I sometimes wonder what I could have achieved if J did not have autism, if he had been neuro-typical and I had been able to work full-time. It makes me feel sad........
Yesterday a friend and former work colleague achieved something wonderful – she is now a Clinical Practice Teacher and will be training Health Visiting students in the community. I am so pleased for her because I know how hard she has worked to get this qualification. It hasn't been easy for her, like me she is a single parent and she has gained this qualification while juggling parenthood and work. In short she has worked hard for this qualification and so richly deserves it.
I would be lying though if I didn't feel some envy, if I didn't think about what I might have been able to achieve if I had been working full time, if J had not been autistic.
I had no issues while working full-time, there was always space to arrange work, always space to find time to concentrate on paperwork and time for everything despite the huge caseloads. However, this full time work was being achieved at the expense of J who was struggling so much in school and at home. I felt I was not giving him the support he needed from me and decided the best way of supporting him was to reduce my hours. As soon as I went part-time everything became a nightmare which is ironic as it was supposed to make life easier. In hindsight it is easy to see that while my hours reduced, my mindset was still in “full-timer” mode and I had much too high a case load for my hours. This was partly my own fault as I just accepted what came my way but I should have been more aware, should have been able to say “enough”, but I did not.
In health visiting it is vital to have your eye on the ball all the time – I lost sight of the ball as J became more challenging and night times became worse. I was constantly exhausted and stressed about things. I worried all the time about work and was anxious about the possibility of forgetting things. I started to really struggle and eventually this became obvious to all around me, I began to question my judgement and went off sick which began 14 months of being in and out of work. I couldn't cope and self-confidence in my ability to do the job took a massive nose-dive.
The final straw for me was in having not completed two new birth records. It was not the fact I had not completed them but the fact that I had no idea I had not completed them. For me that was the wake up call I needed, I had worked too hard for these qualifications to lose them, I did not want any team to “carry” me and I knew it was time to make a decision about my future. I completed the forgotten notes before lunchtime, then went home at the end of the working day and never went back.
I discussed it all in depth with my lovely GP who was fantastic and warned me not to make any rapid decisions. I continued to see my GP fortnightly for support and discussion, she was super, never rushed me and understood my fears about being in a team and being deemed “not reliable” and also how I did not want to be the one “who is always off sick”. Eventually I made the decision to resign and discussed this with my manager and the human resources department. My manager expressed the hope that I would go in and do some Bank work which I agreed to but to be honest my confidence in myself is shot to pieces and I still doubt my ability to do the job.
Since leaving, my exhaustion is lessened, possibly because I am no longer trying to juggle my anxieties about work with all the anxieties of home. People are commenting on how much better I look and I know I feel better. Some exhaustion continues, I have been diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and now use a CPAP machine at night – with varying success, my nights are still very disturbed by J who is very wakeful at night so I remain tired although less so than I did.
So I am proud of my friend for what she has achieved, and the fact that she has achieved it during a time of great personal stress in her own life. She is a different person to me though and has managed the balancing act that I could not. I just have to accept that my life is not the same and I am not going the same way, at the moment I don't know if I will ever go back which is sad. My whole working life has been in the NHS and I honestly don't know what I will do in the future -it all remains to be seen.