I first encountered the system at the age of 29, when I was an inpatient at the old DOP (Department of Psychiatry). I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and lost everything - house, husband, job. It's been a journey of recovery and also discovery.
What challenge does this story focus on?
This story focuses on facing loss in my life, but then overcoming it all and becoming a stronger mentally and healthier woman and learning to cope with the emotions stirred up by being calm and resolute. Also learning who my true friends are and celebrating those friendships. Learning how to handle difficult feelings, how to become more mentally resilient and how to be kinder to myself. Doing the things that make me happy,
How has this challenge affected you?
I have had to learn to become more resilient and more tolerant of others. I have discovered compassion, and tried to be more compassionate towards myself as well as other people. I have had to accept that I am not the average husband and two point two children woman. I now realise teaching was not really for me and am now working for a local mental health charity running a music group, and generally volunteering where needed or able. I have learned to cope with rejection from and fear of men .
What has or is helping you to move forward with this challenge?
Because my family live away, I have at long last been given a proper care co-ordinator and a support worker who have referred me for psychological intervention, and also got me a carer twice a week, to help me maintain my flat. So I feel that I am supported by the community mental health team at last and that is what is getting me through. I try to stay positive, be aware when I am whinging or sulking! And be thankful I have the support around me. Friends are also very special and I'm lucky to have a small inner circle of friends whom I can totally be myself with. I WhatsApp with my parents every day and sometimes just one message makes me smile and get on with my day. I have stopped taking myself quite so seriously. I also have a great GP.
What have you learnt as a result of this challenge?
Not to take myself so seriously and not to sulk or whinge when things are going wrong. To be more co-operative with those involved in my treatment and care. I have learned my aspirations need not be my limitations, but to go for it, don't hold back. And if I fail I fail. To look outside myself and not be so self-conscious. I've learned who my true friends are, to be nicer to myself and not beat myself up over silly little things, but see the wider picture and accept and move on. I have learned that I'm not alone - I am part of the quarter of the population that is affected by mental illness. I have learned that I deserve to be happy, and that there is always hope. There are things I can do to keep myself well which I have overlooked before. In essence a positive journey of recovery and overcoming the most challenging obstacles. Finally, I have learned to say the magic word...'no'.
How do you use this learning in your life now?
I'm more confident and assertive. I did a bit of assertive training at my old day centre which is where I learned the 'broken record' technique and I still use it today in tricky situations. I have to remind myself that I am on a journey of discovery as well as recovery. I use mindfulness too, particularly if I'm getting the 'jitters'. I try to do something enjoyable and literally MAKE myself do some art, or compose or write poetry. When I get flashbacks, I use mindfulness as well. I nurture my friendships and am more compassionate with myself, having identified the problem. I use my acquired skills, mostly from reading a mountain of self-help books!!! That in some ways has helped, but it can be a little trigger and it's easy to read a book rather than have to engage with professionals sometimes. Because I have generally been more patient, I no longer get stressed out by small silly things, I can see the bigger picture.
What positive message would you like the reader to go away with?
Whatever in your life you are going through, there is always hope and a way out. Never feel you should have to apologise for your illness; illness and genuinely bad behaviour are not to be confused. Even bad behaviour can be dealt with in a compassionate way. Celebrate your achievements and your plans. Take that leap of faith that things will improve, Loss can be terrible but there are people out there who understand you and want you to succeed in life and they are the people to stick with because they engender positivity. So if you're feeling rubbish, do stuff - listen to your favourite music, bake some soda bread, look at your bucket list and see what's in there. Love freely and don't worry about what people think of you. You are enough.