A journey of understanding
Where did the " journey of understanding" come from? Well let's begin at the beginning (not my words,) I was 19 years of age at university and suffered my first breakdown, which was followed by a succession of breakdowns and hospital admissions for the next 6 years. I must have spent almost 12 months of my life in hospital during these difficult times. The future according to the professionals was not looking bright, they didn't paint a hopeful picture but I was determined to tread a path to wellness, so I stepped out on that journey towards recovery. I treaded a sure path to good mental health and it took me 20 years of steady progress to overcome a serious mental illness. I was discharged from the medical profession 15 years ago now and I have been medication free and have not needed treatment during this period.
I consider myself lucky to have overcome, many are not so successful, however recovery wasn't given to me in a ready made package, I have constantly worked at it, finding paths and ways to help in recovery. It has been a journey, the professionals helped, I found immense peer support in fellow sufferers. My faith was important and when all was dark and I was ready just to be lost to the darkness forever, something held me there, I now know through faith how I was held. Then through the practice of mediation I have learnt to naturally calm the mind and restore the inner peace, a transition from medication to meditation. Then I was called out into the hills and fields and woodlands and I walked and wondered and communed with the natural world all around. I found purpose in family and friends, my life was restored and purpose ruled the roost.
Mine was a journey of recovery and I ask myself about stigma. I can't say that I felt discriminated, I knew that there were times when an honest entry on an application form invited failure. I think the biggest issue in stigma was self stigma, believing that I was at a loss compared to others because of my illness. They said that I would be disabled, I would be medicated for life, they made me believe it and at times I could have gone on believing this and limited myself within the walls. Self stigma and a belief of failure could have lost me the opportunities. But I overcame and grasped the opportunities. For me the most important message I carry is that others can overcome, there are pathways of recovery, don't feel less of a person, you have the right to a fulfilled life, just work at it and you too can walk a " a journey of understanding".
The Journey of Understanding is a walk in West Wales on 20th September 2014. It aims to bring together people with and without mental health problems to challenge the stigma around mental health. Everybody is welcome to join us. Find out more here or join the Facebook event here.
(Image taken at the beginning of Andrew's pilgrimage journey to St Davids as part of the Cultural Olympiad in Wales 2012 project - image courtesy of CADW)