Catherine’s story

In March 1988, I experienced a complete and total ‘identity crisis’.  I was admitted to hospital, where my ‘breakdown’ was treated with a range of medications – some of which had horrific side effects. I didn’t find this or subsequent hospital admissions helpful – (I had several admissions between 1988 – 1999). No-one ever asked me my thoughts or feelings with regard to my crisis until now.

In August 1987, my youngest and only daughter turned one. I was breast feeding her at the time. As she was now on a wide range of solid foods, I decided that the time was now right to stop. I stopped breast feeding too suddenly which resulted in me developing an abscess which led to me experiencing a very high temperature, yet freezing cold feet. I felt physically and emotionally unwell. I started crying and couldn’t stop. At the same time, I was increasingly becoming unhappy in my marriage and had become infatuated with a younger man who was a family friend, who equally felt the same way.

I sought help with the abscess from a health visitor but didn’t seek any help with regard to my low mood and depression. I asked the family friend to stay away which he respected. As a married mother of three children I wanted my marriage to work. I loved being a mother and as such I felt strongly that the children had the right to be brought up by both their parents. I also hold marriage as an ‘institution’ in high esteem and respected it as such.

However I also experienced an overwhelming sense of loss at this time for the following reasons.

I knew that my youngest was going to be my last child. The sense of ‘loss’ of what could have been (i.e. my lost love). The moral shaking to my belief systems – in not only marriage but my own spiritual walk. I had more questions than answers and didn’t know
who to turn to at this time hence my ‘identity crisis’.

In 1993, I sought marriage counselling with regard to my discontentment and after much deliberation and soul-searching I decided that separation was the best way forward for all concerned.

In 1998, with some encouragement from my then key worker – I decided to take up an educational course – Foundations in Humanities at BIFHE. This gave me a whole new lease of life. No-one knew me as a ‘mental health’ patient. I was simply accepted as a student and I loved every moment of it. I loved the companionship of my fellow students and I thrived in the educational setting. Education and learning were a big part of my own personal development and recovery. These were the keys that opened doors for me and gave me answers that I needed.

For example as part of the English module I was introduced to the poetry of John Hewitt, which I loved. This led to me applying for and getting a bursary place in the John Hewitt summer scheme. This opened a whole new world to me – I met a wide range of interesting characters who were not pigeon holed by normal traditional values. This led to an acceptance of my own belief systems that were not necessary stereotypical.

At around this time (1998) I was also invited to join a small group of mental health professionals and carers. I learned a lot about group dynamics from this experience. I learned how to compromise – fit in; present ideas to one or two members and let them flow with it. At least it was a starting point – the mental health service user voice was on-board.

In 2001, due to sectarian death threats towards one of my children I felt I had no choice but to move into another trust area. This led me to become involved with a service user led working group, which offered several doors of opportunity for me i.e. train such as ASSIST and The Com Helper course; peer advocate training. I also availed of the opportunity to be a member Bamford Service User Referen group. This was a steep learn curve for me. I really apprecia and experienced the value of p support especially among the Experts by Experience (EBE’S) Bamford Service User Referen group. I firmly believe that this kind of support is the way forward.  I have had to overcome the mind-sets and attitudes of others, and disbelief in myself as an individual. I have come to understand that I cannot take on the burden of responsibility for the empowerment of mental health services users (EBE’S) on my own. I am not an ‘island unto myself’.

I have learned a lot about myself and what I call recovery. I must be central in my own recovery journey. That I find self-care extremely hard. Identifying my needs and how best they can be met. That my recovery cannot happen in isolation. My recovery becomes ‘our recovery’.