For writer Alan Hartley, rewarding work came along after some nasty incidences of discrimination:
When I was first diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia I was about 26 years old and my world fell apart. I had been a well paid sales representative with my own 3 bedroom semi-detached house and doing quite nicely thank you. The doctors and everybody else advised me to sell up and move back in with my parents which I did. They owned a small garden centre where I subsequently built and ran an aquatics department with some success, but I had numerous short hospital stays before I could be said to be calming down and becoming more stable.
The years passed by and eventually my elderly parents were persuaded to retire. The garden centre was sold and I started to look round for employment feeling much more confident about life by now. This was some 20 odd years ago before some of the Discrimination Laws kicked in properly, and while looking for employment I wound up at another local garden centre. The job vacancy I was applying for was to run their Aquatic Department. After the time spent at my parent’s garden centre I felt well qualified with plenty of suitable experience. At my parents garden centre I had not only been responsible for the day to day running of the department, but I had done all the stock ordering and even negotiated the discounts with some of the suppliers. The interview went well and I was offered the job by the owner. Then came the request for all of my personal details for the records including any health details. I told him that I had a health condition that required my fortnightly visit to the local doctor’s surgery for my injection (an antipsychotic for schizophrenia) His mood immediately changed and he said he would get back to me. A few days later came the Phone Call. He told me that the insurance company wouldn’t cover me as a member of staff for liability and he was withdrawing the offer of employment.
I was disgusted with the outcome, but didn’t give up, at least, not at first. A couple of years later a similar thing happened at another garden centre. The job was running their aquatics department and again the interview went very well with my being offered the job on the spot. There was a battery of personal questions and then we got as far as measuring me up for the company uniform as the staff were required to wear the company colours and specific designs of fleeces/shirts etc. Then we got to the health questions and the issue of my schizophrenia came up and the need for my regular medication visits to the doctors surgery. This time there was no hesitation for the Manager and he immediately withdrew the offer of employment. Now, it was obvious to me that I was unlikely to ever work again because of my schizophrenia no matter how well suited I was for the job, so I more or less gave up looking for employment and threw myself into the role of becoming carer for my by now quite elderly mother, who was going blind and my father had, by then, also passed away.
For a few years I was reasonably content with my lot even though I felt like a second class citizen, but as more time went by and my self confidence started to grow again I felt that I wanted to do a bit more. The nurse who regularly gave me my fortnightly depot injection told me how much the medication cost one day. I was horrified at the price and decided to do some voluntary work to put something back into the community to offset the cost and relieve my conscience.
I was “into computers,” and saw a request for volunteer computer “Buddies,” at the local library as well as a similar advert for Age Concern. With a little trepidation I applied for both positions and to my surprise was accepted for both. They asked for a CRB to be done which subsequently came back OK and I started work. The library understood my problem and screened those “Students,” that I saw whereas with Age UK they were all pensioners and many had their own problems. I found that I really loved both part time jobs and did them for a couple of years or so, until the work for the library slowly came to a halt and a temporary closure happened at the centre where I worked for Age UK, so I looked for something else. This came in the form of a volunteer post at an outdoor centre for adults with learning disabilities. The centre had various animals and was basically a small holding, of about 15 acres, although they also grew garden plants that were sold to the public and they had various outbuildings that contained things like a pottery studio. They also had an award winning Tea Room where I was often to be found at lunch times. When I fist started there they were unsure of me and it was understandably on a trial basis, but they found that I worked well and fitted in with the “Team Member,” some of whom had not dissimilar problems to mine with my forgetfulness and occasional confusion, so over 8 years later I am still working there. Obviously new CRB’s have had to be done and my fortnightly medication is now performed at the local Mental Health Hospital instead of the doctors surgery, but otherwise there has been no dramatic change in my health. It might not be a paid job and it is certainly not a career path that I would have even remotely considered 40 years ago, but I feel that I am contributing to society, it is rewarding and I absolutely love it. In just over a year I will officially retire and I think looking back on the things that I have done, “Work Wise,” I shall feel happy with the way things have turned out for me, even if most people considered me “Unfit for work” for most of my life.