Hope & Recovery By Dina.

According to the Oxford dictionary the definition of Recovery is as follows –

‘A return to normal state of health, mind or state’

‘The action or process of regaining possession or control of something lost or stolen’.

Recovery can be used in different types of sentences, from a vehicle recovery to recovery of a lost item. For me, recovery is gaining the control of my own mind. ‘For a moment there I lost myself’ those are lyrics from a Radiohead song which I have tattooed on my arm.

I work for Mind in Bexley with the Recovery College. I have worked there for just over a year and a half now. You may have seen me around, my hair changes colour often from pink to blonde and I have an array of colourful tattoos. My life prior to this was very different. Most of my 20’s were spent in a state of despair; I bounced around different mental health services and hospitals in the local borough and also external boroughs from NHS to private. All this whilst studying myself to become a therapist. Ironic, right?

Sometimes it felt as though I was so disassociated with everything around me that I was watching a movie of myself. I felt as though people around me had a good grasp on life and I was just there….alive, breathing…but not actually living my life, simply existing. On the side of studying I used to do some work with the media to raise awareness of mental illness, appearing on TV and websites to share hope of recovery but yet I was far from it. I used to say to myself that I would make an amazing actress as I put on this mask to hide the pain inside of me.

Then 2017 happened. I had passed my exams and had qualified as a counsellor. This was meant to be a new start and I praised myself for managing to pass my exams whilst juggling my own mental health. Unfortunately, that euphoric feeling didn’t last long due to experiencing something traumatic happening in my life. I constantly asked myself “why me?”

This led to me being back with the Home Treatment Team and then onwards to being back in hospital briefly. Just as I felt as though all hope had disintegrated I met my ward psychiatrist, he told me about The Lived Experience Practitioner Project (LXP) within Oxleas, which encourages people to incorporate their own lived experience of mental illness into roles within the trust.

Unfortunately I had just missed the deadline of applications and I wasn’t currently in the right state of mind for this type of training anyway. I was desperate to be a part of this and to rise up above the flames of what was essentially my own rock bottom. Working hard over the next 4 months, I wrote emails to myself to get my emotions out, made video diaries which mainly consisted of me crying, I made sure I took my medication every day, engaged with any help I could get, forced myself to socialise more, read books, went to concerts, went to the seaside…I even went on a mini-holiday on my own; I cried most of it but I needed to challenge myself. Recovery isn’t pretty, it’s real and it’s raw. It’s about digging deep into those emotions that lie hidden and dragging them out with such force that sometimes you aren’t prepared when it hits you. I had to lose everything around me to finally find myself again. Fast forward some months and I was attending the LXP training every week. It was extremely insightful, and made friends who understood! I didn’t need to hide my past from peers or the scars on my arm. My mask finally came down.

I attended the LXP conference and delivered a talk with the psychiatrist who helped me out on my journey, it was liberating and emotional and I’ll admit I had to hold back the tears. When the end of the training came about I knew I needed to get a more secure job as my current one was only just about paying my bills. I’ve had many stable jobs throughout my life so I knew I was hireable but I kept getting knock back after knock back. I felt myself slipping away again and questioned my own self-worth. Then a job at Mind in Bexley came up within their Crisis Café, I got it! This led to me taking on as any shifts as possible. After a few months I was approached by my manager at the time to apply for a Peer Advisor role within the office, he said they needed someone who had completed the LXP training as the role involved using lived experience alongside raising the profile of the Crisis Café. I went for the interview and got it! Finally; it felt as though all my hard work was paying off, I was in disbelief that people saw potential in me and will forever be grateful  to all those who have allowed and encouraged me to share my story, when for so many years it was something I felt I had to hide from employers. Some of the most influential psychologists have personal lived experience such as Kay Jamison Redfield who has Bipolar Disorder and Marsha M Linehan who has Borderline Personality Disorder and is the creator of DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy).

One of the highlights of my job is when I have visited the wards I was a patient at, but only this time as a staff member. Being able to tell patients on the ward my own experiences hopefully encourages them to open up honestly and most importantly give them some hope, just like the time I needed hope.

‘You are the author of your life, don’t stop’ – Unknown