11 September 2020

My Recovery Journey

By Sally Wilkin, Quality Assurance Service User Lead 

Background to my story  

When I was diagnosed with a lifelong mental health condition in my early 20’s I was told by the Consultant “that’s it, you will be like this now for the rest of your life, there is no cure, you will never get any better”. So, for the next 25 years, I simply endured, resigned to the fact that I would never be a functional human being, I had no purpose in life, no direction, no drive and absolutely no knowledge of my right to recovery. 

Society’s view and extreme stigma of people living with a mental health diagnosis impacted me greatly.  I had my own inbuilt stigma, both from my upbringing and my own views on what I should/could be capable of achieving.  The Consultants words came back to haunt me on my bad days, and they just reinforced my own self-doubts, accelerating my lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.  Over the years, I did try to improve, but regrettably I was in company of people who just took advantage of me, and for every 3 steps I took towards getting better, they pushed me 10 steps backwards.  I was entangled in 2 abusive marriages, which finally led to a total catastrophe, and due to this, I was admitted into psychiatric hospital for 10 months.  My situation went from bad to worse during that time period, I lost everything, my husband, my marriage, my son, my house, absolutely all of my belongings.  I was forced to restart my life completely from scratch in January 2010. 

Making progress towards recovery  

My first step towards recovery came about in 2011, I was moved from my supported housing accommodation into independent living.  I had to move into a completely new area, where I knew no-one, and no-one knew me.  I felt this to be a chance to “start again”. I was introduced to various groups around the village, and met lots of people, who for once, I felt, were not judging me.  Gradually, I made some lifelong (I hope) friends.  They became closely involved with me and my son, who had come back to my care at the age of 4. 

These two friends became my support bubble.  They were there for me during crisis.  I was still not really living a functional life, but in 2015, I was offered a job by one of my friends as a caretaker for the local village hall.  At the time, I could not believe that I was to be trusted with the keys, or that I was even capable of doing this work.  My friend and manager, Tim, spent time with me, rebuilding my self-esteem and self-confidence, he sorted out the strict rules involved with me working and staying on my benefits.  I applied, was interviewed, and successfully was offered a role.  My first employment in nearly 20 years.  It was not all plain sailing, there were many hiccups along the way, but my position within the village hall cemented my friendship with my other friend.  She fully supported me, encouraging me all the way, topping up my confidence and esteem. 

 Within 18 months of this new job, I became aware of ELFT taking over the mental health services in Bedfordshire. I was tentatively introduced to the People Participation Lead for Bedford, who appealed for Service User’s to work with her on the first assignment she had been given.  It was made extremely clear, how this was a responsible role, where I had to be reliable and conscientious.  So, this was the next stage of my recovery journey.  I worked with my PP lead, gradually increasing my involvement, during which both my friend and the PP lead were there slowly building me up.  I cannot say it was a straightforward journey, but with my supportive friend and PP lead, we dealt with every step backwards, working out what went wrong, making specific changes, one at a time, testing out the change, then finally I realised that I can do it. 

So my path and recovery journey had begun to take shape.  I remembered skills from the past.  I progressed within the PP role, I was voted in as the Chairperson for Bedford Borough Working Together Group, participated in many other SU activities, all the time my confidence in my own ability was being reinforced.  My thoughts and opinions were valued and listened to.  I had a voice, and people actually wanted to listen to what I had to say.  I continued to travel along the recovery road, with ongoing support where necessary.  In 2017, I was successful in my application to become a eCPA trainer.  It was on that very intensive 2 day course that I met Jane Kelly, Director of Recovery.  Her words to me during that training impacted me deeply.  She told me “You have a RIGHT to recovery”. She saw something in me, that even I wasn’t aware of.  She saw my potential.  She gave me the confidence to continue with my progress and to shine as I put it.  From there, my progress and achievement have grown massively.  In January 2018 I became an employee within ELFT as a Service User Lead for the Quality Assurance Team.  I am fully supported by my line manager and the whole team.  I am valued and appreciated by the team, and my input on all things Service User/Carer related is invaluable. 

Progress and future steps 

So, from the pit of despair, I have climbed, sometimes been pushed and I am growing each day.  The journey is not a straight line, I still have bad days, but I am learning, improving and managing better each time. 

In February 2020 I enrolled with the Open University on an Access course, which I am currently just completing, successfully, and in line to pass with Distinction.  I am starting my BSc hons Psychology degree on 3rd October 2020. 

None of this would have been possible without ELFT, PPL’s, QA Team and Jane Kelly all supporting me throughout, building up my confidence and allowing me to shine and fly. 

During my time working in the Quality Assurance team, we have instigated the Accreditation Assessment program, completely service user/carer led, from the beginning.  We have received fantastic feedback on this program, from the assessors and clinical teams that have taken part. 

In 2019 we applied for the PENNA awards and were been shortlisted in two categories, of which one we were runners up.

My future learning and next steps are my degree, learning as much as possible about mental health, psychology with the aim of being to help even more service users to travel on their own recovery journeys.  I also want to reach out wider audiences with my story, role and successes of the Accreditation process. 

My most compelling quote came from Jane Kelly, Director of Recovery for ELFT. 

Everyone has the right to recovery