Finding my final key to recovery- my peers
I have been part of or accessing the mental health system for nearly eighteen years and through that time I have had many feelings and thoughts about who I am. At the beginning when I first was in hospital (receiving the worst sort of care that ever had in eighteen years, including violence form hospital staff and forced medication and so on) I felt surer of myself and fought the labels and the oppression like a headstrong and determined person. However after just two years of the system’s oppression I became a withdrawn and almost defeated person. After being in hospital I progressed more and more through the system, after hospital I was a day patient, then an out patient and finally into the community services and during this time I found that I had actually started to believe that I was dysfunctional and this was all my fault. I had to some extent started to really believe that I had been mistaken in my fight against being seen as mad.
Then I set my mind again to my recovery and I fought hard after the original shock and managed to regain confidence, personality and rebuilt my identity again but this took years and years, as the system and its punishments had kept me from bouncing back. I had spent so much energy trying to balance fighting for my rights with the constraints of compliance and being a good patient and this was a struggle. I managed to go to University, to have a successful ten-year career as a youth worker but then I was feeling burnt out and wanted a change in work.
I think I had got as far as I could on my own, when two years ago, after coming back from travelling in New Zealand, I suddenly came across the organisation Making Waves which is a non profit, social enterprise and everybody working there has experienced mental distress in some way. I saw their advert for people with experience of mental distress who would be interested in teaching about their experiences to make a difference to services. I joined their training course, which was put on to prepare us to deliver teaching at Nottingham University’s School of Nursing. Other projects that Making Waves do are service evaluation, peer support and life story work. If you would like to find more out about the work that they do please look at our website, www.makingwaves.org.
On the training course I got to know other people who have experienced distress and as a result of that managed to start working for Making Waves in a salaried position in 2009. The experience has been really good, as I found I was not isolated anymore as someone who had experienced mental distress and been hospitalised and accessed services. I have been able to talk to and be around people who could understand where I have been and what I am still going through. It is so important to be believed and validated as a person, as this kind of support from psychiatric services is often not there and this was what I needed to deal with traumas in my early life. I have suddenly felt a relax in my thinking and my criticism of myself and meeting my partner has also helped me as he does not judge me according to labels either. Now that I feel truly free in my thinking I know and believe that the labels and the definitions of me that the services have held up to me are wrong. I have others who share my views of the system which helps me stand strong in this belief. My peers have helped me regain my dignity and my self-pride and their belief in me means that I am going to continue my fight for my full recovery.
I am stronger than ever before and I am not just fighting for me but now feel ready and able to join the civil rights movement to redefine our construct of madness and challenge the myths that have made me and others find recovery so hard. I have finally re-found my missing link to my full recovery and that is the strength of sharing a true reality with my peers.