being an Educator has become so much more than that to me, more than I ever thought it could.
I have to be honest with you, when I became a volunteer Educator for Time to Change Wales it wasn’t for entirely altruistic reasons.
The main reason I wanted to do it was because I was angry: angry at how I had been treated because of mental illness; angry at how some friends had reacted; angry at how my employer had ‘managed’ me; angry about the judgements that were made about me.
To put it bluntly, I wanted to be able to rant and tell as many people as possible what I had experienced.
But being an Educator has become so much more than that to me, more than I ever thought it could. I don’t want to come across as evangelical, but it is the best thing I have ever done along the road to my recovery.
The basic premise of ‘educating’ is for people with lived experience of mental illness (depression and anxiety in my case) to go into community groups, workplaces and schools to talk about how it feels to live with these illnesses; the emotions, the behaviours and in particular the stigma and discrimination most of us are all too familiar with. It is the perfect platform for anyone wanting to share their story, raise awareness, increase understanding and stop others from experiencing the same ill-treatment.
At the most basic level, being an Educator gives me a reason to get out of bed, it gives me a structure to my week and something to look forward to. It means I’m doing something constructive and productive with my time, is something to put on my cv, and when people ask me what I do for work I have something to say other than “I’m on the sick”. It is a little thing but makes all the difference to my self worth.
The response I have had from audience members has been so positive it’s been worth doing for that reason alone. I’ve had people thank me, congratulate me, tell me I’m brave and even hug me. One lady cupped my hands and told me, “I really like you, you are a very nice girl”. I don’t need to tell you what it means for someone with depression to have people making these positive affirmations about you.
Even the most hard-nosed of HR managers has said they were shocked by my experiences and have learnt something. That’s all I can ask for. It has made invaluable changes to my own perception of myself, given me the confidence to believe I am a good person, and restored my faith in others. It has undone a lot of the hurt I once felt.
The response I have had from audience members has been so positive it’s been worth doing for that reason alone.
Telling your story to people puts you in a very vulnerable position and I won’t lie, after the first time I told it I needed to take a step back to collect my thoughts. It is an emotion-provoking thing to do. But talking about your life with mental illness in an honest and humble way works so much better at helping others to understand than simply talking about facts and figures. It appeals to the curiosity we all have for the gory details of other peoples lives. I work alongside some great people who support me and are appreciative of what I do, and I know I have made a difference.
I would implore anyone who is interested in becoming an Educator to go for it, you can do as many or as few as you want and the presentations can be tailored to your needs and abilities.
And above all, it is a great way to channel that anger.
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org