Editors note: This is Lucy’s story, the first in a monthly series of guest posts on the subject of mental health. Lucy is in her 30’s and a mum to two lovely children. It is in her own words, and is a thought provoking and inspirational piece about how brief moments in our lives can take us into chaos, or set us on the path to recovery.
Recently I was looking at some reports about “chaotic” families in social care. The average ‘chaotic family’ in Somerset costs the state nearly £200,000 per year. In order to look deeper into these statistics, the people themselves have been asked to talk about their life journeys. During their stories, certain significant moments jump out as turning points. Stepping through the doors of these crucial moments, the families involved started taking destructive paths that ended up in chaos, depression, poverty and dependence. The researchers call these turning-points – in oddly spiritual language – ‘moments of truth’.
Reading these stories made me wonder how mental health survivors would tell their own stories. Could this teach us something about successful recovery? Could mental health services create positive ‘moments of truth’ in order to improve people’s lives? Having worked in mental health, I would often look at the people engaged in activities in day services and feel somewhat despairing: surely we can do better in creating turning-points for people?
I consider myself to be a ‘survivor’. At the age of 20 I was diagnosed as bi-polar. Coming from a family with a history of mental health problems, I submitted to a regime of medications: haloperidol, propanolol, prozac, diazepam, lofepramine, thioridazine. Anti-depressants and anti-psychotics: a familiar story of madness. And yet I recovered, as do many people after an episode of severe psychological problems. What were my moments of truth?
I believe my ‘moments’ partly stemmed from my own horror at ‘hitting the bottom’: waking up naked in my own garden in the tide of some new medication, being confronted with a cheque but unable to sign my own name, having to pick medication up every couple of days from the pharmacy because I wasn’t trusted not to gobble it all up. Those moments made me hate my medication and in the end, I stopped taking everything except for sedatives.
But more positively, my recovery began with my ninth ‘talking therapist’ – a psychotherapist called Teresa, who I saw at least once a week for just over two years. She was still, quiet, penetrating and non-judgemental. And I remember that after my first session, after she had said almost nothing while I talked and as I put my hand on the door handle to leave she simply said: “You are not as mad as you think you are.” No one had told me that before. I had been told: “You are bi-polar/you are psychotic/you are not to be trusted with your own recovery.” With Teresa’s simple statement, my recovery began.
There were other moments of truth, too: a job, a new place to live, a supportive partner, and siblings who helped me, practically and emotionally. But whenever I think of my own recovery, I think of that moment in north London, my hand on the door handle, and Teresa’s simple statement whirling through me like a prophecy.
Can we engineer moments of truth, or are they different for each person? Are they, as the language suggests, more spiritual than practical? How do other ‘survivors’ recall their own recovery – what helps, and what doesn’t? And can this inform how we run services for mental health users? Are we offering the right services? Are we making the right moments of truth?
Huge thanks to Lucy for being willing to share her story on my blog. If you have experienced mental health issues yourself, or perhaps supported someone through emotional distress please feel free to comment and if you would like to contribute a guest post just get in touch via the ‘contact’ page.