I’m not alone …. Harray YFC’s Nicole Work

Nicole Work

Harray YFC

My name is Nicole Work, I’m 22 years old. I live in Kirkwall, Orkney.

I’m a current member of Harray YFC and a past member of Udny JAC.

Some personal facts –

  • Home – Born and raised to an Orcadian farming family in rural Aberdeenshire. Now living in Kirkwall, Orkney with my partner Andrew, our two cats (Bodhi and Tula), and 22 fish (and counting).
  • Work – Customer Service Assistant with NorthLink Ferries in Stromness, prior to that I was working for John Lewis in Aberdeen.
  • Studies – Not studying at the moment but contemplating doing a distance learning course to further my education whilst working full time.
  • Interests – Water and Snow Sports, Photography, Fishkeeping, and Gardening.

My Timeline –

  • Misdiagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder: April 2015.
  • Developed various unhealthy coping mechanisms: April 2018
  • Health continued to decline, signed off work: December 2018.
  • Handed in my notice, moved to Orkney: December 2018
  • Started New Job: January 2019
  • Contacted S.W.A.N requesting support: April 2019
  • Visited GP with NHS Orkney about mental health: October 2019
  • Diagnosed with Autism, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression: November 2019
  • Started on medication: November 2019
  • Medication dosage doubled (thanks COVID!): April 2020
  • Being (re)referred for CBT: June 2020

My Story –

My mental health in general has been quite the saga. I’ve always felt like the black sheep, the odd one out, a foreigner in a new country. Like most people, I was bullied throughout primary school which also continued throughout my secondary school years.

I don’t have many memories of my school years at all. I didn’t have much of a social life and because of the problems I had due to undiagnosed learning difficulties, school work wasn’t easy either. However, I had (and still have) such an incredible family support network, they taught me that life could always be worse, and encouraged me that if it doesn’t go to plan just get up, dust yourself off, and try again.

I never thought to go to the doctor about how much I worried because I genuinely believed everyone felt the same way I did, that I just hadn’t learned how to control or deal with it yet. This was apparently not the case. My doctor asked me to describe how it felt and the best descriptor I could come up with was that it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill, just one small thing can start it at the beginning of the day and the snowball starts rolling, it rolls and rolls and the snowball gets bigger and bigger. It feels like I’m falling with nothing to grab onto to stop myself. It feels like someone’s sitting on my chest and I can’t breathe.

Then comes depression. If you’re not familiar with this feeling I would strongly recommend reading a book called “I had a black dog” by Matthew Johnson. If i’m having a bad day I’m slow and I’m sluggish, I have no momentum, no appetite, no lust for life. I’ll likely do nothing most of the day, I’m forgetful and I hide away from the outside world. These spells happen in bouts, one day I’ll feel fine (or as close to fine as I can be), then all of a sudden for the next 3 weeks I feel like trash. This then usually leads to my eating habits getting worse, my skin breaking out, and putting on or losing weight depending on whether I was eating more or eating nothing at all, which obviously makes me feel worse, and if it goes unbroken becomes a long and vicious cycle of self-loathing.

Being in a customer-facing environment, you’ve got to look happy. You’ve got to look like you want to be there and you want to help, even when you don’t. I remember after some interactions with customers I would take 10 minutes in the stockroom and cry, just to get it out. This is where being Autistic comes in, the biggest reason I went undiagnosed for 19 years of my life (Aspergers is only recognizable after the age of 3) is because of masking. Masking is a double-edged sword. Masking a term coined to describe is the art of camouflaging your autistic traits to blend in with the standard neurotypical population- try to think of it like acting; but acting really, really, really well. Completely hiding everything that’s going on inside of you to the point of exhaustion (this is called burnout).

Long story short, years, and years of this bubbling under the surface of my skin started to take its toll. For two years I had the hiccups, constantly. I would get them between 5 and 20+ times a day and thought nothing of it. It turns out this was a subconscious sign of stress, a precursor to what would come. I started getting headaches, which turned into migraines, I then started being medicated for these but it didn’t help. They progressively got worse and I was bedridden with the pain, at this point, I visited the doctor and was signed off with stress. I remember asking my manager if I could visit my partner in Orkney early as it would help me recover, they agreed and I left. Whilst there I had a job interview which got me my job with NorthLink Ferries, I handed in my notice whilst signed off, came back to Aberdeen, worked my last few shifts with John Lewis and left to never return. I officially moved into Kirkwall on December 31st, 2018.

NHS Orkney was nothing but a blessing, I cannot thank the staff within Skerryvore Practice and The Balfour any more for the help they have given me, the support and the diagnosis I needed that have allowed me to understand my mind, and progress into feeling a little more human.

My recovery and moving forward with support –

A lot of people don’t believe in medicating, I personally believe people can do what they find works for them. I tried the “unmedicated” stance, and it was horrific. I’ve been suicidal multiple times in my short life but thankfully, I haven’t felt that way in a while. My doctor has suggested we think about coming off my meds once I feel able to but I think we’ll just wait and see. My anxiety has never been better and whilst it still bothers me, it’s no longer at the forefront of my mind and I really don’t want to have it controlling my life again.

It’s incredibly difficult to know where to go for help and support. I pushed myself out of my rut, I joined multiple clubs to meet new people, make new friends, find new hobbies, and overall distract myself from my own mind.

Being a member of SAYFC, whichever club I’ve been in has seriously helped me get to grips with myself by socializing, as well as relaxing by having a bit of fun, some of the best nights of my life have been spent at Intercounty Socials with Udny JAC. Udny was my first club so will always have a piece of my heart. Big love to Amy-Jo and Gemma, thank you for all your support over the years and thank you for all you’ve ever done for me. Where I am now with Harray YFC is fantastic, the crabs are a league of their own, I genuinely feel so at home and accepted within the club. Big love to Julia and Jo for never letting me shy away from anything and encouraging me to get involved, I need a push sometimes.

I’m also a member of the Orkney Dragons Women’s Rugby Team, Charlene our Scrum Half is always keeping me calm and in check, she’s good at keeping me right. I’m also a member of Orkney Amateur Weight Lifting Club. My coach, Byers is always pushing me to achieve more when I don’t believe in myself. Exercise has been something that has seriously improved my mental health and wellbeing, you might not enjoy jogging but if you try and find a sport that works for you, it’s so worthwhile.


I try to stay positive by remembering that despite how much I’d love to be able to, I can’t control everything. If it is outside of my control I shouldn’t bother worrying about it because I couldn’t help it in the first place.


I think it also helps to be honest, if you’re struggling, say something. Speak to someone! Your friend, a colleague, your supervisor, your GP. Big love to mine in fact- in particular, Susie, Rhonwen, and Lauren for all their help since I joined the NorthLink team, you’ve all helped me in ways you’ll never know. As well as Dr. Linklater and Dr. Brunt for their help since moving to Skerryvore Practice and living in Orkney.


I think my combination of mental health problems allow me to look at the world a little differently, I’m a firm believer in treating people the way I want to be treated, but on a day where that doesn’t work out I’ll do my best to relax, I go for a bath, take a run out to Tankerness and lend a hand on the farm, or I’ll take a trip to Yesnaby, I love sitting by the cliffside and listening to the waves crashing, it’s very soothing. I couldn’t do city living my whole life, being in the countryside, near the sea and the forests really help me to relax and feel better within myself.


Coronavirus 2020

I’ve been lucky enough to be considered a key worker so the structure of my routine remains fairly similar to what it was before all of this happened, which keeps my mind in check, it’s a nice thing. However, it has also brought on its own set of struggles as it’s swept across not only Scotland and the rest of the UK but the entire globe. The differences in the dynamics at my work lead to more stress, which was triggering my Aspergers and made my anxiety and depression worse, so my doctors doubled the dosage of my medication. I felt like I was admitting defeat but now that it’s in my system, I’m feeling much better, more like myself, and more able to deal with everyday life.

I’m once again going to take a second to thank the staff within Skerryvore Practice and The Balfour for their help and support during these times as I myself had a COVID scare (luckily, it was a chest infection) but everything was dealt with exceptionally well.

To Close –

I’d like to finish by saying something fairly simple, mental illness is one of the major public health challenges in Scotland. Around one in three people are estimated to be affected by mental illness in any one year.

If you are feeling down, Breathing Space is a free, confidential, phone service for anyone in Scotland over the age of 16 experiencing low mood, depression, or anxiety. They are open on weekdays: 6 pm to 2 am Monday-Thursday and weekends: 6 pm Friday to 6 am Monday, you can contact them on 0800 83 85 87.

SAMH also offers an Information Service. Whether you’re seeking support, are looking for more information for you or someone you love, or if you just want to have a chat about mental health you can contact them on 0344 800 0550 or email info@samh.org.uk . These services are available Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 6 pm.

You are definitely not alone, so please do not suffer by yourself.

Nicole's Follow Up Blog