Coming to university was a lot harder than I expected, as I encountered a whole new experience in a city I had never been to before. I have always been a shy person but as one, in an environment where many of my peers where quite loud and outgoing I quickly felt lonely, overwhelmed and at times, quite depressed due to my social skills, or lack thereof. Indeed, due to my difficultly socialising my relationship with my flatmates in university halls was at first quite, strained. The problem was that I wanted to good friends with them but my general anxiety had a big impact on how attempted to do so. This also had an effect on my university work, as I became more and more stressed and so found it increasingly hard to concentrate on it.

I knew I had to do something, so I went to my student services. They got my GP to refer me to speech and language therapy at Cardiff’s Heath Hospital. This was the beginning of a positive and ongoing process to greater confidence in my communication and social skills. I was increasingly outgoing, going to parties and becoming more comfortable within other similar social situations. I also made new and valued friends, including my university flatmates.

Another situation where my social anxiety was particularly challenging was at presentations at university by myself or with others. Very often, I knew quite clearly what I wanted to say, but the words just didn’t want to come out. With the help of a bit of practise and the help of speech and language therapy this got a little better. Indeed, when I gave presentations as part of the Graduate Academy, feedback suggested it improved quite a bit. Without this improvement in my social confidence I might not even have attended the Graduate Academy or involved myself in the Prince’s Trust.

A  group photo of the Summer 2014 GoWales Graduate Academy, including myself.

A group photo of the Summer 2014 GoWales Graduate Academy, including myself.

Though I am still a relatively shy person I have also been told by many people how equally determined I am and consequently, despite my personal challenges, I am intent on not letting this be a barrier to me in my future life or indeed, career. Consequently, though my strength lies with my written communication skills I am extremely eager to develop and strengthen my verbal communication skills with, in part, the help of Mind.

I know this is possible because I do not let challenges become obstacles and as such, I also know that this mind-set is critical to achieve my goals. In the end I am glad I shared my worries during university. I have come to love Cardiff and with the help of the many good friends I have made here, including as a volunteer at Mind and SNAP Cymru, I am positive I can make even more progress. By volunteering at Mind I have built good working relationships with my colleagues and am confident I could do so again, if required at other organisations, in my future career.

One of the ways I am challenging myself to increase my confidence is trying reception duties while being supported and learning with another volunteer. Through simply saying hello and interacting with visitors by developing my confidence to strike a quick and friendly conversation I am confident I can develop my ability to do so for other situations like interviews, which I have found hard before.

This is an article which was originally published in The Cardiff Times November edition

SNAP Cymru is a charity which aims to empower families and young people in Wales who face discrimination or exclusion due to learning needs, poverty, deprivation, disability or language by providing accurate information, objective advice and support. This can relate to a wide range of issues including assessments, statements of special education needs, bullying, school attendance, exclusion, health and social care provision and discrimination. Other services they provide include advocacy (through their independent service; About Me), disagreement resolution and training for young people, parents and professionals.

Wmff is a new online platform where young people can seek advice and support, including videos of personal stories where young people tell about their past difficulties, but most importantly how they overcame them. These stories involve experience of bullying in education, work or being out of work, education or training. Information on your legal rights under the 1989 UN Convention on The Rights of The Child is also set out. As such these stories were quite inspiring to myself. SNAP Cymru hope to develop the website’s forum in the future but through an exclusive app assistance is currently available on call whenever a young person needs their support. The website also has several useful links to other informative websites.

My time with the organisation has been very positive and supportive so far. The level of responsibilities I have been given shows a confidence in my abilities. This is despite my own problems with speech, which continue to be a personal barrier to many employment opportunities. This also speaks volumes about their approach and values toward young people with special needs and how they empower them through these. Through this opportunity I can find my voice; here my problems don’t prevent me from fulfilling my potential. They recognize the skills I do have, rather than the ones I have yet to further develop. Using both this experience and the confidence I have gained from undertaking a recent careers course, the GoWales Graduate Academy, I know that I have the ability to achieve much more in the future.

The most positive and indeed, greatest mutual impact of this is I have invaluable and real work experience in a working environment (something I know employers are looking for within a competitive jobs market) while helping the organisation achieve its aims and objectives.

 

Maxwell-Dean

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