I have suffered with two serious bouts of mental ill-health in my life – one in my mid-twenties and one in my forties.
Looking back, I now recognise that I’ve lived with a degree of mental health vulnerability all my adult life.
Until the second period of illness no-one outside my closest circle of friends and family would ever have guessed that about me. I was outwardly a confident, positive, people-loving professional woman. In my twenties I began to pursue an academic career teaching Canadian literature and was awarded a doctorate from the University of Oxford. I was amongst the first women to be ordained in the Church of England and spent the next fifteen years as a full-time parish priest at the same time as raising four children. I loved my life as a Vicar and a mother living and working in a tough inner city multi-faith parish in the Midlands.
In 2009, however, I suffered a series of traumas relating to my work as a Vicar. Initially I tried to carry on professionally – after all, I was responsible for the well-being of so many others, not least my children and I couldn’t let everyone down. Then a further unpleasant trauma occurred and like a dam wall bursting, I broke. I fled my parish and my Vicarage home. Fortunately, I had a house in a tiny village in West Wales and this became my sanctuary – the place from which, very slowly, I began to re-build my life. I had an excellent GP in the Midlands who offered consistent and imaginative support. I was diagnosed with situational PTSD and advised to stay away from my former parish where the traumas had taken place. For four years I was unable even to enter a Church and to this day I can only go into a Church if I have a ‘safe’ person with me.
I love this new life I’ve built in West Wales and I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier.
For the first year after my breakdown I felt a complete and utter failure. I lost my faith and with it my deepest sense of self collapsed. Life no longer had meaning or purpose and without my beautiful children I would have given up. After a year my health began to improve and needing to meet my bills, I took a job as a cashier in a bank. While there I saw a job advertised at Time to Change Wales. It looked perfect and from day one of working for the campaign I knew I’d found my niche. To start with I never talked about my own experience – to be honest I still felt ashamed. I still felt in some way that I’d let everyone down and that I’d failed. Like so many people living with a mental health vulnerability – I self-stigmatised. And here was me, working for an anti-stigma campaign!!
Working for TTCW, however, has been a HUGE part of my own journey of recovery. The Champions I recruit to the campaign and the TTCW Community Projects I’ve been privileged to support have inspired and encouraged me to be open and honest about my own story. Yes, there are still moments when I grieve for the life I’ve lost, and times when I still doubt myself and feel a bit of a failure – but these times now are very rare. To be honest – I love this new life I’ve built in West Wales and I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier. So, thank you to everyone at TTCW, from the bottom of my heart!