This week I was fortunate enough to be at the inspirational World Hearing Voices Congress in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham. There is so much that I would like to share with you from this fantastic event, but choosing a place to start has been surprisingly easy. Kelly Comans, an inspirational young woman from Australia, whilst giving her personal recovery journey said the following words:
“Recovery is an active process: You can’t sit on your arse and slide up a hill” – Kelly Comans, 2010
It got me thinking. It’s such a simple idea … logical, really. Why did it have such an impact on me?
The answer, at first, is simple. I spent a long time sitting on my arse, not realising that it was possible to stand up and walk. This is just the surface layer, though, and not an answer at all. Beneath it sits bigger questions demanding more complex answers – WHY? Why did I sit down? Why did I spent so long on my arse? How did I stand up again and start walking?
Why did I sit down in the first place?
As a child, I carried a deep sense of my own badness. I saw monsters in the mirror and felt aliens in my stomach. I believed I was wrong, but felt unable to tell those closest to me. I felt detached from my body, as if I was in a dream, and feared I might have been physically ill. Still, I carried these worries inside me rather than ask another for help.
That was me. I kept things hidden. I stayed silent. It’s all I knew.
During my first admission, back in 1998, feeling trapped inside an alien experiment, I was glad to give up control to the doctors. My truths had become to heavy to carry. Frightened and exhausted with holding it all in, I felt relieved that someone was able to label my distress and promise to take it all away. During that admission, I finally sat down and waited for someone to airlift me off the mountain. It wasn’t my job to climb it – I was ill. I just needed to wait for the medication to do its job. I would be safe.
Looking back, I know now that I really did need that rest. I needed someone to take my burden for a while and let me sit down. I needed space to heal.
So, the question becomes: Why did I spend so long on my arse?
What we thought would be a brief admission lasted around eight months. According to my notes I was admitted well over 20 times in total, sometimes for months on end. During this time I clung to the idea that I was mentally ill, I had no other viable alternative. I gave up trying to self manage, resisted anyone trying to teach me coping strategies and tried to kill myself on far too many occasions. I lost hope and, most of all, I lost myself.
On top of this, the diagnosis of schizophrenia (and more latterly schizo-affective disorder) acts as an almost perfect mask. It fits so snugly that it can completely remove the desire to look beneath it. The sense in my experiences, and their connection to my life, got lost. Once I saw these experiences as completely disconnected from me, it felt like they were – and would always be – completely out of my control. If I had no control, then surely I had no responsibility either.
But I did get up, and I am climbing that hill – so what changed?
I got a reality check. This reality check wasn’t an overnight revelation, it came in parts which spread themselves over a few years. I discovered I had options. Its been a slow process, but I finally realised I needed to take off the mask and recognise my experiences as MINE. More than that, I found sense in my madness and something to fight for. I got a life.
The ‘how’ of this is a longer story than I have space for here. I’ll work on telling that one tomorrow x