Close up photo of person smiling, wearing casual clothes with cafe seating in the background

I was at the stage where I was ready to change. I had the motivation. I’d just finished college, all my friends were going to uni, and I was sitting at home alone.

“Work is part of recovery”

I want to help others by sharing my story.

I’ve always been self-conscious with what I say to people and that’s always been something that plays on the mind. I used to lack a lot of confidence, sit in the corner and not say anything. Sometimes I still do that. But for the last year or so things have changed.

I was diagnosed with mental health challenges at 15. I suffer with anxiety and I’ve got fibromyalgia as well. I’m in muscular pain constantly. I get very tense and it stops me from making certain movements. It varies from a ten which is really bad to a two or three which is bearable.

I didn’t get diagnosed with fibromyalgia until a few years ago. Having a diagnosis helped me realise I’m not going mad or making it up and my family can understand the pain I’ve been in and why I’ve been feeling the way I do.

It affected me because I was scared of doing things with the amount of pain I was in, but once I’m doing something, it takes my mind off the pain. That is why work is part of recovery.

I want to develop the confidence to know that if I am in a lot of pain, I can still do something and not let it defeat me.

I’ve had work experience in the past but have never found anything that’s right for me.

A year ago my NHS counsellor recommended Southdown’s Supported Employment service to me. They said an Employment Specialist would support me in finding a job that was right for me to cope with.

I was at the stage where I was ready to change. I had the motivation. I’d just finished college, all my friends were going to uni, and I was sitting at home alone.

My Employment Specialist helped me find what’s right for me without me knowing what it was. She’s pushed me gently. She has given me the confidence to understand I can do things, I can find something that’s right for me and not let my anxiety take over.

When we first met we started talking about my likes and dislikes, what I’ve got training in, and what I’d like to do.

We initially met weekly in a café and have sessions where we come up with lots of ideas and I go home with lots of things I want to do!

I’ve felt I’ve been able to open up about my other issues that I haven’t been able to do with counsellors. They often tell me just to breathe!

It feels good to be open about these things. In the past I used to frown on myself. It wasn’t normal to have lots of issues and talk about it.

You need to accept yourself to help yourself. Unfortunately things might always stay with you. But you try and find ways to cope with it. Try and make friends with it.

We did my CV together and wrote down what things I was capable of. I realised I could do stuff, I’m not stupid.

I’m a qualified hairdresser. I’m very much into vintage and theatre. My plan is to go into nursing homes and offer my skills because it’s nice to have your hair done and talk to someone. And also with the way I dress, it might take my clients back in time.

When I hit my teens, I wanted to do creative things. From about 18, I started getting into vintage. I’ve always had something in the back of my head saying ‘you need to dress how you want’. I always say I was born in the wrong era!

My dream would be to work in prosthetics on films. At the moment I work as a wardrobe mistress’ assistant doing costume and wig design and wig making. I’m also learning to sew. This work is hands-on and it also makes people feel good. I’ve been in performances myself, so I know what it’s like to be in a good costume on stage.

My family are also in theatre and they’ve always supported me. As a family we connect with each other and always find something to bond over. That family support has really helped me. My mum’s been my rock. If it wasn’t for people like her, I wouldn’t be here.

My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and that really gave me a kick up the bum to move forward, make changes and give back. I wanted to be a better person.

If I hadn’t have reached a really difficult point, I don’t think I’d have moved and pushed for change like I have.

I’ve done hairdressing, helped a children’s special needs group on Saturdays, and I’ve been a chaperone for children too.

My mum and dad have said they’ve seen such a difference in me. That I’ll go out, have a go at things, and not to be upset if I don’t achieve what I want.

I’ve seen in myself how I want to do more things. I don’t say ‘no’ straight away. I can now talk to people on the phone. I’ve gone to nursing homes to publicise my work. I’m getting the word out there about my business. I’m less concerned about knock backs. And I’ve got clients for hair.

Working for myself as a mobile hairdresser means if I am having a bad day I don’t need to worry too much. I get paid for what I do. I have flexibility. I’ve also learnt not to beat myself up over it.

A lot of things have changed for me socially too. Employment support has given me more confidence to go out and see my friends and to travel to see them. I know how to pre-plan now. It’s opened my eyes to what I can do. It’s given me confidence to look at new ways of coping.

Working has also helped financially and has given me the freedom to buy things, treat my family and give something back to them.

I am now starting to save so I can move out in a few years. That was definitely not something I would have considered in the past but I see the independence and space my cousins have.

I’ve felt like my Employment Specialist was there to help me and push me in the right direction. I definitely wouldn’t be in the place I am today if I hadn’t had support.

I’ve realised I have done a lot. The support has also made me realise I can help others even if I’m not feeling really good. I’ve still got something to give.

I’d say to someone in a similar situation to try and get help. You can do it, even if it might take time. Be patient with it. Don’t let it defeat you. Sometimes you have to give it a punch and move forward. There is a way out. You’ll not be trapped behind bars forever.

Our specialist Supported Employment service helps people access and retain paid work, complete education and training and get involved in volunteering. Employment Specialists work in partnership with Mental Health Recovery Teams in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove to provide support tailored to individual needs, goals and aspirations.