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Paul shares his experience of autism and epilepsy on National Staff Networks Day

Paul, from our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion team

This month we’re shining a spotlight on our networks as we celebrate National Staff Networks Day today (Wednesday 11 May).

Our networks offer staff a safe space to come together to talk about their experiences and how we can improve them, as well as a chance for other colleagues to learn more, offer their support as allies, and be part of the changes we all want to see.

The networks play a vital role in helping us to ensure our Trust is an inclusive and fair place to work and part of this is giving staff a platform to share their experiences.   

So, in today’s feature, we welcome Paul, from our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion team, who tells his story of being ‘neurodivergent’.

Paul, from our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion team

During 2020 I discovered Joe James, a late diagnosed autistic adult. Joe has created a social media platform to educate people about how beneficial neurodiversity is to society as well as challenge the outdated negative and harmful stereotypes associated with autism.

Having read several of Joe’s positive and honest posts they helped me gain a completely new perspective and higher level of self-understanding. I began to experience new feelings of positivity about my own neurodiversity, a subject which even as an adult I was in constant denial about. I simply could not tolerate this being spoken about even rarely. I now realise this was due to autism being presented to me from an early age as a neurological abnormality, general mental disorder and other outdated negative stereotypes.

As well as being neurodivergent I have been epileptic since the age of 14. People tend to think epilepsy always means experiencing frequent unpredictable violent seizures and shaking on the ground. That is not always the case as some people, including myself, do not experience these. I am able to predict when a seizure, which I prefer to call fits as they do not feel severe enough to be called seizures, is coming so I am very often able to somewhere safe to help manage these.

Ability to predict a fit is like “deja vu.” I normally lose consciousness for about one minute and feel better again not long after and can resume whatever I was doing.

Following feelings of hopelessness and lack of purpose that I experienced during the final months of 2017, I hit rock bottom during early 2018. I was not getting anywhere employment-wise which was seriously affecting my mental health in a way that I had not previously experienced.

I began to lose interest in the world around me, became mentally drained to the extent where even getting out of bed each morning felt like a huge effort. Fortunately, not too long afterwards, I began to meet an Employment Advisor for people with health issues and/or disabilities at my local Job Centre, Dalitso, who was dynamic, extremely positive and helpful.

After having completed a work placement that unfortunately did not progress to I was shown a vacancy for a role in the Education Centre at Queen’s Hospital. As the NHS is an inclusive employer I immediately applied and attended the interview. The interview went well although the vacancy was given to someone else. The Recruiting Manager was however keen to support me in my search for employment.

This resulted in my volunteering at the Trust to gain experience working in a hospital environment. I really enjoyed volunteering and helping members of the public. I got help during this time with my CV and applying for vacancies and in early 2020 I successfully applied for a job with Sodexo. You can imagine how pleased I was.

Unfortunately, the first coronavirus pandemic in 2020 struck before I could start and the entire process was put on hold. Once the restrictions of the first lockdown were relaxed I was offered a Trust Temps role as an Administrative Assistant in the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Team from September 2020. I began to feel a real sense of purpose, job satisfaction and that this could be the beginning of something new and exciting.

Although I am now in a paid role and have integrated well with my department, I am searching for a permanent post with either Sodexo or NHS. It has been a long and at times frustrating and painful journey but I am determined to realise my full potential and make a contribution. I have shared my story as I hope it will signpost others to sources of support such as the Job Centre and different opportunities in organisations such as the Trust from volunteering to Trust Temps and roles with Sodexo.

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