I attended my last Unison Black Members Conference this weekend in Liverpool as a National Committee member and I know I made the right decision to step down. It was time to make way for ‘fresh meat’ and I have too much going on in this, my last year as a Student midwife. (🙀 scary!)
The last 4-5 years as a National Black Members Representative have been amazing. I have seen and actioned the changes implemented by motions carried at previous conferences. Stop and search, Domestic violence, racism in the workplace, Islamophobia and I have written to national organisations to offer Unison’s assistance. My greatest achievement has been to write the motion highlighting the work of JENGbA and the Joint Enterprise Law, and seeing their presence at every conference since fills me with pride and hope. I have helped facilitate workshops and Fringe meetings at conferences and written countless reports. This role has also allowed my children and I to visit so many cities in the UK, for which I am grateful.
This year I had offered to move a motion on mental health. This involved writing a speech and delivering it at Conference, initiating debate on the topic. I had 2 months to write this speech, submit for approval and prepare myself. Since Ade passed away in 2015 I have suffered with anxiety. Random, unpredictable anxiety in the form of stage fright. I freeze or run away. However, I sat my Midwifery final year OCSEs (practical exams) last Monday and passed without even a smidgen of panic. (I know right?!!) I spoke on a motion about Domestic Violence last year and delivered presentations at Uni without any problem, yet I couldn’t even bring myself to write this speech. I had to bring it to my psychotherapist to discuss!
Me in 2017 on the rostrum, looking like I knew what I was doing!
The motion detailed the many symptoms Black people have associated with Depression, anxiety, and PTSD that aren’t taken into account when requesting sickness absence at work. For example, the headaches and fatigue some may experience that aren’t generally thought to be linked to mental health that may be trivialised. It spoke of how some mental health assessment tools and questionnaires are ineffective and asks for there to be more training, further awareness for managers and employers. I have plenty to say on this matter!
My experience is positive. I have had phenomenal support from the University and the NHS DSA during this course. I attended an interview/assessment where I was asked individualised questions pertaining to how MY mental illness affected MY work and given support based on MY requirements. Not a tick box exercise of how I’ve felt in the past two weeks. Based on this assessment I have a psychotherapist for the depression and bereavement, I have academic support and PC software for the cognitive disfunction linked to the depression. I have a Disability Needs Statement in place that allows me to record my lectures as I cannot hold concentration for very long, or to arrive late to lectures and placement shifts some times as my panic attacks happen mainly in the mornings. My lecturers and mentors have been amazing. However, I appreciate this level of support may not be available in the workplace, but it should be. (Another story for another day….!)
My belief is, what is the point in having an experience if you cannot share it to help others. If there was even one manager or employee in that conference hall that heard my experience and was moved enough to implement any form of change within their own workplace, then it was worth it. However, every time I thought about speaking to the hundreds of delegates present, my stomach churned, my pulse shot up and my eyes filled with tears. Why was I finding this so difficult? My committee colleagues were amazing, offering to accompany and stand with me when I told them I would not be able to deliver the speech, even to write speakers notes to keep me focused so it wasn’t so emotional. Yet nothing changed my reaction. I said I was tired, that the long (delayed!) journey from Herts to Liverpool had left me frazzled but I knew I wasn’t ready. The subject is personal to me and I knew I wasn’t well enough to share my experience in the flesh just yet. So I watched my colleague move the motion, and watched as numerous delegates lined up to speak in support and share their experience. For now, I hide behind this blog. I have made amazing progress but I am still nowhere near where I want to be. I am still not able to help anyone through their illness as I am not entirely through my own. Part of the progress is to recognise this too and know that I cannot take on every fight, the world and its problems……But I soon come! One day at a time.