Many people go on journeys, some people's are to far flung corners of the world, some are journeys people make in their heads and some people's are to the bottom of the garden to check on the petunias. Today, I was making a journey of my own.
For the past 18 months I had been volunteering for Time to Change Wales as a champion, and to celebrate the two year anniversary, an event had been organised in Cardiff Bay.
Champions are people with their own experiences of mental ill health, all different and all individual, honestly if you put fifty of us in a room, you wouldn't know we were any different to anyone else. We are doctors, solicitors, teachers, nurses, and parents. What you won't observe and what I would like to describe is the effort it took for some of us to get there, and I'm not talking about the physical effort it takes to lift a weight, but the internal battles some of us fight every day in our heads, unseen to the observer.
2.15am; I wake in a strange hotel room, I shiver as I pull the duvet up, and glance at the time on my phone. I don't need to be awake till seven, but the thought of the people I am due to meet in eight hours fills my mind. I know most of them already but it doesn't help any. My mind goes through all the things that could go wrong, from the likely to the unlikely (well, the tardis has landed a few times inCardiffBayso I'm told!) I pace the room, twist the belt on my pyjamas and look through my case at what I will be wearing.
4.20am; I'm still awake! I reach for the note pad as I resign myself to the fact that it’s going to be a long day. I start to write lists, lists of all kinds, what shopping I will buy in Tesco, what I want to achieve before I'm forty (not that long off!), and how many friends I've lost through my mental illness. I start to scratch my arm, and pretty soon, that has decided how long my sleeves will be for the rest of the day.
6am; I decide to turn the television on, and the weather echoes around the room, not that I need to watch this on the TV, the wind is blowing a gale outside and my wet clothes from the previous evening are evidence enough. Luckily we are not far away from where the event is being held in a few hours, nonetheless, it's one more concern to my growing list, which currently stands at, strangers, check, eating in public, check, public transport, check, not knowing location of toilets, check and weather, check!
I cheered on some of my fellow champions and as we shared discussions, you could see in their eyes that we were amongst friends before we even spoke.
7.30am; I attempt to get dressed, at least five times, too short, too long, too floaty, too frilly, then shoes, too high, too low, too shiny, too...well, you get the idea. Make up, and hair follow and then I start to think about breakfast. I've travelled down with some friends but even they aren't aware of all my foody habits. I get away with cereal and yoghurt but every spoonful is difficult.
9.30am; Arrive at thePierheadBuildingfor the day, I sit on an end, as the thought of being stuck somewhere fills me with dread. I check out the geography of the room, where I can see other people I know, where the doors are, and the toilets. I receive a text from a friend that provides much needed reassurance and a picture from the twins holding up a good luck mummy sign. Even at 6, they know how some of these situations make me feel and it's for that reason that I push myself to get invited to them. Every time I attend an event or present to an audience, I get as anxious and nervous as the last time but I do it because after being a victim of stigma and discrimination myself, I want to help eliminate that. I want to be an activist rather than a victim and challenge people's views on what a person with mental illness should look like
10am; We are introduced to the Health Minister, as we stand in a line, my knees start to wobble and my mind fills will thoughts of "run". I stand my ground and manage to get my words out, ten years previously I had met the Queen and hadn't been half as nervous, which I guess is the cruel irony of mental illness.
On the day, no one knew how many internal discussions people were having with themselves in their heads, it went really well, I stayed all day, and even met some new friends. I cheered on some of my fellow champions and as we shared discussions, you could see in their eyes that we were amongst friends before we even spoke.
I'd like to congratulate the staff at Time to Change Wales, past, present and future on their two year anniversary. I have gained so much from being involved, far too much to list and well, I've just got to negotiate the journey back north now!!