I suppose I should introduce myself first. My name is Claire, and I would describe myself as a complete nutter. I always like to have fun and like to think of myself as a people’s person. During my upbringing I was emotionally abused by my family, and this unfortunately continued throughout my adolescent and young adult life. Despite this, from ages 18-28 I was still able to live a somewhat ‘normal’ life and go about daily tasks like holding down a job. Then it all changed. I was sectioned. This was shocking. I had never had mental health issues before, but now, all of a sudden, I was severely poorly, being told I had psychosis. I was sectioned for 6 months. I was overwhelmed, scared, and didn’t know who I was. I managed to get my life back on track somehow and came off the medications. But then the tsunami hit again. I was sectioned for a second time. This time I was told I would never recover. There was no hope. I was put on lithium and clozapine, and this would now be my life. Fast forward to the present day. I have been discharged for four months and off medication for seven years (seven!!). I am no longer on medication. I am still here and there is still hope.
I think it’s important to mention my journey to discharge. Just before I was discharged from services, I worked with a psychologist for a short while and it was the best thing I did. I began to understand my triggers, my boundaries, my impulsivity. It was as if everything became clear to me. Without this support I don’t think discharge would have been an option. Their deep understanding and non-judgemental attitudes were refreshing and empowering. It sounds exaggerated but their support was the miracle that saved me. Throughout my life I have been diagnosed with multiple conditions including psychosis and schizoaffective disorder, but with the help of psychologists and mental health services I no longer fit some of these ‘categories’. In 2019 my psychosis diagnosis was changed to borderline personality disorder. For me, this change of diagnosis was empowering. It showed me I was making the positive change I had dreamed of. There was hope. It wasn’t the end of the line, and I could progress further if I put everything I had into it. Psychological help was the saviour for me. They met my needs every single time. They provided a fabulous service. A service that I will never forget. A service which without, I would not be where I am today.
When you think of mental health struggles everything is so negative, so pessimistic and unenthusiastic. But in my experience, mental health struggles do not always have to be negative. My experiences have led to so many opportunities I never thought were possible. My mental health did not mean I was at the end of the road – they showed me I was at the very beginning. Since my sectioning, I have not gone back to full time work, instead I occupy my week with volunteering. I have had the opportunity to teach student doctors and nurses helping them understand the lived experience of mental health and how to communicate with patients. I have liaised with staff on how to approach someone in crisis; how to be empathetic and compassionate. I couldn’t have done any of this without my own mental health experiences. My goal throughout my volunteering is to share my positive experiences of the mental health services I have received to others. I want them to see that there is hope. My biggest motivator throughout my volunteering has been the feedback I have received from patients. Helping people throughout their recovery is so rewarding and hearing of the impact I have had has been so special. I want to empower patients. I was sectioned. But I am recovered. And I am thriving. There is always hope and recovery is possible.
When I started volunteering it was daunting – I mean where do you even start to look for opportunities? I found that being open and honest about my experiences was vital. People began to listen and wanted to hear more. If you want to do it, you can, you just have to put yourself out there. I emailed the volunteer coordinator to share my experiences and the opportunities sort of flowed from there. You can start small with anything you feel able to do and work your way up. I like to think of the journey as a stepping stone approach. I’m nowhere near the final stone yet but I am on my way. It’s not easy at times and I have struggled but doors do open. You just have to keep searching – sort of like an adventure.
I spent eleven years in mental health services. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I can honestly say my struggles have changed me for the better. I still cannot believe I am writing this after what I have been through. Mental health is not always negative. It’s hard to view it positively at the time. But my struggles have given me opportunities I never imagined possible. And this is just the start. I am determined to help others in similar situations to me. I am seeing where the future will take me, but I know the future is bright.