My journey back to employment

It’s been exactly one year now since I became unemployed. I was offered a redundancy at my previous workplace, and I accepted it with delight – I had been planning on leaving for ages, and this way I got paid for it. I had been building up my courage to resign partially because my bosses were asking me to do impossible amounts of work in too-short a day, and partially because the organisation as a whole seemed to be shifting its focus from mental health recovery to a business profiting from mental health maintenance. In a way, the redundancy was the kick out of the door I needed to take the leap into the unknown.

For a few months I rested. I healed, I gamed, I recovered from the physical and emotional toll I’d been putting myself through to keep up at work. And then (as the redundancy payment in my bank account slowly trickled away) I started looking at progressing my career. I wanted to specialise in counselling, and one of the first things I learned was that many roles required Mental Health Accreditation from the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). I glanced at how complex and expensive it was to obtain and felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t even finish reading the application process. Besides, there were plenty of jobs that didn’t require it so I decided to try my luck at finding somewhere that wanted me to do the work without needing the qualifications.

This proved harder than I thought. All the places I applied for rejected me as soon as they found out I didn’t have the accreditation, even though they didn’t mention it in their advertising. I even applied for a few recovery support roles (a step sideways rather than a step forwards in my career), and somehow I didn’t even get any of those roles either. After two particularly good interviews, I was offered a jobs on the condition that I get Accreditated, so I decided to go for it.

My first step was to join the AASW, and this introduced me to their Professional Development events. After so long working with people from multi-disciplinary backgrounds, it was incredible to immerse myself among like colleagues. Hearing the language of social work, phrases like “leaning into discomfort” and “holding the hope” dropped casually in conversation made me feel like I’d come home. My heart sang “My people! At last, I’ve found them!”

At this point I had connected with an Employment Service Provider that fortunately agreed to pay both for my membership to the AASW (~$600), and my application for Accreditation (~$700). Unfortunately, there were some complications with the person who was supposed to help me, and after six weeks of calling and emailing without hearing from anybody, I finally got hold of the manager who arranged the payment for membership within a day.

Next I turned my sights to the referee statement I needed to obtain from a previous supervisor. I contacted my most recent team leader, a fellow social worker, who said she was happy to help. After several weeks however, she contacted me saying she declined being my referee on the grounds that she didn’t think that work I had done was “clinical mental health”. I followed this up with one of the assessors, and he assured me that my experience was exactly what they were looking for, but that supervisor still declined to support my application. Hurt and confused, I asked the person who had been my team leader before her. While she initially agreed, I didn’t hear from her for several weeks. In the end I asked a third person, an increasingly indirect mentor, and I gratefully paid her for the time and effort she took in writing the statement for me.

I attended a lot of training over the following six months or so, working my way up to those 50 hours I needed to qualify for accreditation. It felt wonderful being back in the game, at the cutting edge of current research, meeting inspirational people doing incredible work. But I also needed 10 hours of supervision, and none of my time at Richmond counted because it was from the previous financial year. I paid for some externally, and made up the rest through my future colleagues who kindly agreed to do it for free. After a frantic few months, I had finally met all the requirements to apply. 

Except for one. The application itself, which was so long and dense (35 pages) that I still hadn’t brought myself to read it. When I finally did, I discovered it required about 8000 words of short and long answer questions, as well as requiring me to contact HR from my previous job and to calculate how many hours I’d worked across my four years there in various roles with different time tables. Completing the application took dozens of hours, far longer than I had planned for, and I spent days in a writing frenzy so that I could finish it in time for a meeting with my Employment Service Provider so that we could submit it online.

But when the day of our appointment came, my worker hadn’t actually organised for the payment to be made, despite rescheduling so he had an extra week to do it. He said he’d get it done and I could sign off on it by the next day at the latest. I didn’t hear from him for another two weeks, so in peak frustration I submitted the accreditation online and paid for it myself. When I saw him a month later, he had opened (but apparently not read) the emails I sent him, and had taken no further actions towards organising payment for it. When I told him that I’d paid for it myself he promised to organise a reimbursement for me, but that was two weeks ago and he hasn’t responded to any of my emails so I’m not holding my breath.

There were a few more roadblocks to conquer, even though I’d submitted it successfully. The AASW emailed me saying they needed me to upload my Professional Development onto their website before they would proceed with my application, in spite of the fact I’d read that this was optional. A week later they emailed again asking me to post them certified copies of my degree and name change certificate, despite the application saying that these could be scanned and submitted online. I sent the documents in priority mail anyway so that they’d arrive the next day, but they didn’t check them for another week.

All of this took a month from the day I submitted and paid for it online.

Blessedly, once the assessor had actually received my application, it only took them two weeks to complete it. After many long months I was finally awarded with my Accreditation and the largest hurdle was over. Armed with this, I could now apply for a Medicare Provider Number so I could start delivering my counselling services under them. To my amusement and impatience, it’s been six days now and I’m still waiting to hear back about whether my form has successfully been submitted, but assuming it has I’ll be starting two weeks from now.

This past year has taught me so much about surrender. I’ve learned time and time again that there are many things in life beyond my control, and to do what I can and make my peace with what I can’t. My once stalwart faith in bureacracy has been deeply shaken, and I’m cautious to put my trust in institutions that promise help but don’t deliver.

In this past year I’ve sunk deeply into despair. I’ve wrestled with shame, and befriended fear. I’ve felt the burning hot flames of rage at the broken promises and the spontaneous barriers. I’ve contained a tornado of restlessness, and directed it at a thousand trivial things to stop it from destroying me. But I never gave up, and I walk forwards still. Step by step I will continue on this path I am forging towards the future I envisage.

That’s not to say it was all doom and gloom – I’ve enjoyed many blessings this year. I’ve learned a lot about gratitude, and appreciating the joy that surrounds me. But I have to say, if I’d known it would take a year for me to get this accreditation, I probably would have done things differently. Still, my next big adventure is about to unfold, and I open myself to it with courage and kindness.

Thanks to everyone who’s stayed in my life this year. Y’all are the best, and I wouldn’t have made it without you.

5 thoughts on “My journey back to employment

  1. I am so proud of you (I know I say that a lot, but it’s true). Such a horrendously difficult path to have to walk down, and you have done it! And with amazing resilience and tenacity, too. I love you.

  2. Galaxy Girl says:

    Oh Xin!!

    Does it feel satisfying to write out all those barriers? To make it tangible – all the ridiculousness?!

    I’m so sorry it’s been such an incredibly long year. Well done you for the place you found within yourself to continue to work through it. <3

    • Xin says:

      Thanks GG. To be honest, it was actually really hard to write. This took me two days, because every time I started writing I just felt so angry and my writing starting turning pretty bitter. Even re-reading it now, I’m filled with so much frustration, and its hard for me to disconnect from.

      Thanks for your kind words and friendship this year. It’s been a doozy!

      • Galaxy Girl says:

        i am not surprised you found it hard to write. I was screaming in anger as there was just more and more frustration… and it had no impact on me whatsoever! I’m glad you have pulled through!!

      • Xin says:

        Thank you for that. I’m surprised at how touching it is for you to feel anger on my behalf at the injustices I’ve experienced. Thank you for caring <3

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