I’ve had a lot of frustration on the work front. I really want to re-train as an IMHA (Independent Mental Health Advocate). I think it would be great to combine my legal skills from being a lawyer with my experiences as a service user. I think it would give me a good understanding of the service user’s problems I would come across. However, despite being in contact with a lot of advocacy organisations throughout the North West of England since last September, I’ve been unable to secure any voluntary advocacy experience. The voluntary advocacy experience is necessary to undertake the qualification required to become an IMHA. I’ve been led up the garden path a number of times only to have my hopes dashed. It seems (as always) to be a question of funding. Third sector organisations that run community advocacy projects and IMHA/IMCA are struggling in the wake of so many cuts to funding. I’ve not given up on the advocacy front and will continue to pursue it but for now, I need to progress elsewhere.
I’ve been a volunteer on the CAB national Adviceline since February (I’ve been taking solo calls since mid-April). My role is as a Gateway Assessor over the ‘phone. Sometimes I can help people there and then over the ‘phone but other times, I have to signpost or refer to specialist third sector organisations or an individual’s local CAB. This is a link to a basic description of my role: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/join-us/volunteer_roles.htm
I have a lot of anxiety around my voluntary work – it sometimes even makes me vomit prior to going in on a morning. It also wipes me out, leaving me emotionally and physically drained but I enjoy it. I enjoy being in the office environment and I like my colleagues – there’s such a variety of people that work and volunteer at the bureau. Working there gives me vital contact and interaction with people outwith mental health services. It also provides me with my first step towards full-time employment in the future (long term). I appreciate how the Manchester CAB are understanding of my mental health problems. I’ve had to leave early and do a couple of shorter days when I was recently depressed. When my anxiety was really high the other day, my supervisor said that given I was going through online training modules and paperwork I could do it from home if it would be easier for me. I didn’t because that would be reinforcing my anxiety but it’s great that I have a supervisor that is willing to be flexible. I also don’t feel that I need to hide how I am feeling. Yes, if I’m at the crying/panic stage, the appropriate place for that is the toilets but if I’m struggling when I first come in, I am able to let my colleagues know and so I don’t have that extra pressure. I suspect they now know that after settling in I revert to my usual vocal self J I don’t feel the need to hide my scars. It hasn’t been a problem with anyone I have come across at the Manchester CAB. I’ve not been treated any differently and neither have I had the staring that often happens when I’m out and about. I feel comfortable and supported at work.
It got me thinking that given how positive my experiences at the Manchester CAB have been and the supportive working environment, perhaps this is where I need to be right now. Perhaps the IMHA role will come around in the longer term future or maybe I will even end up progressing within the CAB instead. So, I asked a week ago whether I could train up from a Gateway Assessor to become a Generalist Adviser. My supervisor was in on Wednesday and that’s why we spent the day finishing off training modules and paperwork – to get me properly signed off as a CAB Gateway Assessor so I can progress to the Adviser training. She’s more than happy for me to train as an Adviser, she’s very keen for me to do so. I’ve been given the training matrix and the first of the ‘Learning Journals’ and she’s booking me on some of the next available courses. The CAB is really good in terms of training and I’m looking forward to moving on with them. When I train and become an Adviser, I’ll be able to have appointments with clients to help them more fully. I’m also going to be learning a lot of employment, housing, debt, benefits and even some immigration law, which satisfies my need for knowledge and again, my interest in law.
I love being at the CAB and being a part of everything it stands for. I’m happy that although my original work plans aren’t going as I intended, they are actually going the best way for me right now. Who knows what the future holds?