Archive | March 2014

Why I went to university

‘What was the point of getting into all that debt and spending all that time at university if you are still unemployed?’  This is the kind of question I get asked by people and I am tired of it.  When I went to university I of course hoped it would give me better job prospects, but that was only one reason I went and not even the main one.  Over two years after graduation I have managed only to have one part-time temporary Christmas job, but I still don’t regret my degree and am very glad I took it.

My reasons for going to university:

1.  To prove to myself and others that I could do it, to show that I had some brains and could cope with the work.  I admit to not being amazingly smart, or even the most academically gifted  in my family, but I always knew I was not completely stupid.  I had at the age of fourteen found myself in a special needs school.  It was supposedly for physical disabilities, but the work was so easy in some classes it felt like I was in a school for children with learning difficulties.  By the time I left school I was determined to work my way out of the special needs label and get some qualifications higher than entry-level.  I was at this point not thinking of university, but some kind of college level education would be good. When tutors started talking about university and told me they thought I would get a lot out of it and could more than cope with the work I began to think maybe I could do it.  After looking in to it and realising I could get into some universities with my qualifications, I decided that I would go for it.  Part of me was determined to do it so I could take my degree and shove it in some former school teachers faces to show them I had far more brains than they ever gave me credit for (although of course I only ever get to do this in my imagination, but that is still fun).  I  wanted to prove to my family I was smart, although I think they already knew this, it makes me feel more on a level with them, as they are all well-educated people.  I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it as I had started to have doubts about myself.  I had spent so long having special needs and had so many issues with my education I began to think maybe that was all I could do and I was quite thick.  However I refused to let those doubts win and decided to prove to myself I was wrong.

2. To learn about a subject I have always had a passion for.  I chose to study drama as I have always wanted to do that since I was little.  I have always enjoyed performing on stage and going to the theatre.  I had a growing interest in  how theatre worked and about plays of various types.  I thought maybe I could land a job in theatre after my degree, but if not at least I could enjoy my favourite hobby even more by having a better understanding of what was going on.

3.  To leave home and learn to be more independent.  I was twenty-three by the time I went to university, having had to catch up on my education and sort myself out mentally.  I knew I had got lazy living at home for so long with my mum doing more to help me than maybe she should.  I wanted to show I can survive without constant support.  Both me and my parents needed some space from each other.

4. To make friends.  I have never done popular, at school I was a bit of an outcast.  I have often been in social situations and felt like I was outside looking in.  I knew at university I would meet people with a common interest, everyone on my course at least had to like drama and theatre.  I wanted more of a social life, to get out and do things.

5. To get a qualification that would help me get a job.  This is the last one on the list for a reason, the degree qualification itself matters to me a lot, but was not my biggest reason for going.  I know drama is not the most useful subject to study job wise, but I would hope some employers see a degree in any subject as a good thing.  It proves I can stick with something for three years and see it right to the end.  It shows I must have some kind of brain to even get into university and that I can read and write.  In job applications I try to sell the fact drama taught me team work having to work closely with others for every practical performance assessment we did, but I can also work on my own intuition having had to research and write all my essays alone.

I did manage to prove I could do it, better than I thought I could even.  I thought I would get a third or a 2.2 if I tried hard, but in the end I managed a 2.1.  I proved to myself that I have brains and just need to challenge myself more.  I defiantly no longer felt like I had special needs educationally, for the first time I can remember I almost felt kind of normal, sort of.

I learnt a lot about performance and theatre.  I also loved reading the plays and learnt about a wide variety of subjects, especially history.  Now I go to see plays and understand the meaning behind them more.  I now feel even more at home in a theatre.

I coped well living away from home for my first time.  I managed to attend almost every single class and rehearsal without someone forcing me to get out of bed.  I managed to eat well and learnt to cook more.  I attended appointments by myself mostly on time.  Since university I have got a bit lazy living at home with my parents again, but I do more for myself now than I used to before university.

I felt much more like I fitted in with the people on my course at university than I had ever felt before.  I felt like I had some real friends that understood me better than people had in the past.  I realised that other drama students often felt like they were outsiders at school or college as well.

OK, so no it did lead me to my dream job or right now any job at all.  However I do think my degree being on my CV has helped me get more interviews than I might have otherwise had.  I also think it has given me the confidence to apply for more different types of work.

The idea of university is often looked at purely in terms of getting a job, but I think this is wrong.  For me university was more about learning about myself and who I am as a person.  Not everyone will suit university, but for me it was so far the best three years of my life.

 

OCD

  • I wash my hands over and over.
  • I turn the light switch on and off ten times before entering a room.
  • I think my family will die or get hurt if I don’t stick to my routine.

These are the most common things people seem to think I must do and think when I tell them I have OCD.  I would like to start by dispelling some myths.  Not everyone who has OCD washes their hands over and over, yes a germ phobia is quite a common symptom of OCD, but I do no have this.  I do like to keep clean, but only to the extent that most people do.  I can see why people think this, if  you look up OCD on Wikipedia, it even has a picture of someone washing their hands, which does not help me.  I have never had to turn the light on and off over and over.  I do have some issues with numbers, counting up to twelve when I do some things, but I do not  have a set number of times I must do any one thing.

I have always realised that if I do not do my routine my family will not die, nothing will in fact happen to them.  Most people with OCD realise this, and the thought that someone will die if the routine is not completed I gather is quite rare.  The reason I have to stick to my routine is more how I will feel if I do not.  I feel very uncomfortable and can’t relax if my OCD is not complied with.  I feel wrong somehow and my mind nags at me.  I can lie in bed at night, very tired and ready to sleep, but if I have not completed my full routine my brain will not shut-up.  ‘You need to check the door is fully shut, yes you do, check it, check it, go on, go on’ a bit like Mrs Doyle in Father Ted will not let you get away until you agree to give into her.  So I have to give into my crazy mind and get out of bed, no matter how comfy I am and re shut the door.  This is the only way I know I will get any peace and my mind will switch off for the night.

Another thing people sometimes say to me is ‘I think I might have OCD’.  Now everyone has some kind of order and routine or we would not function in society, but having a routine is not the same thing as having OCD.  OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and until your thoughts are so obsessive in your mind that you simply have to give into them or end up going crazy then you don’t have OCD.

Full blown OCD can effect you ability to function in society.  Firstly I find it hard at times to live with others as sometimes they can do things that mess up my routine by interrupting it, meaning I have to start all over again.  Sometimes people move or rearrange objects in a house, which can seriously mess with my mind.  Half way through a routine to find that something is not where I need it to be can set me right back.  Secondly I have been known to take so long to get dressed and ready to go out that by the time I am done the shops are shut or the event is half over.  So I either miss out totally or have a rather rushed experience.  Even if I do turn up in good time, I can often be worn out already by the long routine of getting ready to go out.

I have been on medication since I was about fourteen.  Paroxetine is better known as an antidepressant drug, but is often used to help with OCD.  I have no idea if it is still doing anything for me these days as I have been on it so long.  I am sure it was helping me in the first few years of taking it, making me slightly less anxious about not doing certain things, but now I am on a lower dose and may have become immune to it.  I do know I am addicted to it and have to take it or I feel awful.  It take about two or three days without it, but then I feel dizzy, sick, tired and my head feels like it has been hit with a hammer.  I ran out once when at university and I was without it for nearly four whole days, by the end I was seeing coloured sports in front of my eyes.  I am not sure being left on medication with these effects is a good idea long-term, but I am glad I took it.  I also had therapy for my OCD, but on its own the therapy clearly was not enough.

My therapy was mainly behavioural based and did help somewhat, but it was no cure.  The trouble with therapy is that I would sometimes have a good week and be so relaxed at the session that you would fail to really explore the true issues.  If you go on and have a few good weeks in a row the therapist may think you are making such good progress you no longer need to see them and then the sessions come to an end.  Then you go and have a bad week and have no one to help you.  I find stress, worrying situations and upset can trigger off a bad OCD phase.

Every day I have to do my OCD routines, but depending on my mood I can do them to a lesser extent at times, meaning that I can get on with life fairly normally.  Then something triggers me and I have to do them to the fullest extent.  This can be hard for other people who live with you, who may not understand how one day you can function relatively fine, then the next  hardly be able to cope at all.  I can sometimes work out why my OCD is playing up worse and explain this to people, but sometimes I do not know what the cause is and can’t explain it.  OCD is not always at a constant level, which some people seem to have trouble grasping.

To learn more about the misconceptions of OCD and what it really is and is not check out this web link I found.  OCD UK charity

The Unemployment Game

At 28 would you consider me a young person?  According to the government I am middle-aged, well at least that is how they record me in unemployment figures.  The British Government consider a young person to be between the ages of 16-25.  So when you hear on the news about young people being out of work and young people needing employment job support they don’t mean me.  The government have now come up with schemes to help the vast number of young unemployed people to get help including government-funded apprenticeships.  These are a very good idea and will help young people to get experience, qualifications and  references for their CV s.  However I am getting tired of seeing perfectly good jobs that I could do being advertised as apprenticeships under this scheme, as being over 25 I can’t apply.  Also some of the jobs I see as apprenticeships are clearly being used as a way for businesses to get free labour paid for by the government, I mean who needs to go to college once a week and apprentice as a shop assistant or as an office junior.  None of these jobs are at management level or even supervisor level and yes having done retail work myself I know it takes some skill in money handling and customer service, but it is not a skill like say hairdressing or car mechanics.  I also note an apprentice in their first year gets paid less than normal minimum wage, £2.68 an hour is hardly going to cover most people transport costs let alone give them any money left to spend after.  After the first year they are paid national minimum wage for their age, however a lot of apprenticeships don’t last more than a year.

I am not ashamed to say I am in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance benefit, it is something I have to do to survive and I am genuinely trying to get paid work.  However the things you have to do to get it are starting to become more and more ludicrous.  For example you have to use the government’s own job search website, Universal Jobmatch at least a few times a week as well as other sites and log into it so they can monitor your job searching.  At first this seamed reasonable, they want to check you are actively looking for work.  However the jobs on this site are a bit of a joke.  Within 20 miles of my home town today 18 new jobs were posted, out of those 1 was an apprenticeship, 10 were recruitment agencies who mostly advertise elsewhere as well, at least 2 of them were the same jobs I saw earlier this week and there was the daily Avon job.  Avon reps hardly make the kind of money you can live off, even the TV advert calls it a nice little wage top up, pin-money so to speak.  Not to mention the number of self-employment jobs where you still end up having a boss, but no employment rights.  Then there is the jobs that do not even say who the company are advertising the job, they say company confidential, but I suspect they are either recruitment agencies or not proper jobs at all.  Last week I saw a report on Channel Four News about the number of fake or reposted jobs advertised on Universal Jobmatch.  According to Channel Four more than one in five adverts on the site are copies, which was something I was starting to suspect already.

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Then there is the whole long-term job seekers thing.  If you sign on for more than 6 months you have to go to privately run extra support places at least once a fortnight as well as sign on.  My nearest provider is a place called Working Links, which are a national chain of offices designed to help people find work.  However I have been with them nearly two years and the only job they ever found for me was in a yoghurt factory standing for 12 hours a day which I had to turn down due too not being able to stand for more than about 6 hours a day with my hip issues which had already told Working Links about before.  If you manage to get a job your Working Links advisor gets paid a bonus.  I did manage to get a three-month Christmas temp job last year so my advisor got a bonus, but actually she never helped me get the job at all, I found the job and never even had an appointment with her in time before I had the interview.  I thought yay I had a job I wont have to see them again for at least 6 months, but I was so wrong, if you have been with them within the last 6 months then you automatically go back to them when you re-sign on.  I would not mind so much if they were in my own town as it would not take very long, but the offices are in the next town and it takes me about 30-40 minuets on the bus.  They do pay my bus fare, but it is more the time I am wasting.  A previous advisor I had till I complained, just used to stick me on a computer for an hour to job search.  As if I could not and was not already doing that at home, how is a different computer in a different place supposed to magically produce new jobs?  Also if there were no jobs to apply for that day it was hard to know how to fill the hour.  To be fair my new advisor now is more friendly and we get along quite well, but I am still not getting much actual help from her.

Now I am told I have a very good CV.  I have not mentioned anything about my disabilities on it.  Firstly I can not think of any adjustments an employer would need to make for me if I got an interview or a job.  Secondly I don’t know if I want a job just to fill a quoter, I would rather get the job on my own merits because they want to hire me for my skills and personality.  However I do wonder if in some interviews, especially group interviews with team tasks and so on, if my mild Autism or learning issues might make me come across as a bit strange and if the employer knew about my mental issues would it change how they assessed me?  If asked I am always honest about any disability issues.  They often ask why I have been out of work so long and one reason was major hip surgery.  However I do like to make it clear I can now do more because of my false hip and not less.

Post Surgery

Am I still disabled?  Since having reached full recovery from total hip replacement surgery this is a question I find myself asking.

Before surgery I always thought of myself as disabled.  No I was not fully wheelchair bound, but I could not walk long distances easily and I often found walking a painful experience.  Now I can walk further than ever pain-free.  I love how much more I can now do without having to think about it first and decide if I need my wheelchair with me or not.  However having spent my life calling myself disabled I find myself in a confusing situation.

I am currently trying to get a job.  When filling in an application form they often ask the question ‘do you consider yourself to have a disability?’  I now answer this with a no, as I do not see myself as having anything an employer would need to know about and do not need any work place adjustments.  However sometimes I feel a bit like I am denying a part of myself in saying I am not disabled. Having called myself disabled most of my life I saw it as part of my identity, part of what made me.  I went to a special school for disabled children for three years of my education and I attended a special needs youth club session in my teens.  Some of my closest friends are disabled.  At university I was part of the disabled students group within the student union.  My disability had helped me make friends and join a social setting within society.

Now I feel a bit lost, where do I fit in?  Officially I am not classed as disabled.  One year after my surgery they stopped my Disability Living Allowance benefit money as my hip surgery was so successful.  I agree with the decision, I no longer need to pay for taxis to places that are considered normal walking distance for most people and I was only on low rate anyway.  This also means I no longer qualify for a free bus pass now, which I have to say as a non-driver I do miss, but I understand why.

I made a comment on Facebook about not being disabled any more.  A friend of mine commented asking how could someone go from disabled to not disabled.  I tried to explain that in my case surgery had worked and I was no longer getting any disability benefit.  I still think she struggles to understand this concept, as do I in some ways.  Looking back it was probably not a good comment to have made when I have so many disabled friends on my Facebook.  It was tactless when most of them had conditions that no amount of surgery could ever fully cure and they would always be disabled.  I find it hard sometimes to know the right things to my friends without sounding like I am showing off or thinking I am better than them.  I honestly do not think I am better than anyone else at all.

I do still have some mental health issues and some learning problems.  I am unsure as to whether they class me as disabled or not as they are mild and not a huge problem all the time.  However they do at times make me feel like I have something in common with disabled people in that I am held back from getting on with my life in some ways.

More recently I have started to wonder if no longer being disabled I have actually made things worse in terms of getting on with my life.  I have seen friends from school and other places moving on in life with jobs, homes and financial support.  I am not saying these people do not need the help or deserve it, I am very happy for them.  However it leaves me thinking, what about me?  I am still living with my parents at home, unemployed and Job Seekers Allowance being my only income.  If I was still disabled would I have had help to leave home and get my own flat, or would I have been put on a work trial that led to a job offer?  I went from being disabled with extra support, to nothing almost over night, which was a bit scary.  I remember how much pain I was in before the surgery and am very glad I had it, but no one told me that you suddenly have to deal with everything in life by yourself.  I am lucky in that I have very supportive parents who let me live at home at the age of 28 and help me to prepare and get to job interviews, help me financially by only charging me a small amount of rent and help me to have some kind of life.  I wonder how some people cope post surgery when the official support dries up and they have no one at home to help them.

Right now life has reached a sort of limbo, like I am waiting for the next part of my life to start, but I do not know how to get things going.  I want to move out of my parents house, but that is unlikely to happen any time soon on my budget.  I looked at the idea of local housing authority flats, but seeing as my parents are willing to put up with me and I have no health issues stopping me from living at home I would never be eligible.  Before surgery I would have been as we have steep steps to our front and back doors and I could have claimed getting in and out of the house was too painful.  I have tried the job thing, but after nearly two years on Job Seekers the best I could managed was a three-month Christmas temp job and am back where I was before.  I do not get work placements that can lead to a job as I am not considered in need in that kind of help being a non-disabled job seeker.  However I do get to walk pain-free and my life has improved vastly since the surgery.  I now just need to figure out how to make the most of this new hip and to start living life to the full.