From 27th October 2014 until 4th February 2015 I undertook a paid internship in the office of Jamie Hepburn MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. The internship was effectively in two ‘parts’, with the first part taking place in the MSP Block until 24th November, and from the 25th November until my finish date I was based in the Ministerial Tower. The reason for this move was that Jamie was appointed Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health. This precipitated a physical move to the area of the Scottish Parliament where the government ministers are based (and I was also based on the same floor as the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister). I’ll talk about that in another post because it deserves its own little space bracket as a particularly interesting environment within which to undertake an internship.
I’m writing this post after my internship has finished. I have written other blog posts, unpublished as yet, which will follow this one that relay where I was based and the experiences I had, including the shadowing opportunities I undertook. However I wanted to get this one on screen after all the uniqueness of such a placement had finished and I could properly reflect on my fears about how my impairment would ‘perform’ in such a new environment, and through such extensive commuting. I was travelling from Paisley, so my journey consisted of a bus and two trains each way. It took about four and a half hours each day there and back but it was mostly sitting on transport and a few short walks. I read nine books during these long commutes! For me, new experiences brought concerns over adjustments I might need to make to my routine (which you can’t really control in advance). The long journey filled me with anxiety for the number of things I imagined might go wrong and how my illness might perform. But surprisingly in the main it was fine apart from a few mishaps; I realised how much unconscious/sub-conscious anxiety I carry around on a daily basis. From that side of things it was a relatively good experience and a positive one, which has given me more confidence in that regard. I did find through trial and error that I needed to double my prescriptions for appliances and add new things to my prescription to assist in the new situations I found myself in. My GP during this time was particularly helpful and kind.
From another perspective, the move from one office where I was settled to another induced a reaction in me I didn’t anticipate. From the stability and known office I was placed in at first (alongside public servants serving MSPs), to being moved to a different side of the building (alongside civil servants serving ministers) created the response in me where I froze for about a day. I realised that it could be because all my coping mechanisms are directed at my impairment; for a short period of time the sudden change in environment pulled the ground from under me. At first I had no idea where anything was, where the toilets were in particular, and lacked the wherewithal to find it out (again, that is not like me). I was plunged into the office of busy and tense civil servants working for ministers. Quite frankly I was very surprised at my own reaction – that I found it so difficult to adjust – because I’ve worked in many offices and environments that generally I’ve been fine in (I’ve worked for the last 16 years so I’m not new to an office environment).
Thus, this placement was very important from the perspective of being faced with my own reactions to new and unknown environments, and how I attempted to work through those. The main explanation I could come up with for my difficulty with change was because this placement was the first time since my operations and treatments that I’d travelled so far from home each day and been in an office environment full time. Prior to this I had jobs that were outreach-based or directly in communities (as a community worker); before and in the early stages of my diagnosis I was functioning relatively well in the public sector. From 2007 I did my various qualifications and my Master of Research (MRes) and PhD through being situated at home. I occasionally travelled abroad for conferences, and for meetings and seminars at university with my supervisor when required. I conducted my research fieldwork over longer periods of time in various communities. I also do transcription work (which I’m now back to because my placement has finished), which is entirely home-based.
Therefore at the point of beginning the internship I didn’t have a clue what resources I had within myself, or needed to have. I only knew at the point of exposure what I needed to do to adjust. During this time of adjustment I hope I did my job well; I was still diligent and hard-working and did everything that was asked of me. I hope I was a good colleague and a helpful employee. All of these things greatly matter to me. But there’s the other aspect of having an impairment which affected me underneath all of that. It took me longer than normal to bring myself back to calmer territory, and I didn’t reach out to ask for help as I didn’t know how. So I feel I’ve added something else to my experience of dealing with and getting through that period of time. I know that I can deal with change in my professional life and work alongside that with the adjustments I will potentially need – and that’s quite an important finding I think.