I was a software developer who was confident and active. I was quite social and loved hiking for example. However several years ago I started getting Panic Attacks, which got worse to the extent that I also became Agoraphobic. I was housebound and working from home initially. I became depressed about my situation and could no longer focus on work and was eventually made redundant. I started to push myself to getting out of the house and exposing myself to situations and after a long, slow journey over a period of 4 years I was at the point where I was getting out and about, shopping, attending appointments, and on rare occasions going to social functions. But I was now stuck in a rut. I knew I would need to get back into work somehow but I didn’t have any idea how I could do it. It seemed too big a hurdle to tackle. I still had Anxiety and feelings of panic in pressured situations. I had no faith in the medical system at this point after quite a few let downs and CBT hadn’t worked for me. I decided the best thing to do would be to volunteer for charity work as this would give me the ability to test the waters and see how I coped with no pressure to commit myself. After trying a couple of things I felt it wasn’t working and then my ESA advisor gave me an application form for Mustard Tree and suggested I go visit. If I’m honest I would have to say I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t entirely enthused by the idea, but I went down anyway, feeling somewhat stressed and panicky. I was introduced to Peter who explained what Mustard Tree and the Freedom Project were all about and registered me for an induction the following Monday. I left feeling panicked but encouraged and hopeful that this would help me somehow.

The provision of working with people in a work environment with a friendly ambience and no pressure to perform has benefitted me the most. The kindness and patience of the staff and their encouragement in making you believe you can do something you didn’t think you could, providing assistance when you felt you needed it. Mustard Tree made me feel like I was contributing, not that I was simply a participant. I felt I was getting out of it what I put in and that I was valued and respected. This gave me a tremendous boost to my confidence which had suffered greatly with my condition.

I have started working for a small technology company that provides consultation and IT support. For now I only want to work 2 days a week, as I don’t want to put undue pressure on myself and the company has been kind enough to accept that. I am back to being a software developer and loving it! Something I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back into, even until recently.

I am a lot more confident in interacting with people and more open to trying out new things. Working and befriending many of the participants in Mustard Tree has opened my eyes to another world I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see before. I have a lot more empathy, patience and respect for others, no matter what their situation is, everyone has their own story to tell and their own struggle they are contending with.

When I joined the project I had no idea whether I even wanted to get back into software development. I think at that time I really didn’t want to but I had no idea what else I could do. I am now not only back in software development but I have rediscovered my love for it and enjoying it immensely. I believe next year I will be in a position where I will be working full time and will no longer be dependant on state benefits. Having the ability to earn a wage itself opens up a lot of opportunities again, such as travelling or going out a lot more. For the first time in a long time I have hope and I am looking forward to what is to come!

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