The key to new doors

As they approach their 18th birthday, many people organise parties,
pop champagne and count the presents that have come their way.
Usually there is more than one symbolic key to celebrate the coming
of age. However, as I reach the 18th anniversary of my first
compulsory detention under the Mental Health Act 1983 I realise
that I have my own “coming of age” key.

For me the key has come in having insight into what makes me
vulnerable and the type of support I need. I do not wear
rose-tinted glasses which make me believe the “perfect” service
exists. I am aware that working with mental health professionals
takes huge emotional resources to develop an effective working

It is difficult to negotiate a balance between having such low
expectations that one gives up hope and digging deep enough to find
the strength, time and energy to believe solutions do exist –
sometimes from the most unexpected sources. For example, the best
helpline I have found has been 24-hour telephone banking. The staff
always make me feel as though they want to talk to me, I can ring
up as many times as I like during the night and they never make me
feel like a failure or a burden.

Unless you have tried a range of resources you never know what
might keep your head above water. I strongly believe we have to use
initiatives such as direct payments, adult education, employment in
meaningful jobs, home treatment services and the user involvement
agenda to create our own solutions.

No one can deny it is a long, painful process. There are few
resources that let you create your own unique menu because, despite
the talk of needs-led services, the framework and resources we
operate within are service-led. It is difficult to deal with the
sense of failure that is placed at your door when something does
not work out.

Fortunately, throughout my journey there has always been a couple
of people who have had faith that things could be different. They
have been there to embrace the real meaning of partnership, taking
the lead sometimes and at other times being there to help me work
things out. For me choice and empowerment is about having real
viable options. It means working together flexibly, thinking
creatively and developing a relationship where you can deal with
the rough and the smooth.

People might suggest 18 years of mental health services reflect
dependency and institutionalisation. I would argue the fact that I
am still alive and can recognise my needs and vulnerabilities
represents a huge achievement. I know my life is never likely to be
easy and I am not going to conquer mountains. For me recovery is
about finding ways to manage my distress, isolation and despair so
that the roof does not fall in. Recognising this is like a coming
of age. I have the key to make sure the psychiatric door is not
locked behind me again, but I hope mental health services have the
capacity to help me celebrate and learn from the growing pains we
have shared.

Humerah Miah lives and works in London.

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