Two years ago I got my dream job as an assistant registrar at Gretna, the wedding capital of the UK. Having always been a hopeless romantic, I'd always thought it would be the most wonderful job in the world to spend my days attending weddings and actually being the person who said "I now pronounce you husband and wife"!
Once I started I was soon conducting ceremonies, and to my surprise I wasn't remotely nervous about standing up and speaking in front of 2, 10, 50 or 100 people – it just didn't bother me at all! It was a similar thing to my being in an amateur dramatics group when I was in my late teens – although I was cripplingly, excruciatingly shy, I had no problems in standing on a stage in front of an audience because I was playing a role and it wasn't "Emma" up there.
So how did the problems start? Well just after I started at Gretna, I found out that I'd be expected to go on training courses in Edinburgh from time to time – this was the first I'd heard of any training courses as it wasn't mentioned at my interview or induction. Had I been told at interview that I'd be expected to spend time away from my safe place and go up to Edinburgh on my own I'd have had serious second thoughts about accepting the job. I just couldn't cope with being away from my sanctuary for 3 or 4 nights in a strange city, in a strange bed, and having to meet a big group of strangers and actually have to socialise with them at a registrar's dinner.
My manager, who had hitherto been supportive of my health issues, just couldn't understand why this would be a problem to me and kept telling me "the training is mandatory". The closer it came, the more anxious I was getting and I felt backed into a corner. When it comes to the point that something at work is causing you to have panic attacks, you've got to put your health first and so I put it into writing that I would not be attending the course at that time for health reasons. My manager was not pleased at this at all, and said she would have to refer me to occupational health. When I attended the appointment the nurse began by reading out the report that my manager had submitted to them stating the reason for my referral. It began by stating that the training course I had an issue with was "not mandatory" and that was pretty much all that was mentioned on that matter – instead it went on to say that my anxiety caused problems at work and that she didn't think I was capable of doing the job. She also said that I created an atmosphere at work and that several of my colleagues had a problem with me. I was completely gutted – it was nothing short of character assassination and I couldn't understand where any of it had come from. As far as I was aware, I got on great with all my colleagues, and my manager had never called me into her office over any problems with my work.
Suddenly, what should just have been a molehill became a mountain of my employer's making, and because of what had happened I was suddenly more anxious than ever and had to be signed off work. I went to HR about the situation as I was advised that I could put in a formal complaint about my manager, but the idea of going through all that and having formal meetings with council officers and not to mention my manager herself just caused me to panic even more. So, I felt completely backed into a corner again and eventually felt the only thing I could do was resign as I couldn't face going forward with a complaint but nor could I face going back into work because I couldn't imagine things ever being the same again.
So I've not worked since April and been officially unemployed since June, and I'm just getting more and more depressed. In truth, I was thinking about handing in my notice in the near future anyway as I was struggling to cope with working full-time – I was feeling almost constantly exhausted – but I should have been able to go when the time was right for me, not feel pushed out the door. I had wanted to set up on my own an as independent celebrant and was bursting with ideas for setting up in business, but what happened at work set me back so much that I lost all confidence and I've not been able to do anything about it.
I don't feel ready to return to working full-time either, but I feel I have to because I'm scared my partner and I won't be able to survive on only one full-time wage coming in. Espcecially since up until recently I've been the one supporting him, as he's still got loans to pay off left over from his previous relationship. So I've been applying for jobs for the last couple of months, some part-time, some full-time. Everytime I get an interview it throws me into a panic and leaves me exhausted after. I've been offered a couple of jobs but turned them down because I just didn't get good vibes from the place or people and panicked at the thought of starting work there! But the two jobs I've really been interested in, one at a school and one at a college, I put my heart and soul into trying to get but didn't get offered either position. They would have been ideal, because a term time job would mean I'd have a full-time wage coming in for most of the year, but get plenty of time off for recuperation during the school holidays too!
I feel at such a low ebb at the moment because I'm so scared not knowing what the future holds, what I'm going to be doing work-wise, how we're going to cope financially. Not to mention feeling like a failure because I haven't been able to pluck up the courage to do what I really wanted to do in the first place, which was go it alone as an independent celebrant!