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The power of Time to Change Wales

written by Rachael Nicholson-Wright 05/11/2018

"Time to Change Wales and the staff at Hafal gave me the opportunity to have a purpose again, to be able to give back and improve the lives of others by encouraging people to talk about mental illness."

In early 2013 I applied to become a Champion for Time to Change Wales. I had been out of work for nearly three years, I had lost friends, I rarely left the flat and I was still trying to get to grips with the fact that I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and that my world had fallen apart. I could not find my sense of purpose, I felt useless, I was never going to be able to contribute to society, I would never find a job, because who would employ me? I had been sacked from my last job as a youth worker because neither they nor I had realised that my erratic, unreliable behaviour was a result of my poor mental health. We all have our priorities and for me, working and earning a living was so important, to be able to hold my head up high, to re-enter society, to engage with people again, find new friends, possibly find somebody to love me. I truly believed this would never happen and that my life was pointless.

Then I saw the advert for Champions for TTCW. The appeal of the role was that it used skills that I had developed in my past, leading workshops and training sessions but it took all the courage I had to apply, knowing that I would be making myself vulnerable; but that was the role, to raise awareness of mental health, educate people by using people’s lived experiences. It was something the old me would jump at the chance of doing. It was something that I wanted to do, if I could find the confidence.

The team members from Hafal led the training sessions and helped me with my confidence, as did the other Champions who attended training. The staff were so enthusiastic and kind and helped us discuss our stories and prepared us for the sessions. My first session was with some trainee doctors - it was short and I got through hiding behind a lectern, reading from a script.

The second session was horrendous. I was in a room with a hundred or so professionals, police, fire officers, an old probation colleague, mental health professionals including a Psychiatrist who had seen me bouncing off the walls in the crisis house in Whitchurch, Cardiff, not long before I was sectioned. My legs shook so much during that talk and my mouth was so dry that I couldn’t continue so we took a break.

Dawn from Hafal was amazing, so encouraging and supportive and thanks to her and a very kind stranger who told me to lose the piece of paper with my story on it because it was my story and I already knew it. It is my story, being arrested, being sectioned, four months on a psychiatric ward, and most as a formal patient. Embarrassing, frightening experiences whilst I was unwell, dangerous situations, tens of thousands of pounds lost in manic spending, friendships destroyed, self- respect lost, shame and psychosis. The stranger was right, I asked to go back on for the Q&A and I felt like a different person. I was confident in my story who I am, the good and the bad and I had really positive feedback.

After that day I regained a sense of purpose. I knew that my story was powerful, during the my story segment of the presentation I ditched my formal script and created powerpoints with photos of me before Bipolar tried to take away who I am. My story demonstrates that mental health problems can affect anybody. I have two degrees, I worked as a qualified probation officer with highly complex, high risk individuals. I worked in children’s services. I acted in plays and in a comedy group, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was a successful, professional and then it all got taken away.

Groups I presented to told me how beneficial my talk had been, many said that their views on mental ill-health had changed, their perceptions on who it can affect altered. Exactly what Time to Change Wales aims to do.

"Groups I presented to told me how beneficial my talk had been, many said that their views on mental ill-health had changed, their perceptions on who it can affect altered. Exactly what Time to Change Wales aims to do."

I loved my time as a TtCW Champion but unfortunately it had to stop; but for the best reason ever. Dawn had always encouraged me and been so supportive about my abilities and skills and she suggested that I go for a job with Hafal. I hadn’t had a job interview for three years and it was a nerve-wracking experience. I didn’t get the job, but I had good feedback and my confidence was raised. I then applied for a job as an Information Officer with Stonewall Cymru, it was so difficult filling out the application form and disclosing that I had been out of work for three years, my illness and the reason why I didn’t have a reference from the last job. I will always be so grateful to Stonewall for employing me and giving me a chance to reclaim my place in society. Only 6 months after training to be an Educator I was in full-time employment.

Now five years on I am the Director of Action on Elder Abuse Cymru, running the charity in Wales for the last three years. I have been married for nearly two years to my wonderfully supportive wife Diane who I met not long after I became a Champion (our first conversation was about mental health) and we bought a house last year. I sing with a choir where I have a lot of friends and I go to regular writing classes. My illness will always be with me, I take medication every day but that sense of worthlessness has gone. Although there have been lots of people who have helped me on my journey, I know that Time to Change Wales gave me the opportunity to have a purpose again, to be able to give back, improve the lives of others by encouraging people to talk about mental illness. My life has been transformed thanks to Time to Change Wales. Thank you.

If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email info@timetochangewales.org.uk

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