On Friday afternoon I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly in a dark, frightening and very uncomfortable place.

I was back June 2014 in a supermarket standing before a huge great black chasm. I couldn’t move, I was fixed to the spot, shaking, shivering, sweating, struggling to breathe and feeling the adrenaline take control.

In June 2014 I stood there for what seemed like an eternity with people passing me by and then somehow I turned to move and got into the car. For a long time I sat there breathing deeply and telling myself I would be OK if I could just calm down.

I didn’t go to the supermarket again to do the shopping, I had all my groceries delivered via online shopping and that’s something I still do. I avoid the supermarket if I can. Why? Because Seth used to take care of the all the food shopping/cooking and the supermarket reminds me as it did on that dark black day that Seth isn’t here to take care of me.

So what happened on Friday afternoon? What happened to take me back to that panic attack? What happened to reconnect me to that visceral feeling of utter despair, hopelessness and foreboding?

A session with a lady called Mandy Stevens…..Mandy shared her story of working in a mental health trust first as a healthcare assistant and then over time to leading a trust as Director of Nursing, helping people with mental ill health, a lady who is a caring and compassionate leader.

Mandy shared her journey through mental ill health that saw her transition from a Director of Nursing at mental health trust to a mental health inpatient in 10 days. It was Mandy’s description of her panic attack that reconnected me to the feelings of my attack. You can read Mandy’s blog to find out more about her experiences and how she is using them to remove the stigma of mental ill health.

One of the things that we really should all think about is that 1 in 4 people will be affected by mental ill health and as Mandy says “there is no immunity; mental illness can come out of nowhere and affect anyone at any time”

Thank you Mandy for sharing your story and breaking down the stigma about mental health your story is truly inspirational.

I have been thinking about Mandy’s experience and thinking of all the people who I know, I have worked with or who are part of my family who live with mental ill health. My mum for years after my father died suffered from complicated grief, Seth’s mum lived with mental ill health and the 1 in 4 people affected by mental ill health has played out in the teams that I have led.

All of the people I know who live with mental ill health have helped me to understand how to support them, but only by being trusting enough to share their challenges and comfortable enough to share their vulnerabilities.

I don’t know if grief and bereavement is a mental health illness. I do know that if I hadn’t have had the support of the NHS staff counselling service a few days after Seth was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, the support from the Dove Service over the 33 days of Seth’s and my journey through pancreatic cancer and then the care and nurture of Helen a counsellor from the Dougie Mac Hospice after Seth’s death I might not be doing the work that I am doing now.

I also know that friends, colleagues and strangers who have shared their experiences including their grief have gifted me with precious insight into the challenges of mental health.

When I was a young girl there were always whispered conversations in the family about Auntie Annie, my dad’s aunt. She was always mentioned in hushed tones but I never saw met her or saw her. Annie was a mystery who drifted in and out of my consciousness and then as I grew older I came to understand that Annie has been “committed” to “St Edwards” the local mental asylum. Annie was the only girl with four brothers, each of the brothers used to visit her regularly; she had an income from the family business and they did their best to support her. But Annie’s mental ill health was a cause for embarrassment and while the family loved her she seemed to be a lady whose life was the epitome of the stigma of mental ill health, hushed, side-lined, hidden from view and not really talked about.

A young Annie

At the end of her blog, Mandy say “I lost my mind, lost my self esteem, lost my pride, lost my sense of who I am, lost my confidence, lost my job & my income, lost my driving license and my independence… but I am slowly picking up the pieces… like a smashed vase, gluing itself together in to a beautiful mosaic. I will be strong again. I will be ok.”

I know Annie suffered from the stigmas of her time and I wonder if she has been able to share her journey as Mandy as done if she too would have come together as a beautiful mosaic of her experiences.I wonder if Annie too would have been OK. 

Thank you Mandy, thank you Annie and thank you to everyone who has ever had the courage, the grace, the selflessness to share the wisdom that comes from the challenges of living with and surviving the mosaic making that is mental illness.

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