It’s personal

I’m clearly no stranger to sharing my life both online and offline, if I was this blog wouldn’t exist and you wouldn’t be reading this now but offline I’m starting to get tired of sharing my story and talking to people about my history and mental health. I’ve spoken to so many people in different settings from pop up cafes to fundraisers, funding bids for work and over 1000 young people through volunteering on the youth service I now run and although logically I know it’s not true it does feel as though there must be a shortage of people who haven’t heard my story by now.

Today I’m running training with my new volunteers on writing their personal story and although no one is forcing me to I don’t feel like I can avoid telling it again it doesn’t seem fair to ask them to share theirs and me not share mine, I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks and Im still not entirely sure why I’m so against telling it now I think it’s partly that I’m tired of hearing it and then the fear of being judged and the shame of not really having achieved much in my life. I really do enjoy my job and it’s not that I think it doesn’t count but I’m in my 30’s and just getting started in career where most of the people around me are younger than me and more qualified. I don’t feel like an inspiration or someone to look up to, hearing other people’s educational backgrounds and qualifications reminds me of what I don’t have and what I’m not clever enough to ever achieve, maybe this is internalised to an extent but I also know the reality of my experiences in education.

When you’re known for one thing or people see you a certain way it can be hard to break that view no matter how much you change or try to move on you’ll still be seen the same way, I’ve talked about my past so many times as a volunteer and although not in great detail there’s a high chance that I’ll be meeting people in my new role that have heard my story, I don’t hide having mental health problems and it’s not like I even could if I wanted to I’ve made sure of that it’s something I’ll never be able to fully hide but even though it’s my own fault I wish I had a choice.

Rocket Science

If you can’t here expecting a review of a lush  bathbomb then sorry to disappoint you this is a rant about mental health services, maybe try Lulu or Jen

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A blue rocket shaped bath bomb made by Lush cosmetics

I am not a frequent flyer, I don’t have air miles I haven’t been on a plane in years and the last time I went abroad was to Edinburgh by train. Despite this I and other in a similar are labelled frequent flyers or regular attenders (this is meant to be the better term) because we find ourselves in situations where our mental health has got to a point when we need support and intervention often requiring medical attention as a result of harming ourselves.

Self harm isn’t something people do for fun or because they enjoy being in a&e it’s because emotions become overwhelming (and this is a very simplified explanation of a complex issue) and as I’ve written before the treatment once you’re at a&e is often not pleasant or equal to the treatment of people going in for accidental injuries with long waits in loud and busy waiting areas and psych liaison who at most may give you a leaflet and discharge you at 4am with no way of getting home.

It’ll be no surprise that this latest rant is inspired by a crisis concordat meeting this morning, two hours of frustration at having to bite my tongue in frustration at the language used and throwaway comments about people with personality disorders and the triggering content in the suicide prevention information listing the age groups and sex of people who ended their life and details of methods chosen again separated by sex.

Sometimes I look at the people sitting around the same table as me and wonder how they can be so oblivious to the blatantly obvious, do they really not see the link between the high numbers of people in Richmond who come into contact with the street triage team and the above average number of people detained under section 136 of the mental health act and the complete lack of crisis services in the borough? Are they actually surprised that people who are distressed or in crisis don’t want to travel an hour or more to an area they may not know to get support? And may not have the means to do so? It really isn’t rocket science or a difficult connection to make, I don’t exactly consider myself the sharpest tool in the box yet I can see it so why can’t they?

Aside from Mind since I’ve been a part of the crisis concordat (around 2 years now) and the outcome based commissioning program (coming up for 8 months) only one person has actually asked me about my experiences of a&e and the treatment I receive it still seems like a radical idea to most of the people involved to actually listen to someone who’s been in the very situation they’re talking about. Despite feeling like i’m banging my head against a wall (thanks Steph) and frequently coming away wondering if being there serves any purpose I still keep going if only to play my own version of crisis bingo.

Service user involvement and mental health awareness

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A picture of me wearing a sparkly maroon jumper and gold star necklace with a floral lanyard around my neck, I am holding a piece of paper and talking into a microphone.

I’ve been volunteering for just over four years, this was a speech I gave at the 2016 Annual general meeting (AGM).

One of the things that appealed to me when deciding to become a volunteer was being able to use my lived experience to benefit myself and others and the importance placed on the voice of service users. I’d been a group member in the Peer Support groups for a while but had never considered or planned to get involved in mental health in any capacity other than being a service user or patient, before joining the groups I’d never seen any benefit to having a mental health problem after all my experience had just brought me trauma, disappointment and more prescriptions for psychiatric medication than I can count.

Over the past four years I’ve progressed as a volunteer across different projects and areas of the charity and have used my lived experience as a Peer Support Volunteer, Youth Wellbeing Volunteer and by becoming more active with service user involvement being able to speak on behalf of people with mental health problems in the area. I’ve been a part of the local crisis concordat group for a year now looking at the way crisis services are delivered and how they can be improved I’ve also attended the changing minds festival at the Southbank centre, been part or research into unmet needs in the borough and sat on a panel talking about mental health and art.

Service user involvement is often under-represented and many people don’t realise that their views and opinions are not just important but needed and aren’t aware that these opportunities to talk about their lives exist. People with experience of mental health problems and those who have used services whether NHS, charity or support groups are known as experts by experience for good reason because no one knows us or our needs better than we do something which goes for everyone not just people with a mental health problem or a certain diagnosis.

Another project I’ve been working with is the mental health awareness workshops with the volunteer coordinator, this is a training programme offered to organisations wishing to boost levels of mental health awareness in their workplace. So far I’ve told my personal story to two groups of people with English as an additional language many of whom also struggle with their own mental health difficulties and were able to discuss this after I talked about my problems.

I was recently described as “very articulate” and told I could “probably talk my way out of any situation” aside from possibly being the best description of me ever it’s what motivates me to continue to do the things I do. In January I’ll be co-delivering part of the mental health awareness training and talking about myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health and I plan to use my skills to raise awareness and do what I can to improve and influence mental health services not just for my benefit but for the benefit of all the people who aren’t able to be as involved as I am. On the days where my mental health is getting me down or I feel angry and frustrated because of my issues I try to think of all the things I’ve done over the past few years the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met none of which would have happened if I didn’t have a mental health problem.

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