Hard Won Wisdom – Richard Anderson

We are culturally conditioned to feel ashamed of our mental health conditions but I have found that although it is hard work to overcome that sense of shame, it is possible. I have also noticed this in belonging to the peer community for some years now, and beginning to trust the members of several support groups. I can see that there are many positives to have come out of my religious/mental health experiences and one of them is the sense of connection.

The importance of having someone beside you who has been there is worth its weight in gold, and when you get to know someone you feel the weight of your diagnoses lift, because here is someone who has been through something similar or something close to it.

Trust takes time but another thing I have begun to notice within me is that it is okay to be vulnerable, and that by being vulnerable and open we become closer as a group. Many people have taken the time to confide in me, and me in them, and hopefully we both believe we aren’t as alone with our issues as we first thought when we began opening our lips to speak.

I also have noticed that a lot of opportunities have come my way, or I have created my own, thanks to working in the mental community as a volunteer for the past five years. I have had the chance to run groups and participate in them, I have been able to offer support to people in hospital, I have more than several times been asked to be on grassroots group committees and helped with shaping the direction of them. I have also been able to set up my own journalism project and coordinate several community groups and lead teams. This has given me huge benefit both life and volunteer wise and it also fulfils my need and want to give back to the community.

Getting to know my community through the groups I belong to shows that we in the mental health community aren’t that different to anyone else, it’s just that we have gone through some stuff that requires us to mend ourselves, although we can never be the same again. We can at least continue to constantly change and become who we ultimately become.

I would say another benefit of having gone through periods of mental health/religious episodes is that I find a greater sensitivity to others around me and what they are going through. I can see that there are other possibilities and examples of how to live and to learn. I can also see that different things affect people differently and it sometimes takes longer for someone to get better. I have also noticed through my interactions with others that life can be harder when one thing leads to another, and after a while you can’t take it anymore and you break down. There are many different components to someone getting unwell and it pays to pay attention to the minor things just as much as the big things. To get a bigger picture of what is really going on for them.

Since becoming unwell and getting back to a new normal again I have noticed I have become more sensitive to the environment around me, not just noticing the physical environment but also noticing the mood of the room, the moods of other people and the possible actions they may take. I have also noticed my emotions and feelings more, and what is just a thought and not a rumour. This has partly came about due to an eventually horrible work experience but it has enriched my life. I feel I am becoming more human and more in touch with myself, and others, alongside with who I am and what I believe to be true or fiction inside of me.

Recovery is a hope word, but I prefer words like living because I am living through the day to get where I want to be, and that is somewhere inside of me rather than somewhere external to me. Although I am not at the stage where I am grateful to have had mental health conditions, I am grateful for the hard won wisdom I have gained from the experiences that I now call my own.

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