Today, we’re in conversation with Samantha, a former Police Officer and Astriid Candidate who’s now embarked on a tech career with chronic illness and become an integral part of WithYouWithMe. To find out more about her chronic illness story and how Astriid helped to match her with her new role, keep reading!
Hi Samantha! Would you like to tell us a bit more about you?
Hi! Thanks for inviting me along to share my story!
I’m in my late 20s and from London/Surrey. I became a Police Officer straight out of sixth form and spent just under 7 years in the Met Police doing a variety of different roles in Frontline Policing. I also spent 4 years as a Blue Light Champion alongside my day job (a voluntary mental health peer supporter within the Emergency Services) and was a network lead for the area I worked in.
If you’re comfortable sharing, what are your chronic illnesses/disabilities?
Of course! Like many, I have struggled with my mental health for most of my life but kept everything bottled up. In 2017, everything became too much and I had my first breakdown. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, although I also display a lot of OCD behaviours as well. I have struggled with self-harm and suicidal ideation in the past, but thanks to a few cycles of CBT and medication, I am in a much better place these days!
In 2020, after about 18 months of medical investigation, I was diagnosed with ME, which has had a huge effect on my life. I initially knew something was wrong when I began feeling really run down all the time, but as I also have Beta Thalassemia Trait, I just thought it was my iron levels acting up. I then began getting really severe migraines and shooting pains throughout my body which would result in briefly loosing function of my limbs. Over 275 blood tests later, and a lot of disproving it wasn’t my mental health – I finally got the diagnosis.
I also have PCOS and hypermobile joints, so like most of us spoonies, my list is quite long!
How have you found working with a chronic illness in the past?
Obviously being a Police Officer is a very physically demanding job and when my ME symptoms initially started, I had to go on a period of light duties which I always thought would only be temporary. No one expects to be diagnosed with a chronic illness. However, after diagnosis, I was told I would never be an operational Police Officer again, which was really difficult to come to terms with. Initially I refused to accept it, and so, I kept pushing myself, which is a dangerous practice for those of with ME called ‘walking off the cliff’.
My life became work, sleep, repeat. I would sit in the office with sunglasses on, migraine strips on my forehead and heat pads on my back. I would pay a ridiculous amount each day to make sure I could park nearby or get Uber’s to and from work because I would be so incredibly exhausted, there was no way I could even manage the walk to the bus stop. For most of my career I did shift work with 10 – 16 hour days which again added another layer of complication. During lockdown I was able to work from home, which made a huge difference, but still I struggled with the long shifts. The worst part of it all though was the stigma and ostracization I faced at work due to my illnesses.
Something you’ve raised awareness of in the past is the impact that a toxic work environment can have; not only on your physical health but your mental health too. Can you tell us more about this?
The Policing environment can be very unkind and difficult to work in for anyone that doesn’t align with the usual stereotype of a ‘macho man’. Quite often if you are different, you are ‘a problem’. Being a disabled female that advocated for mental wellbeing meant that I did not at all fit the mould.
There are also archaic and discriminatory disciplinary processes that exist for those on long term sick or unable to fulfil ‘full duties’ that are misused by line management due to a lack of understanding, poor advice, or unfortunately, as a weapon against a disliked individual. They are lengthy, incredibly stressful to go through, very harmful to your wellbeing and have a huge effect on your career progression.
I had such a horrendous experience and was in such a highly toxic environment that it resulted in an extreme decline of my mental and physical health. I had the worst ME crash I have experienced to date and I was closely monitored due to thoughts of ending my life. However, I do want to mention here that there are some truly wonderful people in Policing that do an incredibly difficult job, and there is work going onto improve things, but for myself and others, the damage has been done and it is too late.
How did you find out about Astriid, and what made you want to reach out?
During this particularly bad period, I relied on the support of the chronic illness community on Facebook and Instagram. After applying for hundreds of random jobs just to get myself out of my current situation and only getting burnt out in return, I posted about my situation in one of the ME support groups on Facebook. Quite a few responses raved about Astriid, so I checked out their website. I had been a member of other inclusive recruitment sites but I didn’t get anywhere with them, which meant I wasn’t all that convinced I’d get anything back from it, but I had nothing to lose so I thought why not give it a go, and, I am extremely glad I did!
Can you tell us about your journey with Astriid, and how you got to where you are now?
I started off by signing up online, and quickly received an email back saying they had received my details and someone would be in touch. I was a little downhearted at first as it said there would be a wait, but honestly, it was so short I barely noticed there was one. I was then allocated a candidate co-ordinator who was there with me from start to finish of my Astriid journey and tailored additional support for me such as help with highlighting transferable skills, finding out what I wanted to do next and career coaching.
They helped me get signed up on WithYouWithMe’s Potential testing and training platform. It was not a case of dropping me off at the front door and saying bye, Astriid stayed with me throughout it all and never stopped checking in or giving me support when I needed it.
Quite soon after, a Q&A session for the WithYouWithMe Job Accelerator Programme came up and I went into the call thinking it would just be a bit of insight into the company. I came out of it having applied for a job. Two very quick and genuinely enjoyable culture fit interviews later, I had landed a job at WithYouWithMe!
How has finding an inclusive and fulfilling role impacted your life?
I lost a lot of myself over the last decade for various reasons. I laughed less and less as the years went by. I constantly felt stressed or unhappy. I had no self-confidence, self-worth or positive things to say about myself.
Now, things are completely different. I laugh and smile every day. I am gaining more confidence and definitely learning to love myself more. In no way is it easy, but nothing seems impossible now and I am thriving on the new challenges.
They tell me off for saying it, but I will never stop highlighting what a tremendous impact Deborah and Charlotte from Astriid had on my life. I am forever grateful to them, Astriid and WithYouWithMe for helping bring back my spark and feel happy to still be here!
The future looks bright! Where can people find more from you?
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Samantha!
Here at Astriid, we match talented people with long-term health conditions with meaningful employment opportunities. We work with employers to make sure that they can meet candidates’ needs, and help candidates through all stages of their ‘work ready’ journey. You can find out more and sign up as a candidate, or an employer, by visiting our website!