Richard Fletcher: My experience of joining SUN:RISE
I remember the first SUN:RISE meeting I attended, or should I say attempted to attend. At that time I hadn’t ventured into town on my own for quite a while – it was somewhat of a coup even to get me to consider doing that let alone attend a group of people who were to me, total strangers. I knew where The Circle building was as I’d been before, but that fact certainly provided no calming effect.
I walked in and was directed to the room the meeting was being held in. I approached the door and stopped, looking through the rectangular baroque glass panel into the meeting beyond. I could see people. Not that many but these were people who I didn’t know, and who I thought wouldn’t want to know me. I can’t do this. ‘Fight or Flight’ kicked in, and I fled. Back up onto West Street, the Tram to Hillsborough and bus home.
The rest of the day was spent beating myself up for not being able to walk into a meeting, a room half-full of people, to say hello and introduce myself and to take part in whatever was going on. Something I had done countless times in my life before, without such an emotive reaction. We can all be anxious in new situations but that consideration was of no comfort.
But beating myself up only ‘feeds the beast’ – that vicious circle of a sense of low self-worth, that makes you feel like you have nothing to offer. This stops you doing things, as you feel that a) you have nothing to contribute in the first place, and therefore b) what’s the point in trying? You then reflect on why you have nothing to offer, as to why you are a waste of space. Such reflections only compound these negative feelings – and having tried something new only to seemingly fail just magnified these ten-fold.
I discussed what had happened with my OT, and together we went through the barriers which I had seemingly encountered, that had prevented me from attending that SUN:RISE group. Overall, she encouraged me to see the positives in the very fact that I had at least tried – something that would have been impossible in itself only a short while previously.
So in finest ‘Groundhog Day’ style, I found myself again a month later walking into The Circle to again (try and) attend SUN:RISE. The discussion with my OT had obviously not been totally wasted as at this meeting I was ‘expected’. A friendly face came out of the room to greet me, to introduce and to calmly (though not overtly) reassure. I was offered a seat and a cup of tea (tea makes everything OK). Introductions were given – I didn’t have to raise a hand and say ‘my name is Richard and I have a mental health issue’. People seemed friendly, they smiled and said hello. I felt a bit awkward at first but soon settled down. The expected stares, whispers and feelings of judgement were not forthcoming.
As the business of the meeting progressed, I endeavoured to concentrate and at one point actually managed to pipe up and say something that was half-intelligent/relevant in relation to the subject being discussed – though immediately after doing so I began to inwardly self-admonish myself for doing so (“who do you think you are?”).
So I left the meeting feeling exhausted and headed home. It is odd how sitting in a room of people for three hours not doing much at all can be so tiring, when you’ve not done it for a while. But then something odd happened. As I made my way over to Midland station to catch the train home, I was stopped in my path rather suddenly – I experienced a thought/feeling that because I had not experienced it for so long, it did literally make me stand still. The best way to describe it is that feeling you get when you’ve had a particularly crap day at work, when nothing’s gone right but when eventually you turn things around and snatch victory as they say. It was a feeling of having done something worthwhile, of having contributed to something. Such feelings had been absent for so long in myself, that it truly was a shock to the system.
I am just thankful I didn’t experience this epiphany whilst crossing Flat Street for example, stopping dead as I did in the middle of the road might have meant I’d have ended up going under a bus – a scenario loaded with such a degree of irony that surely would have been worthy of an Alanis Morissette lyric.
I continued to attend SUN:RISE when I could each month thereafter, and in terms of my ongoing recovery, I cannot underestimate the benefits it has provided. Many say activity is key in mental health recovery, and it did give me reason to get out of the house at least once a month and make an effort – something to do.
More importantly from a personal perspective though, it began a process in me of remembering all the things that I could actually do – of being able to reconnect with those positive skills and attributes that I hold as a person. I had spent so long considering and/or being told to consider all the things that perhaps I couldn’t do – being some passive recipient of a process that in part, made me forget who I was and what potential I had to offer. It truly was the start of some real inertia within my recovery journey.
I now for my sins, co-chair the central SUN:RISE each month at The Circle. I am privileged to say that by attending the group I have met some wonderful people and made some true friends also. That last bit is important, for often the existence of support networks, be these formal or otherwise is highly beneficial for those suffering from mental health issues. SUN:RISE provided an added support for me in that I knew I could go to a place and if nothing else, meet people who understood.
That in itself would have been enough for me 🙂 .