on helpfulness me and orla
photo by Helen Stephens

Hi, I’m Sara & I left my meaningful, rewarding job in Speech Therapy to take photos of coffee & write about my phone. Well, pretty much.
I can’t say I regret it, because they wouldn’t be true; but equally, it hasn’t been an easy decision. I think anyone with a degree of empathy & conscience would struggle when faced with a similar choice: did I want meaning, with crappy pay and occasional exposure to other people’s bodily fluids, or champagne press launches with financial and creative freedom?

In my moments of self-criticism I try to remind myself that I did my time: ten years, in which I helped more children than I can remember. I have scars on my hands & arms from some of the SEN kids I worked with. Once I stood barefoot in a fresh warm poo (it was on a visit to a Muslim home, so I’d just removed my shoes…)

There was never a child I met on the Autistic spectrum who I couldn’t find a way to connect with, somehow. I honestly believe that that is my gift in life – not photography, or writing, or any of this stuff. I was really good at my job, and I loved it, but the pay was lousy, & the conditions just kept gradually getting worse. I was appreciated by my brilliant colleagues, but not by the outdated management team. I had zero prospects, and in the end, there just wasn’t enough to keep me there.

I count myself incredibly fortunate to have been handed the opportunity to follow different dreams – brilliantly exciting dreams, at that. I’m addicted to the buzz of my inbox surprising me every day with new opportunities and offers that I never thought would be open to me, & I’m earning more than I ever did in the NHS. This month I was the main breadwinner in our household, in fact! I’d long ago written off the idea of that happening.

I’m smart enough to know you can’t turn moments like this down, & sharp enough to know I was wasting a lot of my sass and savvy at the bottom of the NHS heap.

But I do miss that feeling of helpfulness. I miss the relationships I formed with people I’d otherwise never get to meet; getting past the obstacles of learning disabilities to know the brilliant, funny, warm-hearted and sometimes completely badass young people underneath. It’s not professional to have favourites, but I had them anyway – shit loads of them; ones I visited at weekends, ones I spent my lunchbreaks watching YouTube videos with. I truly met some of my favourite humans ever in Manchester’s special schools, & I’ll never forget them, as long as I live.

So while I love what I do now, I still harbour this vague hope that I’ll be able to weave it all together some day. I continue to get very excited when anyone mentions visuals or PECS or AAC. I still spot an undiagnosed ASC in a toddler in 30 seconds flat, still sign along in BSL to my favourite songs on the radio (funnest thing evs).

& so, in a tiny step in the right direction, I’m starting a Sign Supported English / BSL Instagram account. It’s a sign a day, aimed at people with learning disabilities and their families and carers, but suitable for anyone wanting to learn a little sign language. Right now my video quality isn’t great (& my camera presence even worse ?), but I’ve got plans to make it better. You can follow along here, if you’re interested. Maybe if I have some followers I’ll feel compelled to swallow my fear and post something.

Do you feel like you make a contribution to the world through your work or in your free time? How do you strike a balance?


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  • リアルドール

  • February 24, 2024

Howdy just wanted to give you a brief heads up andlet you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly.I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  • Paula Solar

  • December 28, 2016

As I told you a few days ago I’ve been reading your blog from page 1 (at the moment it’s 26 pages short, not long) and I never added a comment in the hopes that I would be done by New Year’s. But in this case I had to stop and talk. Because I was a kid with problems growing up.

I wasn’t a healthy baby, I can’t say I was unhappy because I’ve read letters from my mum to my aunts who were studying abroad, and she’d say that I was always cheerful and lively and had a cheeky grin all the time. But when I was 2 and in the next few years I had several pneumonias. The first one was the worst, I went deaf, I was deaf when I was a baby, so my parents took me to the hospital where they could recover my left ear, still today I have a 85-90% of hearing in that ear. My right ear is basically useless, but of course they had to try everything to recover it. It changed me, I became silent, shy, introvert (which I was already, but I was never shy before), got refuge in books…

I’m telling you all this on behalf of all the people you helped and still help. I had therapists, nurses, a doctor (fun fact, I thought that my doctor was having an affair with my mum because he hurt me and she was fine with it, I never tell them this though, can you imagine?). You make people’s lives better, believe it or not. Back then you were a speech therapist, but now you are a soul therapist, a heart therapist. Come on, I’m reading your blog, your writings… you inspiration changes our (my) views, the way we look at ordinary things and at life in general.

I know that my condition will get worse and worse with age, and I hope that when the time comes I find a therapist as inspiring and encouraging as you are now.

You help, and we are thankful.

  • Sarah

  • February 13, 2016

This is really lovely Sara. I went to university to become a speech therapist but various things happened that meant I had to turn my place down. I now have a job I adore but whenever I read about other SALTs I always feel a pang of “what if?” I guess we have to remember we can’t have everything, and just because you’re not doing it as a career doesn’t mean you can’t explore your passions in another way. I look forward to your BSL signs!

  • Laura B

  • February 11, 2016

I’ve been a reader of your blog for a long time and never commented before but this post really spoke to me! Up until April last year I worked for the police taking 101 calls. I used to moan about it all the time- long hours, shift work, depressing situations etc etc. I was then made redundant and I absolutely miss it like mad! I do a really boring job now (for the NHS as it happens) and really, really miss being able to make a difference to people’s lives, so much so that I’ve decided to join up as a police officer! And I feel exactly the same as you do when people mention things that are in any way related to my old job, almost like a proud parent haha! It’s funny how it takes time away to make you realise what it really is that you love, isn’t it? xxx

  • Muddling Along

  • February 11, 2016

I’m convinced you’ll find a way to blend all of your gifts together and create something fabulous (and please start posting the BSL instagram, we sign but only the basics and I’d love to be able to sign to music – it’s beautiful to watch)

  • Belinda Love Lee

  • February 11, 2016

Your heart is just so beautiful Sara!

  • Eline Punt

  • February 10, 2016

I’m a student and still figuring out what I want to do with my life. From a young age I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, so that I could help people and contribute something to the world. It’s great that you are starting that instagram account. It seems like a good step to finding a good balance.

Eline | http://www.elinesreturnticket.blogspot.com

  • Clare

  • February 10, 2016

What a great idea Sarah. I was/am a primary school teacher and Senco so I know a bit of sign but could always do with brushing up my skills. I say was/am a teacher because although I left my job due to the crazy workload and not having enough time for my own family I kind of feel it’ll never really leave me in some ways. So what I’m saying is I get where you’re coming from! I’m following along on Instagram x

  • fionabailey

  • February 10, 2016

What a great subject to discuss. I know that lots of people feel that way, especially me. I work in advertising and have often thought how shallow some of it is, especially when I see how stressed and upset people get about a box of cereal!!! My eldest daughter has Down Syndrome and she has taught me so much about what is important in life. We have worked hard to guide her and make her into the amazing young woman she is now, unfortunately having to pay for private speech therapy as there was no consistency in what the council were providing. It seemed she was constantly being assessed as speech therapists came and went on a regular basis. Anyway I digress. I still work in advertising on a freelance basis; but have found through my photography that I can satisfy that need to contribute in a more meaningful way; by doing projects that cover subjects that are close to my heart. My hope is that some of the work gets out there and resonates with someone. You clearly have a talent in both areas and I’m sure you’ll succeed in bringing the two together.. I will spread the word. xx

  • Juliet Oscar Yankee

  • February 10, 2016

I’ve always struggled with “comfort”. paraphrasing casey neistat: comfort is the enemy of progress/success.

when you are comfortable, you don’t want to push forward, or if you push forward it’s never enough…

that’s where I’m at with my life at the moment, in terms of work and my dreams…

  • TabbyMetcalfe

  • February 10, 2016

What a lovely post. I can totally understand the dilemma. I worked 1:1 with an ASD boy for 3 years. I was bitten, kicked, punched, spat at & slapped on a regular basis. I have a permanently partially-dislocated collar bone from that one time he decided to headbut me, but honestly….it was the best job I’ve ever had. The pay was rubbish & sitting at primary sized tables on primary sized chairs used to cripple me by the end of the day, but I loved it. I had SO much fun with him. I had to leave because he moved away so the funding disappeared, but I still go in to school to work voluntarily with the more challenging children who don’t qualify for an SEN help (even though they desperately need it). Just remember that life goes in phases….you’ve given & helped for ten years & now this is your chance to do something different. Anyway…you’re still helping…your driving post really made me smile….I have so many of those driving paranoias!

  • Alyssa J Freitas

  • February 09, 2016

I have a few friends who are learning sing language and I know they are going to love this!

  • Mirka Moore

  • February 09, 2016

What a great idea Sara! Will follow now as @Kahanka Love reading all these things I did not know about you. I used to teach ESL (English to foreigners) for many years, and really miss it too.

  • Sara Tasker

  • February 09, 2016

Yeah, it does seem like the strongest NHS workers are easily tempted away by the chance of a bigger future – it’s hard to keep going with no prospects. If you work for the NHS, you’re not in it for the money – and I firmly believe that some of the best health professionals in the UK are working in the NHS – but sooner or later you have to put your family or your own needs first. Sad face.
Volunteering is so great! My time is so scarce, that it just seems impossible right now, but hopefully in future I’ll find somewhere with my fave kind of kids to help out ??

  • Sara Tasker

  • February 09, 2016

Yay! Thank you! You’re right, they don’t & won’t forget – and every now and then I bump into one of my old faves somewhere random and we have such a giddy reunion! 😀

  • Sara Tasker

  • February 09, 2016

Yes! Song & Signers unite! ?? Yes, for the level of skill and patience and awareness you need, it’s so messed up. & hurray for faves! Glad to hear we’re on the same page Erin – and thank you x

  • Sara Tasker

  • February 09, 2016

Yes! Guilty for doing something you love – that’s exactly it! It feels somehow hideously self-indulgent, but you’re totally right – the other things we do can still give back ??

  • Amy Elizabeth

  • February 09, 2016

I love this idea – I’ll definitely be following along! It must be tough to make a decision like that, and it seems like it’s one that more and more NHS professionals are having to make for the sake of their lives and sanity, which is such a shame. My job, whilst enjoyable, is definitely not one that would be considered ‘helpful’ – I work in digital marketing – and I do sometimes struggle with that. I did a sociology-based degree and I was very focused on trying to change the world whilst at Uni, but the difficulty of actually doing so and earning any money in my field was too much of a deterrent in the end. I currently volunteer with the Guides, which makes me feel like I’m doing my good deed every week, but I would love to do more.

  • Sara

  • February 09, 2016

Done and done! What an awesome concept! I feel for you about leaving a job where you were helping some pretty amazing people. I can guarantee that they won’t forget you either! I really love these little insights about you that I didn’t know. 🙂

  • Helen

  • February 09, 2016

This is something I struggled with for some time. I felt guilty for doing something I loved. I’m hoping, in my small way, that what I’m doing outdoors – which includes the planting of over 100 trees in the last three years – balances with my writing about it.

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