Michael is a colleague at Moving Forward. His journey to employment began when he joined Moving Forward as a member, during a difficult time in his life. When Michael felt he was back on his feet, he began to volunteer with Moving Forward, before finally becoming a Peer Support Link Worker for the service. Michael has kindly allowed us to share his story, taken from an interview we recorded with him.
Tell us what your life was like before Moving Forward
The amount of anxiety I had about going out: I went from, ‘I’m going to be up all night, thinking about things’, then ‘I’ll get there and I’ll be on the verge of panic’. And that’s not true anymore. I mean, I couldn’t use the bus before Moving Forward, but now I use the bus every day. It’s helped me deal with my anxiety, my social isolation, and put a bunch of structure back in my life.
What made you want to engage with Moving Forward?
When I came to Moving Forward I had very low expectations, because at that point in my life it wasn’t ‘Where do I see my life in six months’ time?’, it was ‘This is what’s happening today’ and that was enough to freak me out. If you asked me what I was capable of doing, the short list was: I can sleep, I can eat, and I can watch TV, and that’s about it. But with Moving Forward it was a feeling of ‘We’, ‘What are we going to do’, rather than ‘What are you going to do?’ I felt like when I felt quiet, I didn’t have to talk.
Was there a specific turning point in your journey?
I can identify two: the making a friend and the volunteering. My link worker tried to find something I liked to do; we set up a swimming group with me and another guy and we fast became friends.
In the run-up to Christmas, the swimming baths were going to be closed. It was the realisation that I was actually going to miss being there. It wasn’t an obligation, it was something I wanted to do and the recognition that he wasn’t just another group member, he was a friend.
In terms of my self-image, that really changed how I look at myself. I didn’t feel like people were going to respond well to me, and the idea that there was someone who wanted to talk to me–it was a huge mental shift.
How did volunteering help?
My link worker asked me if I had considered doing anything with computers. We have computers at Moving Forward that people came in to use; he asked me if I would consider coming in to help people with that. It felt like it was the first time I had responsibility to do something that wasn’t for myself, it was for others.
I surprised myself with the ability to go, and how I wanted to keep going; it gave me a feeling of self-worth again. For the first time, I felt like I was making a contribution – not just to society, but to other people’s lives – and that I had a purpose again. And I quite liked that.
At that point, I was going to the shop, and I was even doing it on my own, which was quite amazing! And if I saw someone, I had something to say. It was an identity almost, in that for the first time my identity wasn’t ‘housebound’. The other thing the volunteering gave: it gave me back hope. It gave me that belief that the future could be better than the present was.
What is the biggest impact that Moving Forward has had on your life?
I’ve done such different things with Moving Forward: on the one hand, I’ve made a friend, and on the other I’ve got some self-belief back. It’s not a pyramid, it’s a trident: the friend, the volunteering, and the job. The volunteering gave me the structure I needed and it gave me my confidence back. I sat down with someone and we did my resume; the fact that I got interviews instead of a rejection letter for my applications kind of amazed me.
On that first day working at Moving Forward I was terrified; I expected to have more days where I would wake up and go, you know, ‘I can’t do it’. But I haven’t had one of those mornings!
I always walk out the door and feel like I’ve done something, I’ve accomplished something, and I’ve helped someone.