‘I basically pushed everyone away; I just wanted to be left on my own.’
Kelly is currently working part-time for The Big Life group after being one of those who the group helped only a few years prior.
Never one to aim higher than she needed to, Kelly ‘s mind was originally set on having children and just taking a job that paid for the large family she wanted to make for herself. Unfortunately, Kelly was told that she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), meaning that her chances of getting pregnant were slim and, after ten years of trying, had to let go of that future, resulting in a period of depression.
‘It affected a lot of relationships with my friends because I didn’t want to go out anywhere; bars, even to their houses just to see them, I didn’t want to go out. I was tired all the time; I’d lose my temper with the people I was closest to.’
On top of this, Kelly’s issue with PCOS came with its own side effects including weight gain and other challenges that damaged her self-esteem.
‘I didn’t want to leave the house; I had panic attacks in large crowds of people, being closed-in on buses for example – I hate buses. The other bad side effects made me feel really self-conscious, so I think that was a reason I didn’t want to leave the house or anything.
‘I basically pushed everyone away; I just wanted to be left on my own. When people say to you, “You just have to get up and do something”, you can’t because you don’t have the motivation and you have to be right in yourself.’
After receiving employment support benefits for some years due to these physical and mental obstacles, Kelly decided she wanted to earn her own way and so, with the help of a service delivered by Big Life, Working Well, she found work.
‘I needed somewhere that would understand that, if they push me, I would just say no. I needed someone who would listen to me, and Working Well was amazing – they really helped me.’
‘The person I was seeing, Karlet, she spoke to me more as a friend, she was really friendly with me and let me do things in my own time.’
Within weeks, Kelly got a position in the Big Life HQ in Manchester, where she has worked for over three years.
‘I started off slowly doing Admin and Receptionist tasks because I’d never done that sort of thing before. The lady who worked here before me – Dawn – she was fantastic and she trained me up on everything on the reception area.
‘At the time, I was just answering calls and maybe doing a few admin things. Now I arrange all the repairs, the health and safety of the building, everything to do with keeping the building running.’
As well as working at Big Life, Kelly was recently able to start an apprenticeship in Business & Admin.
‘Big Life work with a company called Total People who run the apprenticeships and my tutor, Fiona, let me know there were two Business & Admin apprenticeships available and asked me which one I would prefer. One was a lot more surrounding presentations, which I didn’t feel comfortable doing so I went for the other one.
‘Working at Big Life has been helpful with this as I have access to a work computer with Microsoft Word and Outlook and all that, but you’re also given 20% of your paid work hours to go towards studying at your desk with this apprenticeship, and Big Life is good for that because if I’m quiet, they don’t mind me getting on with it.’
But that’s not the only way that Big Life group helps Kelly.
‘They’ve been very understanding. When I first chose which of the two Admin courses I wanted to do, I was told it was more up to some of the higher ups at Big Life to see if it was okay. Fortunately, they just said it was completely up to me and whatever makes me feel comfortable whilst I was working for them.
‘That is very much what it’s like here – most of the people who have worked here have had some sort of mental illness or some other issue in their lives themselves, and so they know what it’s like and how to help.’
After three years at Big Life, Kelly is happy with her current situation and even has some plans lined up for her future.
‘Well I want to stay with Big Life, but I want to become an Office or Facilities Manager, which is pretty much the same as what I’m doing now, but I’d actually have the title and it would be a bit more in-depth. I’d maybe even work in the one of the schools we have – not as a teacher, a Business manager or something – and because of the apprenticeship I’m doing, I’d be able to go into that sort of work.’
As well as her work situation, Kelly’s mental health has also taken a better turn.
‘My confidence is definitely going up, because when I first worked here, I hardly talked to anyone, but now I’m always running around and asking people things. I still have a lot of self-confidence issues but I feel like that’s just something I have to work on myself, as well as getting healthier – I’m going to a lifestyle class to lose a bit of weight. It’ll take time but everyone here understands what I’ve been like and they have mentioned to me that my confidence has been building.
‘I still take anti-depressant tablets but I’m on a lower dosage. Everyone in this office is really supportive of people’s issues – there’s no pressure, there’s no “hurry up and get your work done”. We always have plenty of time to do things, and they support people with mental health issues. I do enjoy working with Big Life, it is great.’