I started Recovery in Mind back in 2016 following two serious episodes of psychotic depression. During the illness (2013-2014) I experienced a voice in my head which I heard up to 10 hours a day. I also had physical hallucinations, thoughts and beliefs that when I am well I wouldn’t experience. Messages from the radio and TV also confused me and added to my paranoia. Not being able to trust your family, partner, close friends or even mental health professionals was very challenging – because the voice interrupted my normal trusting and logical mind. In the end I was hospitalised in a specialist psychiatric unit 40 miles away from my home. I couldn’t drive or work and at times felt desperate. At the end of my treatment in the unit the hallucinations and voice were under control and I felt that my confidence was slowly returning. It was suggested to me that I try attending the ‘Recovery College’ near the hospital. There are now nearly 80 around the UK and they all provide courses to learn how to manage your own mental health. I not only benefitted from learning skills, tools and mindsets to support my recovery but I was also so relieved to meet other people like me who were experiencing a wide variety of mental health problems. I was also made redundant from a local charity where I’d been working, so I decided to dedicate a year to my recovery – attending courses, taking back control of my life, rebuilding a future sense of myself, reconnecting with friends and family and enjoying activities again following the two years of havoc my illness had caused.
At the end of 2015 I began to wonder how we might be able to have a Recovery College here in West Berkshire. I went to various meetings, probably became a bit of a pain as I was being quite persistent, and eventually realised that the answer was for me to start it myself. I applied to an organisation called ‘Unltd’ and they gave me a grant and support for one year to get going. I set the organisation up as a Social Enterprise and our first course started in June 2016. I was so lucky to have two wonderful occupational therapists seconded from the local NHS to help me to develop and deliver the courses. We didn’t even have an office – my kitchen table was all we had, and I hired a training room at Broadway House in Newbury where we moved permanently in November 2016. We took on our first ‘Peer Trainer’ – Toria the following winter. My amazing neighbour worked tirelessly to help me set up a booking system, website and taught me how to manage a business. Slowly, together with new peer trainers joining the team we developed our three step programme. The past three years have been a whirlwind of highs and lows. At the same time I was still recovering and working hard to avoid another relapse. My husband and I also have two daughters – one 6 and another 19 so life is busy on all fronts.
Since we started in 2016 we have worked with over 300 people, all living in West Berkshire who experience mental health challenges. We have 17 courses to offer and last year we were allocated a Big Lottery grant. We rely on donations and grants as I am determined to continue to offer all our courses free of charge to anyone who needs our support and input. Other local organisations and trusts support our work financially and ‘in kind,’ and my eternal thanks goes to them all too.
Now in early 2020 I look back and feel that I would never describe ‘being pleased’ that I experienced such poor mental health but that I ‘appreciate’ the experience. It has led me onto finding a new purpose in my life and being able to share my lived experience for the benefit of others. It’s not always easy but I am deeply satisfied and content despite the ongoing difficulties and challenges.
It has been a long journey – both my personal recovery and setting up a new and exciting community organisation but I have been supported by so many wonderful, generous, kind-hearted people who had the belief in me that my dream could be a reality and for that I am forever grateful. They know who they are – thankyou!