I started Arty-Folks just before Christmas together with a few friends. Perhaps not surprisingly my Arty-Folks mentor felt that I wasn’t going to last because I was in a pretty bad place. I felt everything had gone wrong so far and I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of being an adult and looking after myself. I was drinking, smoking, eating junk, self-harming, overdosing, and I was taken by ambulance to A&E two or three times each week. They usually bandaged me up and sent me on my way. Nobody ever asked me why I was doing it. I was in such a dark place but nobody seemed to care.
All I wanted was someone to listen and to help me make sense of what I was going through. I guess this is what kept me going to Arty-Folks and develop the dialogue with my mentor. At first we resolved practical issues like debts and dealing with landlords, and then we discussed how I can improve the dialogue with medical staff through to good and bad coping strategies and the past experiences that are fuelling those.
Since joining a year ago I moved into my own place, started intense DBT therapy, stopped smoking cannabis and cigarettes, was drinking in moderation and only socially, was volunteering at Arty-Folks and at my church, and I even started playing badminton. Best of all I haven’t had a stress-induced seizure for over 6 weeks! I have good friends and I am getting on really well again with my close family and I had a fabulous Christmas. Seriously, I was doing amazing.
A new year has started and I am not sure what is going wrong again now. It feels I have lost direction and I am slowly relapsing. I started drinking and smoking again because I wanted that fuzziness and at that moment being tipsy makes me happy. I knew things were really going wrong when I started to hoard my medication rather than taking it because it usually leads to an overdose. Of course I know it’s not the right thing to do but I wanted this feeling of being stuck to stop. I was scared of slipping back but at the same time also scared of going forward.
I couldn’t wait to get back to the art group and the first workshop back was great. I loved playing with flowing colours as we were creating a ‘soup of potential’. But at the end of the session I was still feeling really down, disappointed in me and disheartened. I sat down with my mentor after the art class for what we call ‘mental fishing’. It’s always a ramble at first because I can’t really understand why I am feeling this way but eventually what’s bugging me floats to the surface. It takes time, lots of time, good quality time where my mind is allowed to bop up and down in murky waters until it hooks onto something, the thing that has been draining me in the background. It really is a bit weird and I always feel a bit anxious at first because you just don’t know where it’s going to take you. But after we’ve gone past the bits and pieces we can see how things link up and themes emerge that make sense to me.
I still really want to become a nurse and I realised how worried I am I might never make it. I have failed Uni twice because I was so desperately ill and I know I won’t get student finance again. I know that I need to be patient and get myself well but at the same time my future career direction is weighing heavily on my mind. I realised that I am under intense pressure because my dreams were shattered once before when I was 12. I was air cadet then and I loved it. We went away on week-ends, there was always something to do, always friends around me, and I was proud of being a core marksman. I then went to military college, a boarding school where things started to go wrong. I was harassed and bullied by prefects and when I came out as trans I was discharged on medical grounds. My dream of serving in the military was shattered. I started Uni and became a welfare officer but found helping others much more interesting than the engineering course. This made me decide to change to a Nursing Degree but unfortunately I was so ill by then they threw me off the course.
Isn’t it strange that you can be so very mentally ill and you are the last person to know? I was hearing voices and self-harming regularly but still didn’t realise how ill I was. Other people had to tell me and only now can I can look back and see how vulnerable I was, how confused, how lost, and emotionally tormented. Believe me, looking back at the things you have said and done is very, very hard. I feel guilty and I feel ashamed, and I still don’t fully understand how I got to such a dark place.
My mentor is encouraging me to talk my experiences through openly without fear so I can learn to understand what motivated me and have empathy for myself. I have to learn to be patient, to take one step at a time and to develop the confidence that each step I take will lead me to solid ground and towards my future full of potential. I know I am now in a different place and that I have a lot of good people around me but I find it so hard to trust I won’t slip back.