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From service user to assistant support worker : Adam's story

Five years ago, on the surface, I had what might be considered as a good job, a nice rented house, an active social life and a decent amount of holidays. Then everything fell apart.

At least that’s how it seemed. The reality was a lot more complex. I’d been struggling for years with the realisation I’d been abused as a child, while I’d had some initial counselling, I had in effect re-buried the memories. That is until the Jimmy Saville scandal broke. Wherever I went I could not escape it and so the walls I’d built barring the images/feelings/emotions etc collapsed.

My initial solution was to sink myself into work, but all those negative thoughts/feelings seeped into it. I was definitely depressed…thoughts of suicide, ‘people would be better off without me, it was my fault’ etc bombarded me. Anxiety/stress about work increased tenfold through staff changes, new courses to deliver, to the extent I started to cope through drinking bottles of wine on a Friday and Saturday Night, ordering in takeaways then forcing myself to throw up. The takeaway thing became almost a nightly occurrence to the point I became bulimic.

Eventually things came to a head. I reached a point where I admitted to my employers that I was unable to continue and thankfully they agreed to let me go. I then rang my mum (which felt humiliating), but was essential in my first step to getting help. So aged 40 I moved back home, contacted a GP and was referred to a psychologist.

I guess that’s where you would expect things to get better, but that whole experience shattered my confidence, reinforcing the negative thinking of being a failure, being worthless, being a lodestone for my family. I wouldn’t go out, see friends or use public transport. I stopped sleeping, had panic attacks, suffered flashbacks and would not trust anyone outside of my immediate family.

Gradually, I let my psychologist in, and through that I was able to develop strategies to counter the chaos I was whirling in. This gave me a bedrock, but I still couldn’t socialise, get out, see things in a wholly positive light. Then having expressed an interest in creative writing I was referred to CLEAR (Community Links Engagement and Recovery) service in Huddersfield.

The first day I entered that office was the most terrifying of my life. I was covered in sweat, shaking and ready to run at the first sign of some excuse to get out of there. In fact, I wanted that to happen so I could go back to being that curled up ‘little ball’ where nothing could get me A place I could remain safe. Yet I didn’t run; the sense of welcome and warmth without prejudice or judgement, in hindsight, drew me in.

Gradually, over a 2 year period, I went from being a silent, almost invisible presence in workshops to contributing and actually enjoying being there. By attending the men’s group I learnt that not all men are violent or abusive; they can be caring and compassionate, and even have a sense of humour! I realised that my ‘unique’ style of artwork wasn’t demeaned, but embraced. I was given responsibilities in the Project Go group and trusted to help plan and deliver events for other service users. I tried new experiences like Mindfulness, Tai Chi and Acupuncture: In essence I stretched my comfort zone, which in-turn, expanded my confidence.

Not only that, but CLEAR invested in ME. They recognised talents and skills and grew them through putting me on training programmes. They believed that I was worth their time. I learnt how to sit on an interview panel and be a service user representative in the selection process. I was asked to become part of a team of service users and ex-service users in producing and delivering a confidence course to other service users. To me this was, and to some extent still is, mind-blowing.

I suppose at this stage, the name CLEAR could seem like some faceless corporate identity; that couldn’t be further from the truth. From the admin staff who welcome you in, to your support worker, workshop hosts and the managers, they all take an active interest in you as a person. You are not a number, a waste of space…you are an individual who merits their attention. ‘YOU MATTER!’ As one of my friends said ‘these people care’ and are willing to work with you to tackle the past, the present and the future.

At the end of my two years, I couldn’t have been more inspired by the dedication and devotion of the CLEAR team. So much so, that having taken 3 months off from the organisation, I came back as a volunteer! Why? Because I wanted to do what others had done for me. I wanted quite simply to ‘pass on that spark of recovery and see it flourish in others’.

As someone who hated gardening, I set myself a challenge of helping on the allotment. For a man who doesn’t know a knot weed from a sweet pea, I have learnt so much from the service users and been so impressed by their resilience and compassion. I’m almost at the stage now where I can be let loose on the flower beds and not pull up the flowers we’re protecting!  Add to that, I volunteered for craft weekends where I could illustrate that you don’t have to be an artistic genius to have a go. Seriously, I love encouraging others and if there’s one piece of advice from being an ex-service user I would pass on: it’s be positive…give things a go. It may not work initially, but could definitely work in the future.

To be honest, I hope my lived in experience of mental health issues helps others see there can be a way out. There’s no certain or specific route to recovery, but there is a genuine possibility that you can rise out of that deep, dark hole and live your life in a positive manner. I’m not going to lie to you, it isn’t an easy process. There are big pitfalls to negotiate i.e. benefit systems, your own defense mechanisms, negative attitudes, the ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality and more. It’s a case of accepting there are obstacles that will ‘throw you off the horse’, then taking a leap of faith and ‘climbing back in the saddle’. It is hard, but believe me it’s worth it.

After what’s been a difficult and, sometimes tumultuous trek forward, I’ve come to terms with the abuse, learnt to live with crises of confidence, negotiated with my panic attacks and kept putting my best foot forward. So much so that I applied for the Assistant Support Worker post at CLEAR and got the job. Had you told me that five years ago I would have laughed you out of the room. Even the mere thought of having a successful interview or of someone seeing me as an asset I would have found ridiculous. Thankfully I no longer think like that. Two months in, I love the interaction and the amazing people I meet. I can’t say I’ve ‘cracked it’, but thanks to CLEAR I remain in the ‘now’ and look forward to new endeavours. I now believe in myself and believe in others too.

Adam, Assistant Support Worker