By Jamie Forsyth
Lead Operational Controller at Amey
At the end of last year, I sat down and thought about my life between 2010 and 2019. I still struggle to comprehend exactly what’s happened and what I’ve been through in that decade. Then 3 months or so later, the ever-developing Corona Virus Pandemic and how we are all having to change our lives dramatically, has given me another chance to think about my life. The people around me and the kindness of others got me through an extremely hard time in my life and this has given me the passion, experience and knowledge to help others avoid some of the struggles and trauma I faced.
As most of the people who know me well will tell you that my decade got off to a bad start. I was dealing day to day with, then undiagnosed, bipolar. The poor decision making, erratic compulsive behaviour that comes with this no doubt in part, led to me leaving my job as a prison officer and then ultimately ending up in prison myself. As you can imagine life’s not fun in prison as an ex-prison officer. Once I was released from prison, I struggled mentally to process what had happened to me while serving my sentence. I had an overriding feeling of isolation, desperation and hopelessness which lead to suicidal thought processes. The experiences of that time I wouldn't wish upon anyone, I am still dealing with and will no doubt struggle with for life. However, thanks to the kindness and belief of others it’s not all doom and gloom.
The support and help, no matter how small, that I received through family and the friends saved me. I was referred through the crisis mental health team and was finally given a full diagnosis of Bi-polar Type 2. While I’ve never liked using the diagnosis as an excuse, getting this helped explain some of my behaviours and I found at least some comfort in that. With the diagnosis I was able to explore coping mechanisms that worked for me. This is very much a trial and error process, but I was starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Getting back into employment was the next huge struggle as the stigma attached to both mental health and criminal conviction are still huge. The way I was treated by some people for these was shameful, to say the least. Despite the doubters it was the the kindness and opportunities presented to me by two people that were the catalysts for my recovery. I was introduced to Adele Marshall in prison, she was to help me try and gain employment when I was released. Her compassion, understanding and non-judgemental approach got me through my last month inside. Upon release, despite numerous knockbacks for interviews, she introduced me to another lady called Victoria Perry at Staffordshire Council who runs the amazing ‘Open Door Scheme’. (I can never thank these two enough for helping me turn my life around) This scheme helps people get back into paid employment through work experience. I was thankfully given the opportunity to work at Staffordshire Council for ‘Amey’. I volunteered Mon-Fri 9-5 for 3 months before the hardwork paid off and I found myself being offered a fulltime job.
Since then in my career, I’ve not looked back. I’ve recently gained a promotion and am now a Line Manager and a Lead Operations Controller for Staffordshire Highways. I got through a tough process to get on to Amey's national ‘Talent Tracker’ programme and am now mentoring for the ‘Open Door Scheme’ that got me into Amey employment in the first place. I have even spoken to 150 colleagues about my story at a conference recently which I would never have had the confidence to do before.
My job satisfaction and passion continues into my other roles within the company as a Wellbeing Ambassador, Mental Health First Aider and now Mental Health First Aid Instructor. The fact is without people giving me a chance I wouldn’t be in this job. Without opportunities to learn new skills and become an instructor I wouldn’t have the confidence to talk about my experiences and without the support, a phone call here or a text to ask how I am there, I wouldn’t be alive to help others.
Therefore, our ever-growing Wellbeing Network and Amey’s brilliant investment in training our staff to be Mental Health First Aiders is so important. This network helps support our workforce, helps promote national wellbeing campaigns and helps our colleagues realise it’s ok to talk about mental health in the same breath as physical health. To have access to our Employee Assistance Programme for our colleagues as well as their immediate family is also an incredible coping tool and massively reassuring.
Learning to become a Mental Health First Aider is the best skill I’ve ever gained. I would recommend that anyone who is interested just goes for it. If my colleagues can pass on their experiences and training to help each other get through difficult times like this pandemic, then we together can get through anything. If we can continue to raise awareness to end the stigma attached to mental health, then we are going to be a stronger more resilient workforce going forward. Personally, if I can use my experiences, no matter how hard they were, to save anyone going through what I went through in the process, then it’s worth it.
Because my story isn’t all about the negatives of mental health it’s about overcoming those barriers and bettering yourself. On 03/03/2018 the best and scariest day of my life, my amazing son Presley was born. He gave me a bit of a scare to start with being 3 months early and while my wife Kirsty and Presley’s health was extremely touch-and-go for a while, I’ve never been so proud of them. If it hadn’t been for the amazing NHS staff this could have been completely different. The thoughtfulness, effort and care they showed in the letter below to my extremely ill wife while she couldn’t see our son for the first days of his life sum up the power of kindness.
Presley is now the greatest little boy I could hope for and I like to think he will look at me in years to come and be proud of me and who I am now. I couldn’t have said that at the start of the decade.
Just because life is better now and I can handle my mental health better, it’s doesn’t mean I don’t struggle day-to-day. But I now know I can get through anything if I talk about it and let people help me and let myself help others through my experiences. I never really thought about or realised the true power of KINDNESS until I sat down to write this story.
Kindness has saved me, kindness has helped my family, friends and colleagues through difficult times and being kind makes you feel good too.
So be kind, be safe and give yourself credit for how well you’re doing.