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Isabel Ngwenya, Support Worker, Shine Partnerships

My arthritis won’t stop me being hands on!


Isabel Ngwenya, Support Worker, Shine Partnerships

My name is Isabel Ngwenya and at 37 years of age, my story is a simple but a very important one about how I worked in Mental Health services alongside dealing with my own incurable & debilitating health condition.

I first came into the profession 17 years ago. I started off as a Support Worker, working with elderly service users. Our duties were mainly to administer medication and tend to individual care needs such as cleaning, cooking, room care and personal care. The job was hard, but I felt like I was making a worthwhile contribution to their lives. At this point, I learnt that it was on this path I would feel most fulfilled.

In 2016 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I had always been a hands-on, active person in work and life; meeting the physical demands with ease so the challenge of this condition impacted greatly on my ability to continue this approach to both work and home life. It forced major changes, that were out of my control.

When I was diagnosed with the condition, I felt as though my work life would be substantially affected so much so that I would not be able to continue. I contemplated the scary prospect of being unemployed because of my condition. It inevitably took a toll on my emotional state. The debilitating effects of my condition included loss of use in my right arm, my knees locking up and a lot of painful swelling. I went for several steroid injections, had immune system inhibitors given, biological therapy and even chemotherapy.

I felt like I was losing to my condition physically, but I was determined to stay strong mentally and do everything I was still able to do. I persevered to the best of my ability and continued to push on with all the physical strength I had remaining. I began following my own treatment plan, although I was made aware of the health risks such as heart disease and susceptibility to infections as a result, which was unnerving, I had never been so determined to overcome any barriers and still make a valuable contribution to the work place and our service users lives.

I was told by many to claim Disability Living Allowance, as I had a qualifying condition; however, I never perceived it that way and ignored those who tried to tell me otherwise. I chose to engross myself in work, which I found a key part of my healing process. I discovered work to be a blessed distraction, although in the beginning I would enter work and often fall emotional at my desk. Nevertheless, I continued with the tasks as I knew my work was transforming the lives of our clients, and gradually things became easier to manage. The service users were ultimately my inspiration.

I am grateful to Shine Partnerships, as I received a lot of support from management and from my colleagues. I had an OT assessment at work and adjustments were made to my duties and the facilities. I was helped with my mobility such as hand rails, raised chairs and touch screen devices. These were just a few of the solutions provided to me.  

I was offered opportunities to progress within the company as my consistent contribution to the service was recognised and I was determined not to allow my condition to put me off going for those opportunities. As I progressed within the company, my new role as Induction coordinator allowed me to offer training to our new members of staff to cover the theoretical aspects of the job and my colleagues provided assistance to deliver the more practical parts of the role.  I was able to train staff with minimal movement from my desk. I was able to discuss openly with management and to share concerns which helped me feel acknowledged and this in turn was beneficial to my mental state. This has allowed me to contribute to the professional care of others whilst faced with circumstances that might have stopped many others.

I’m thankful to my team as I was met with a lot of consideration, compassion and understanding. I found a lot of reasons to continue working from my colleagues. I recognised that we had to maintain good communication and the link between all of us is essential in delivering high quality, personalised care. I managed to progress within the company and never gave up. I have always tried to have a positive outlook in all aspects of my life, and I am trying to teach that to our service users and to my daughter.

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