“I wanted to use my experiences in a positive way to try to help others” – Beth’s Story
Eight years ago I was sitting in a room in Octavia House, a Community Links (CL) residential hostel, wishing that I was anywhere else in the world.
In the previous few years I’d had multiple hospital admissions for my mental health, more admissions to the community day service than I could count, and had been unable to manage living independently. This led my community care team to tell me that moving to Octavia was my only option. I was supposed to have been completing university, and should have been looking for employment, but instead I felt as if I had been passed from pillar to post, let down, and a total failure.
I hated Octavia for the first few months, all the staff were so positive and happy, this was so alien to anything I had experienced in services to this point, and if I’m being frank, was quite annoying! So I fought against it, and I think I was a little bit of a handful! The workers never gave up. Even when I was at rock bottom and tried everything to push them away, they stayed, and they believed in me, and gradually this began to resonate. They recognised my strengths and encouraged me to get involved in recruitment and how the organisation was running, which gave me purpose, and made me feel valued for the first time. I stayed at Octavia for ten months, and although I still struggled daily with my mental health, and there were more hospital admissions, I learnt that there was hope, and that there were people that cared and believed in me – and that was priceless.
Even when I was at rock bottom and tried everything to push them away, they stayed, and they believed in me
I moved from Octavia to Walker House, another CL residential service, and continued to return to Octavia on prevention for the next two years, as well as being supported by other services. All of the workers that I encountered through Community Links had the same values of hope, an unshakeable belief that I could recover, and kindness – although they were not afraid to be honest and give me a (metaphorical) kick when I needed it!
With support I began to cope better and learn how to live again. I decided that I wanted to use my experiences in a positive way to try to help others, and so applied to volunteer at the Aspire Early Intervention in Psychosis service. This was the best decision I could have made. I joined the Action Afternoon service-user involvement group as well as the Hearing Voices support group, both of which gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing clients, learn about an area of mental health new to me, and gain so much confidence and self-esteem. The staff I met were welcoming, encouraging and I left each day feeling that I had made a difference, and was useful, something that cannot be underestimated. The staff at Aspire encouraged me to apply for a permanent position with CL, and with a lot of trepidation, I applied for a Mental Health Support Worker role at Brigid House, a residential service like Octavia.
I never believed that anyone would take the risk of employing somebody with my history of mental health difficulties
One of the most unexpected and proudest moments of my life was being offered a full-time role at Brigid. I never believed that anyone would take the risk of employing somebody with my history of mental health difficulties in such a job, or that this history might even be valued. In 2018 I joined the team, a nerve-wracking experience, but amazing. I quickly learned why all of the workers I had met in my time in CL services had been so compassionate, non-judgemental and caring – it was because these values are instilled in every employee across the organisation.
As I write this I am sitting back in Octavia, not in a bedroom wishing I was anywhere else, but in the manager’s office, as I am now Deputy Manager of East Grange, one of CL’s newer residential services, based next door to Octavia House. My life feels as if it has come full circle, and one thing that I have realised is that I don’t regret any of my experiences. There is nothing I would change. The challenges and difficulties that I have faced in my life have made me the person that I am, and I quite like her! I still struggle with my mental health, those old negative coping strategies still raise their head, and are sometimes quite tempting, but I use this to drive me on, it reignites my compassion and empathy for those we support, reminds me of how far I have come and, most of all, that recovery is always possible.
I would urge anyone reading this who has a history of mental health difficulties and is considering applying for a role within the organisation to go for it! You will need to be resilient, and have confidence in your coping strategies, but your experiences will be welcomed, valued and respected.
by Beth Noel, Deputy Manager, East Grange