Simon’s Story

Simon’s Story

In light of #TimeToTalkDay, taking place on February 1st this year, we feel it is so important to normalise conversations surrounding mental health to help reduce stigma within our communities. 

We are therefore delighted to share Simon’s Story with you all.

Simon self-referred to Oakleaf and became a client after a recommendation from an external counsellor. However, before joining Oakleaf, he faced many challenges, including a serious mental breakdown:

“Due to previous employment problems, I experienced deep mental trauma alongside apparent PTSD symptoms, which left me unable to work. This resulted in extreme levels of stress, anxiety and depression as well as low levels of confidence and self-esteem. My general health was poor, and I had a very negative outlook on life.

When recalling my time in employment, I believe myself to have been someone who was technically very good but otherwise tended to avoid the bigger picture and was always fearful of working with customers, other teams and just about anyone I didn’t know. I was also extremely sensitive to negative office politics and could be very quick to react to anything that felt too personal or disrupted my work.

My apparent PTSD remains undiagnosed, but I now have a late-life Autism diagnosis, which will have likely contributed to a lot of the problems I dealt with in the past.

In my previous social life, I was fairly introverted and poor at communicating, so I just had a small group of like-minded friends. But the trauma from my previous employment coupled with my reaction to it all caused me to lose touch with a number of old friends. In hindsight, I would probably say that they were the wrong friends in the view that they just helped me protect a narrow-minded, static outlook on the world alongside the need to mask the real inner-me.

Added to this was the pressure of an increasingly growing employment gap followed by the incredibly painful experience of losing my mother, suddenly and unexpectedly, in 2015. This more or less resulted in me caring full-time for my father, who had rapidly worsening dementia and would not have been able to cope without my support.

This is when I decided to join Oakleaf – a charity that has been invaluable with regards to helping me improve my mental and physical wellbeing.

Oakleaf has many IT, business and work-related training courses. There have been regular employability events that I’ve attended through Oakleaf’s ‘Pathways to Work’ project, and employment advice has always been readily available, such as help with creating my CV and cover letters. I was supported through referrals to government funded Level 3 Cyber Security and Level 2 Business courses and did a week of work experience in IT support at ProDrive IT. I also attended a set of one-to-one sessions with a life coach and HR expert.

On the more social side of things, I was given low-cost counselling support and participated in many different wellbeing activities, working and socialising with a wide variety of people. I particularly enjoyed Tai chi, Mindfulness and Confidence Building where I learned some great techniques for better understanding the mind. I also took part in a 12-week Kickstart course to cover mental and physical health in general.

In 2021, I was offered volunteering opportunities at Oakleaf, both in IT and in general. These have hugely helped me with developing my employability skills, which is a top priority of mine.

Thanks to Oakleaf, I feel transformed in so many ways. I am all but formally employed, spending 3-4 days volunteering at Oakleaf; helping to educate IT clients with varying learning difficulties, assisting the IT manager whenever needed and supporting the charity in general through reception cover. Working and socialising with people who vary widely in their mental situations and competencies has been profoundly educational for me, especially in terms of understanding other people and perspectives.

I have seen people with much greater problems than myself and feel at my best when helping and supporting others. The more I give, the better I feel. The more I can help, the happier and more fulfilled I am. I now empathise with people I had never imagined I would relate to. My confidence has grown hugely and all that negativity I used to feel seems much less significant now. Things are continuing to improve all the time.

Oakleaf has given me a whole new outlook on life. These days I find social engagement in a work setting much easier and more natural. I no longer feel as though I’m confined to that old comfort zone I once relied upon, avoiding everyone and everything that was unfamiliar to me. I am focused on broadening my horizons and taking charge, at work and in life.

This has also manifested itself in my life outside of Oakleaf where I volunteer as an Assistant Organiser of two social groups for Autistic people. Beyond that, my social life is more active than ever.

My long-term goal is to get myself back into full-time employment and in the meantime, make the most of the support that Oakleaf can offer me. I also want to continue volunteering and helping others as well as bringing more mental health awareness into the mainstream – thereby avoiding the various pitfalls of my employment past; all the while growing in myself.

We want to thank Simon for sharing his story and hope that it will encourage others to share their own stories and experiences; and more importantly, remind people that they are not alone in the challenges they are facing. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Help is always available. For more information, click here.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a client or volunteer at Oakleaf, please click here. To donate to Oakleaf and support our mental health, employment and wellbeing support please click here

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