January 20, 2009

In the 1990s during my A-Levels I developed ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome after three-weeks of type A or B influenza caused my immune system to collapse and never recover. I didn't get diagnosed for some years, so had to drop out of university, and suffered a “breakdown" more properly known as a major depressive episode.

No-one noticed much at the day hospital that I was disappearing at meal times to eat at the staff canteen because I thought someone might poison the meals at the day hospital. At university, the clinical psychologist told me that the “gas chambers" I was imagining as I showered in the middle of the night (because the ME caused total sleep reversal) were just a symptom of sleep deprivation.

I went back to college and did media studies and completed a journalism degree, though my health made this an uphill struggle and I only just made it through to gain a BA (Hons) 2.1 in Broadcast Journalism.

But it wasn't until several years later when discrimination in the workplace brought an end to my career in local radio that I was finally admitted to hospital suffering an acute psychotic episode after a long gradual increase in delusions and paranoia – known to psychiatrists as a “prodrome"..

I had worked as a staff member at my local radio station for only half of my contract when the acting news editor decided that 5 hours a day wasn't enough and that she wanted me to get up at 4.30am, with ME, to read breakfast bulletins. We'd agreed five hour afternoon shifts to fit around my health. This was blatant discrimination, and when I complained, the news editor rang around other stations telling them I was suing for discrimination (which I wasn't, and didn't!) and so I had to go out of the area (an hour's drive away, with ME) for further work.

This was just the first taste of what was to come!

I had another depressive episode but managed to go freelance and enjoy three years of intermittent success. I applied for many jobs, mainly at larger radio stations, because of their sizeand the perception that they would be reputable and non-discriminatory.Working as a freelance gained me access to radio stations' internal websites, or “intranets", where most jobs are advertised (internally, if at all). One recruitment department confirmed to me in an email that over a two-year period when I had approached my local station for work, no jobs were advertised, yet a young reporter was taken on.

It got worse. When I applied for a job at an international radio station as a trainee, with 6 places, my notes (obtained under the Data Protection Act) showed 100% scores at interview and assessment, and the last words were “enter intake". “We were very impressed by your candidature." said the rejection letter. Upon one of many national radio job applications I discovered from internal memos obtained under the Act that only one candidate had been short listed, and so understandably got the job. “I have chosen a recruitment path for this vacancy and do not intend to change that" was the editor's reply to my email.

Ultimately a combination of poor recruitment practices in the media and discrimination in the industry became so apparent that I took professional careers advice and also sought extensive feedback from each job interview. Generally, I would be short listed, because of that advice, but I became so disillusioned and dismayed by bad practice in the industry that I eventually concluded there was no point in applying for any more jobs.

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