Stephanie, aged 29, from Midlothian, has turned her life around with the help of Fair Start Scotland. Here, she tells her story.
I started my journey with Fair Start Scotland during lockdown when I was made redundant as a storyteller after five years with a tourism company. I had generalised anxiety disorder and I was feeling stressed about what I wanted to do next. My partner was already working with a key worker and I asked if he could enquire if there would be support for me.
I was brought on to the programme and Lisa Gray was appointed as my key worker. From the get-go, she listened and took on board all of my preferences and concerns. She walked me through my CV and gave me advice on how to give it a boost. I wanted to approach tour guide jobs as I very much enjoyed what I had been doing and hoped I could find something new. I was successful with a position, but it didn’t come too much due to the strain on tourism.
I was feeling defeated but Lisa helped me brainstorm new roles to consider. During this time, I became suspicious that I may have ADHD and went through the process of getting a diagnosis. Lisa was always there to have a chat and support me during this process, she never pressured me to pursue anything and allowed me to take things at my own pace.
I expressed that by learning about my own ADHD and gaining a keen interest in supporting others to do the same, I quite liked the idea of becoming a counsellor or something similar. Lisa found me a position with an autism charity as a support worker, which she believed could be a really rewarding fit for me. She helped me construct my application and supported my desire to fully disclose my ADHD diagnosis and my own mental health struggles and how they have helped me help others.
I sent off the application, but I was feeling very burnt out with my diagnosis and starting new medication by this point. I’d also had a death in the family so I was feeling very overwhelmed. I asked Lisa if we could put finding other jobs on the back burner, to give me a chance to figure out what else I would like to do and focus on looking after my mental health. She was happy for me to do that, but still wanted to check in with me to see how I was doing. I genuinely looked forward to our catch-ups and they became a space for me to chat through everything that had been going on and explore different career ideas as my confidence began to build.
I realised that I hadn’t heard back about the job application so I chased it up after remembering I had made an online account. I got access and quickly realised I had signed up using my other email address and had completely missed the chance to attend an information evening (over Zoom) but they had emailed me to offer me an interview! I was panicking and asked Lisa if I could phone her to chat. She got back to me and I expressed how stressed I was that I’d missed the information email and that I was freaking out about the interview and needed to prepare answers to questions. We spent a good amount of time working through the questions and getting myself prepared.
The interview went without a hitch and it wasn’t long before I got word that I had been successful and offered the position! Lisa kept checking in before my start date, letting me vent about my worries and nerves. I needed to get myself into a new routine and manage all the paperwork I had to go through. Our catch-ups really helped me stay level-headed and keep focused on the goal!
I started my job, two shadow shifts went by and I was required to look into service user profiles. As I read about each individual’s autistic traits I suddenly realised Lisa may have found the perfect fit for me because the evidence in front of me made me suspect I might actually have autism! I did my research, took an online test I could find and watched a long list of videos about autism in women. The more I learned about masking, sensory overload and meltdowns, the quicker the walls came down and so much of my life began to make sense. I was getting answers to things I had never even questioned and suddenly I didn’t feel so disconnected and isolated, I wasn’t as unique as I thought, and that knowledge brought so much comfort. I had found my people!
Since then, I have become part of an autistic employee forum and have been alerted to support networks, and my manager is putting things in place to help me manage my sensory needs. The worries I have are not even questioned and my input and contributions are being embraced and encouraged. Sharing my experiences on the forum is so empowering, every time I get a response that is just as long and detailed as mine, feelings are reflected, and points of view are understood on a level I have never even been close to!
I’m settling into this new job and in less than a fortnight I have gained such a deep understanding of my nearly 30 years of life, so many things now make sense, and I can honestly say that I feel like I belong exactly where I am now.
Lisa has not only helped me figure out a new career path, supported me during challenging times and encouraged me to apply for my job, she opened the door to allow me to finally understand myself in a way I never even dreamed of. I don’t think she even realises how much she has helped me, and I will be forever grateful for her support, chats, and the laughs we shared during this process. I’m looking forward to sharing updates as I progress through this new chapter in my life.
Thank you, Lisa, and Fair Start Scotland.
Stephanie’s new job involves supporting people with autism to lead an independent life, providing peer support and care for her clients. Stephanie has encouraged her partner to work with Lisa in the hope that he will be able to achieve a similarly successful outcome.