I first heard about Sheffield Flourish when I received an invitation in my paid job to attend the launch event. I sat there that day in the Showroom and experienced what I can only describe as FOMO (fear of missing out). I was so excited that such a project was happening in Sheffield and I wanted to be a part of it!
I looked into the volunteering opportunities and the Creative Content Producer (CCP) role immediately jumped out at me. I have always wanted to write about my experience with mental illness. I tried to do this through a short-lived attempt at a PhD (I wasn’t well, mature enough or ready for it when I attempted this). I set up my own blog, but found I lacked motivation when I didn’t have a deadline to work towards. Writing as part of a team with suggested themes and a monthly article commitment at Sheffield Flourish seemed like just the kick up the **se I needed to get writing.
It’s hard to describe mental ill health and I’ve lost a lot of people in my life who couldn’t understand me when I tried to explain my weird or strange behaviour. In my writing I try to paint a picture with words about my experiences. Without wanting to sound cliched, I think that if one person reads something I write and it helps them to feel that they’re not alone, then what I’ve been through hasn’t been a waste and some good has come out of it.
I share my Flourish writing with friends and family. Some of them know only too well the highs and lows I experience, but to others it is a shock; they see me at work with makeup on and brushed hair and I masquerade as a ‘normal person.’ Some friends find it a shocking insight into the time when I’m signed off work or have fallen off the radar.
Others tell me that I am a fool to write with such brutal honesty, in my own name, about what I’ve experienced over the past 22 years. I have written about the sorts of things you probably wouldn’t want a future employer to find out about you on a quick ‘google search’ of your name. I am well aware that this would be off-putting to some potential employers, if only out of concern for how much sickness absence from work that I might need. I am lucky that my current employer knows about my illness and my writing and are respectful of this. I hope to continue to work in such organisations in the voluntary sector where my journey is seen as a strength in my work.
I can understand why some people write using a pseudonym. I think that any mental experience shared is worthwhile and valuable even if someone’s hiding their real name. Personally, I don’t feel that I can be against mental health stigma and then be too embarrassed to put my name to my story.
One aspect of my CCP role is to interview members of Flourish who might not feel confident or equipped to share their own story. I work with such individuals to explore their story and what they want to say. I record our conversation and then write it up, meeting them again to check they’re happy for me to submit the account. I studied journalism at undergraduate level and writing at postgraduate level and feel a real sense of fulfilment when I work with others in this way. I feel I am putting to use everything I studied in a really positive way.
My work with Sheffield Flourish is enabling me to feel comfortable and accepted enough to hold a mirror up to myself in my writing, however hideous the reflection at times, safe in a community of like-minded others who have either been there themselves or listen with respect and interest.