work and attending football matches, I then applied for another voluntary opportunity to data input, but this time for the video game Football Manager. Produced by Sega and Sports Interactive, I had been a fan of the title simulation game since the  mid-1990s when it was previously known as Championship Manager.

Sports Interactive invite supporters and avid individuals who are passionate about their team to help with produce the quality data on the vast database of which the game is renowned for. In mid Spring 2013, they showed an advert on their social media channels looking for someone to assist with the Derby County data. Excited, I emailed the contact and explained why I would hope to get the role, not believing I was good enough, however during a short holiday on the French Rivera, I found out that if I was still interested that I had been accepted and beaten an unnamed journalist to the role.

I gleefully accepted and began to assist a short time later helping the initial data for the 2014 version which as a courtesy I gained for free for my help along with my name in the credits. The season proved to be a positive and memorable season of change at the East Midlands club when they reached the Play-off final only to be defeated by a 90th minute winner. A few weeks later I decided to conclude after a 15 month stint of doing my service as I prepared for my first stab of some education to boost my career further.

While assisting with the web design project mentioned above and keeping in close contact with many friends via social media, my interest grew in learning how people use the platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and many others to market their businesses, products and services grew and felt that after agreeing to up my hours at the accountancy firm to five days a week I would like to see if there was any way I could prove proficiency in Social Media marketing.

Thankfully I stumbled across a BTEC Level 3 qualification which was handled by a company based in Market Harborough called Zest Communications in Leicestershire which would give me online based tuition for four half days, one per week and then expect me to use the skills and techniques learnt to conduct a short campaign. I decided as a way of trying to boost my self-employed career as a web designer and marketer that I would start with nothing and see if I created any interest. The campaign running for a fortnight produced small attraction to me and my skillset however the experience and understanding how I could improve proved to be good enough to earn the qualification and hopefully boost my career.

Subsequently, I have also taken on a few other minor consultancy responsibilities for getting websites operating and attempted to encourage the accountancy firm to take a chance of using social media to increase business opportunities.

With my work requirements remaining steady, my mind began to wander, and I got more and more interested in politics and after the 2015 General Election I made the step from being a member of the Green Party of England and Wales (which I had only begun doing less than three months before) to taking part in a newly forming committee group in the city of Derby after a surge in people voting Green. Since then I have certainly taken on a few duties which have formed an interesting start to a political career path.

As I have participated more and more politically and made some good friendships via my experiences which have increased my confidence within myself and lead me to think about helping others in a more hands on way. With a big passion to help those with mental health issues, I began to think about how I would get into a career which did support patients with various mental health difficulties. Assessing the NHS careers website, I discussed firstly with my parents and then with a few friends who work in the health care industries about the different roles which interested me. However after probably misinterpreting a friend’s suggestion I stumbled across Occupational Therapy.

After reading more into what an Occupational Therapist does, I saw that the only pathway for said career was to go to university, further reading led me to see that the University of Derby was one of the places which I could study, so it got to the festive time in late 2016 and I decided to fill in an application via UCAS, and attended an Open Day on my 28th birthday all in late February and early March 2017. At the Open Day I took advice on trying to get a couple of days shadowing experience, using a contact via my mother, I managed to view a day at local hospitals in early April ahead of an interview for the course just after the Easter long weekend.

The interview day was a long and fully engaging day, I was told to wait up to the end of April to find out if I had been given an offer, thankfully I was told almost within 36 hours after returning home feeling shattered from the interview day. I was now making good tracks towards making this career change, a few weeks later it was discussed with my parents that I would also move into the university’s halls of residence accommodation for my first year as a way of taking my first steps towards being independent.

So for those who are not sure what Occupational Therapy is, it is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The use of particular activities as an aid to recuperation from physical or mental illness.” which means that an Occupational Therapist will look at ways to get their patients back to what they want to do in life after a set back which fits my ambition to make people’s lives better. My time at the accountancy firm will conclude on Friday 25 August. Which will mean that in that time, I will have been employed 3645 calendar days. I would like to thank them for the support and opportunities they have given me as their employee.

In the near future I will hope to write posts about my progress through the undergraduate degree course.

This video demonstrates the difference between what an Occupational Therapist can offer compared to a social worker carer for an elderly gentleman who suffered a physical injury. It is an official video advert produced by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists as part of the campaign to highlight the dehumanisation of social care services.

As Occupational Therapists want to give the patients an opportunity to live and enjoy their life rather than just feel they are existing and just coping with things.

Along with studying Occupational Therapy at the University of Derby, I have other ambitions I wish to fulfill in the near future which include learning the following:

I also hope to do the following as part of my life affirming experiences and hobbies:

  • Attend the Harry Potter – A History of Magic exhibition at the British Library
  • Join various societies at the university and join different social groups doing various activities
  • Walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats for various charities specifically Mental Health charities (further details on this will be discussed in a future post).
  • Getting a student rail card and travel more around the UK both doing solo travel and seeing friends.
  • Continue to blog more regularly.