“Keep the faith, keep positive and accept as much help as you need,” that’s the message from Anna whose inspiring journey we have charter’d over the years.
“Recovery can be a slow process. Actively look for the things you want / love / need,” she says.
We first spoke to Anna in 2014 when the voices she was hearing were bad and she was desperate. Then, aged 34, she had discovered the flyer about Lambeth’s Solidarity in a Crisis, peer support project in her GP ‘s surgery. Along with her own insight, this helped her to find coping strategies to get through the worst times – helping her to explore her diagnosis of schizophrenia (she had experienced two psychotic episodes was sectioned both times and spent a maximum of a month in hospital).
Anna learned that the lived experience of mental health can be a quality; that going through a crisis, as hard as that is, can be cathartic. Having the back-up such as Solidarity in a Crisis peer supporters, who revealed their own lived experiences, can help turn your life around.
Anna was struggling after she had returned to her job in corporate marketing, she thinks, too soon after her hospital admission. She was hearing voices and her medication wasn’t working. Her mental health issues held her career back, she said.
She was impressed at how Solidarity in a Crisis had supported her to build a trusting relationship with her GP and more regular groups – a weekly hearing Voices group, one-to-one hearing voices support and a weekly Paranoia and Beliefs group at the then recently opened Evening Sanctuary.
Then through the evolving Lambeth Living Well Network Hub, the new front door to mental health services Anna was the first self referral after she met the team at the Living Well Network’s monthly open morning, at Mosaic Clubhouse . She worked with the GP Plus team and was impressed by how this support fueled her resilience.
She was encouraged by Maria Hewitt, GP Plus lead, her point of contact who she could chat to on the phone (such was the multi-disciplinary approach that her worker was formerly with the Home Treatment team so understood Anna’s journey). ‘She’s a sounding board and has a holistic view and is able to normalise things, which is comforting,’ Anna said at the time.
What also helped was access to a personal budget for one to one Hearing Voices Journey Work and joining a gym. She pushed herself to go to the regular coffee mornings/afternoons at Railton Road (Certitude) and attending meetings where service user involvement is crucial to shaping services. ‘I was able to use my social skills with people, small talk, contribute and scribe,’ she said.
The journey so far had been about New Horizons: ‘I am a pioneer at getting through this!’
Back to the future
“I’ve started working as a peer supporter and am enrolled on the level 1 peer mentor course, which lasts for a year at Mosaic,” says Anna when I bump into her at the Clubhouse. “One afternoon a week of studying and weekly assessments to obtain the level 1 certificate. “This course is complimenting the part time work I am doing with a local charity as a peer supporter, using my lived experience to help those isolated and with physical and mental health conditions to get out more in the community through goal setting etc. The same as I had to do for my own recovery.
“I am thinking of taking on more hours at work and I no longer call Solidarity, because I am no longer in crisis.
“I am still taking antipsychotic medication daily and feel comfortable doing so…” Anna sees her GP and has been discharged from secondary support.
“I tried the Avatar study (for voice hearers) through the SHARP team (Social inclusion, hope and recovery project). I talked to a computer avatar. The Avatar was the main voice I heard and it was helpful to practice engaging in a conversation with this Avatar on a computer who personified the voice I can hear in my head. The voice got embarrassed when confronted and hence my voices have calmed down.”
The hearing voices journey work, paid for with a personal budget enabled Anna to “air some secrets, draw some pictures to represent my illness, talk about it in depth, feel like the therapist cared and even she tried to understand my experiences of psychosis.
“I was more than ready for this treatment. It didn’t solve everything but helped. I went back for a further six sessions a year later paid for by myself and could see an improvement.”
Anna pauses for reflection: “I wonder if all the effort I put into my recovery has paid off or if it is just because time has passed and I have recovered anyway…”
October 2020 – Mosaic training completed and got certificate.
“Am now working a four day week as a peer supporter for a charity.
” The voices have more or less gone. Hardly having a problem with that these days. Still over weight from the meds… Trying to resolve this next. Along with the meds, I tried hearing voice groups, CBT, healthy lifestyle choices with diet and exercise.
“ I help people stuck at home with a similar condition. The work is rewarding- I can see myself in the people I work with and can offer help as I know what worked for me. I had to wait until I was ready to go back to work although it did push me out of my comfort zone going back and at the same time being back at work has helped.
“ Am spending more time with family especially with lockdown restrictions lifting”
Follow Anna’s journey –