Hi, my name’s Rachel (Rai to my friends). After being labelled with a variety of mental health problems over the last 16 years, and having to deal with the stigma associated with the worst ones (including schizophrenia and DID), I am now lucky enough to work in mental health trying to change things for the better. This site combines some of my thoughts and ideas with the work that I’m currently engaged in.
So, pull up a chair, get comfortable and let the stresses of the day fade into the background. This is a space for hope, understanding and – most importantly – for seeing behind the label.
As a starting point, here’s a little taste of my story. It’s not comprehensive (fitting 36 years into a single page is no mean feat), but it might help put the rest of the site into context.
The Early Years:
I grew up in Leicestershire, with my wonderful family. Unfortunately life outside of the family wasn’t always easy, and I went through more than a few traumas whilst growing up. Being an independent soul, I told no-one until I finally broke down and ended up in hospital aged 20.
Aged 7, I remember looking into the mirror and seeing a monster look back at me. I was convinced that monster was me. By the age of 14 I was sure I had an alien inside of me and was terrified of what it would do. Throughout all of this I kept silent. It was this silence that stopped me from finding my voice and finding a way of dealing with what had happened to me. It was this silence that needed to be broken.
The Hospital Years:
After going officially ‘crazy’ at university, I finally ended up in a psychiatric unit in 1998. By that point I was trapped inside a confusing world of alien conspiracies, paranoia, voices and traumatic flashbacks. Given the terror I felt at my realities, I was actually glad to be given the label ‘schizophrenia’.
No label properly describes human experience, though, and throughout the next five years doctors made valiant (but futile) attempts at finding one that fitted. Eventually they settled on ‘Schizo-affective Disorder’ (something my psychiatrist still believes I wear).
My time in ‘the system’ almost broke me. I lost my confidence, self esteem and – most importantly – hope for the future. I became a shell and those around me thought that I would never recover.
After years of going in and out of hospital, I was lucky enough to find out about my local Hearing Voices Group. Through this group, I began to rebuild my self esteem and untangle the voices and beliefs that plagued me. Hearing the groundbreaking work of the Hearing Voices Network, Ron Coleman and Romme & Escher, I started to realise that my voices were my way of making sense of what had happened to me. I began to see a life outside the mental health system and – with support – made the decision to find it.
As Things Are Now:
After a rocky few years trying to relearn how to live independently again, and a few more years building up my skills and confidence as a volunteer, in August 2007 I made a brave – if potentially foolish – leap into the world of work. I got a job for a London charity as the manager of a project developing peer support groups for voice-hearers across the capital. This job was seriously amazing. I had the opportunity to develop new initiatives (including Voice Collective young people’s hearing voices project and the London Hearing Voices in Prisons Project) and work with a committed team. In early 2015 I made the difficult choice to leave this wonderful project and focus my energies on my freelance work. I am now lucky enough to do what I love in the UK and abroad.
In 2009 I took the step to come off my medication (slowly and gently as stopping meds quickly is rarely a good option in my experience). It was tough, and I now hear more voices than ever, but I feel happy with the fact that they’re my voices. They relate to my life in some way – even if they feel very separate – and they’re mine to deal with.
I have the support of my husband (Joel), my family, my friends and my colleagues. I’m no longer on my own. I’m part of an international movement of change to challenge the stigma, misunderstanding and oppression of people who are struggling to cope with their unusual experiences. I don’t have all the answers, and am still working out how to deal with some of my own issues, but I’m on the path.
Ron Coleman once said that recovery is ‘living your life’. I like that definition. It makes sense to me.
As a child my life was, in part, controlled by the trauma I didn’t want to talk about. In my 20s my life was controlled by the mental health system and the labels I wore. It’s only in my 30s that I’ve finally understood what it means to live the life you choose. It’s only now I feel I actually have a choice.
So, in part this blog is about how I’m starting to make sense of this life I’ve found that I have. As well as sharing some of my own story, I want to use it to share ideas and information from around the world. There is so much fantastic work and progress happening internationally, I hope that hearing about it might help inspire and re-energise you in some way.
Thanks for listening x