Suzanne Hathaway is a Community Psychiatric Nurse in the Stevenage Integrated Care Team.
In her role, Suzanne undertakes assessment of adults, with complex physical health and frailty with mental health concerns. She works in primary care and her main prescribers are GP’s. Within the service, she works with matrons, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
Suzanne has severe dyslexia. Here is her story.
Whilst I was at school, I didn’t do very well at anything. I was told I wouldn’t achieve anything and it completely destroyed my confidence. I didn’t feel stupid but I was treated as I was. I failed all my GCSE’s but I knew from the age of 5 that I was going to be a nurse. and nothing was going to stop me!
I went into auxiliary nursing when my manager put me in touch with the local college for nurse training. I was 25 and met with the tutor who was the first person to ask me if I had considered that I may be dyslexic. I was accepted onto the higher education course and said they will treat me as if I am dyslexic, therefore get the support available and be formally assessed.
So I started the 4 hour psychology assessment, everything was checked and the results showed that I was severely dyslexic. There was a big deficit. My reading age was 9. I cried, relieved that I’m ‘not stupid’, I wasn’t upset, rather I thought ‘omg’ I have something wrong and now I know why. Everything made sense. My whole life made sense. My whole life changed.
I received a grant and was able to get a computer and a support tutor. I completed a degree in Nursing and Social Work, with a first class distinction! I went back to my English teacher to let her know and show her how far I had come; it was such a good feeling.
I couldn’t believe it.
Out of the 11 different types of dyslexia, I had seven. However with practise, my reading speed improved and I learnt strategies to help me day to day. Reading and organisation is still a big problem for me, memory too, and I get muddled sometimes..
After I qualified I was put in situations and I struggled but I always disclosed that I had dyslexia. As I moved through different teams, the level of support varied depending on individual managers.
Things came to a head, when I was in a previous Trust. I was moved into a different unit because they didn’t know how to manage the situation. My anxiety levels increased and I spiralled. The Union, Access to Work and even Dyslexia Association got involved. Everything suddenly changed. For the first time I felt like I was a service user in my own employment, being analysed and watched like I was in a goldfish bowl. So I left there – that was in LD. I decided I never wanted to work in LD again.
I started working at a specialist dementia unit. I was very open and my manager was extremely supportive and my supervisor was brilliant – we are still friends today. After another Access to Work assessment, the Trust gave me my own laptop and a dragon (software and device that helps with dyslexia), A tutor from Dyslexia Association and weekly 1-1 support.
Around this time, I was working in SPA and also got my ADHD diagnosis. A condition that can affect people with dyslexia. Symptoms of ADHD include over talking, over excitement, and getting too involved. I had a lot of help understanding the difference, how it affects me and coping strategies.
That role gave me insight into mental health – my knowledge and confidence grew and so I applied for my current role. I have been here for three years and I love it. I feel like I‘ve found my niche. I’ve worked hard in strategising. I still struggle in meetings – I can take over without realising.
Because it’s a hidden disability – people struggle to understand. I’ve been commended on my face-face communication, which is a big positive for me. Day to day, I have to be more organised and I still I struggle with documentation; I have to be so thorough and check things over and over.
In terms of advice I would say don’t be frightened to ask for help, ask your manager. It doesn’t matter what your disability is, whether it mild or moderate, have the conversation because you would be amazed what they can support with.