In July 2014 she had her first interview with a Personal Advisor attached to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). At this meeting the advisor discussed things she could do including the Condition Management Programme (CMP) and the training and support available from the Clanrye Group.
Two important decisions
Nicola says, "After that meeting I made the first of two very important decisions that would completely turn my life around.
First of all, I decided to start the CMP and completed it in February 2015. During this time a programme at Clanrye had been mentioned, however at the time of finishing the CMP I did not feel ready to start another programme and decided to wait.
The second monumental decision I made was to actually commence the Clanrye ‘Positive Directions’ programme. I started the programme on 1 October 2015 in Portadown.
On my first day I was nervous, however I was made to feel very welcome and this helped to partly ease my social anxiety and confidence, which at the time was very low. Gareth Woodall and Charlene Beattie were amazing those first few weeks and really made it easier for me to settle into the programme. Within weeks I was completing qualifications and this helped my confidence to grow."
In November her advisers discussed the possibility of her starting a work placement and set up a meeting with Orthopaedic Integrated Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service (ICATS) in Portadown Health and Care Centre. She started her placement on Monday 7 December 2015.
Nicloa says, "Straightaway, I was made to feel like a member of the team and I was with them for 15 months until I had completed the programme. This was so beneficial in helping me to gain confidence in myself and a belief that I could get a job."
Nicola pays tribute to the support she received on the programme:
"Throughout the ‘Positive Directions’ programme I was given so much support from Gareth Woodall, Charlene Beattie and Sorcha McConville.
They were instrumental in helping me gain new qualifications and skills and I was also able to make lifelong friends. Whilst on the programme my anxiety became difficult to manage at times and on some occasions I found myself having panic attacks.
During this time Gareth, Charlene and Sorcha were extremely supportive and when I had a panic attack I was immediately given help and sometimes I accompanied Sorcha for walks to the shop to try and distract me from the thing that was making me anxious. I am so grateful for the support and care I received at that time."
Applying for jobs
During her time on the programme Nicola started to apply for jobs.
"Charlene’s assistance in completing application forms and preparing for interviews was amazing. Getting back into work was something I was very worried about because I felt that any potential employer would look at my illness and conditions and decide that I would be unreliable and therefore not give me a chance to prove that I could do the job.
New skills and confidence
Participating in the work placement with ICATS and also assisting Charlene with administration in Clanrye gave me so many new skills that my confidence in my abilities grew and I realised that I would be a valuable member of any team if they gave me a chance to prove myself."
These opportunities allowed Nicola to provide evidence of her skills on both the application form and in interviews and they also provided her with current and relevant references.
She explains: "I applied for quite a few jobs and managed to get interviews for all but two of the posts I applied for. On 13 January 2017 I went for an interview with Praxis Care to be an administrator for the counselling team in the Southern Trust. On Wednesday 18 January I received a call offering me the job with Praxis which I accepted and I started work in Portadown on 3 April 2017."
Nicola believes that without first completing the CMP and more recently Clanrye ‘Positive Directions’ programme she would not be where she is now:
"I will always be grateful for all the help, support and friendship that I have gained whilst on the ‘Positive Directions’ Programme. I would recommend the programme to anyone and firmly believe it was instrumental in getting me back into work and becoming more confident in myself and my abilities."