As a volunteer, I’ve been lucky to have been working with Second Step, a mental health charity in Bristol to help them put together a campaign to mark their 30th Birthday. The campaign #PuttingMeFirst will go live on Wednesday (22nd November) and as the spearhead for the campaign I want to share my story and I why #PuttingMeFirst is important to me.
Mum was always worried about me. That’s how I remember things were when I was little. Lots of anger and violence and mum worrying. Looking back I was struggling with mental health problems from the age of nine. And looking back I realise it was caused by the trauma I was going through with violence in the family.
My dad attacked my mum regularly. Me and my sister got used to it. Then when he attacked me I realised I needed to get away from him. All this time I was dealing with what the doctors called depression and emotional instability. I wasn’t given any structured support or medical intervention until I was 25 – despite experiencing severe mood swings and feeling really unstable and unsafe on many occasions.
In 2005 I was diagnosed with bipolar but I wasn’t given effective support for another 11 years. Not until I met the Second Step team who run Bristol’s Community Rehabilitation Service.
They were the first people to reveal to me my true self instead of looking at my notes and just seeing a load of diagnoses. For years I had thought of myself as being bipolar or suffering with this or that. In truth I am me – a person with so much to give and so much to do. I love to be creative. I’ve started a book blog, interviewing authors and writing reviews. This encourages me to spend time reading every day and helped me to commit to my own writing. Recently I finished my first book and I’ve started my second! I’m also passionate about physical exercise. I see it as a real key to my mental fitness. I walk daily and go to my local gym’s fitness classes. Over the last 2 years I’ve lost loads of weight and now I’m really proud of how I am, how I look, who I am.
I started volunteering with Second Step early this year. Being part of the communications team has given me back a huge amount of confidence. I realise that while I was out of work trying to piece myself together, I had lost so much of who I am.
Now I feel myself again. I’ve learned how to manage my day, and I now understand I can do all kinds of things alongside the bipolar. It doesn’t hold me back anymore. And although it can heavily influence how motivated I am, I have learnt how to follow a timetable each day to get the most out of everything I that I do.
That’s why it’s so important the NHS - and all organisations working with people like me who have mental health problems – remember I’m a person with hopes, dreams and things I want to do – just like everyone else. I’m not my diagnosis and I don’t and I won’t be held back from finding out just how amazing life can be.