Strain of feeling better

For the past three months I’ve been at a recovery crossroads.
Turning left brings worsening mental distress whereas turning right
is the way to getting and staying well. To other people the choice
will seem simple. But after nine years of depression, self-harm and
an eating disorder the decision to recover is far from

There are many issues for me to resolve before I can progress. The
thought of the responsibilities I will face once my life is back
together again scare me. Moving into paid work is especially
daunting. Surviving without support from mental health services
will take some effort.

There is a strong pull back to illness. On some days the urges to
harm myself are all-consuming. I’m also unable to watch lots of
television or read a book because my mind has been in turmoil for
so long that I’m not used to concentrating. There aren’t many
distractions and it can feel like there is nothing to replace
distressing thoughts and obsessions. I’m realising that recovery is
a continuous journey rather than a point reached in the future.
Training to be a volunteer adviser at a local citizens advice
bureau (CAB) helps me stay on the right path. There I meet people
from all walks of life and am able to empathise with their
problems, given my experiences. My knowledge of disability benefits
and the voluntary sector is an asset. Being on the staff rota
reminds me that I have responsibilities to others when I feel like
opting out.

Working at the CAB has been my only ambition since leaving
residential care two years ago. I wanted to help people to exercise
their rights and claim benefits to which they are entitled. Now I
try to leave my own issues at home one day a week and give the
CAB’s clients my full attention. Advising members of the public is
a challenge but has real rewards. When a client thanks me I feel
that my struggle to get strong enough to do this work has been

It is an advantage that I’ve always forced myself to keep occupied
even when the drive to self-destruct becomes a constant torment.
This usually means going for walks or using the internet in the
library. It may amount to biding time but one day I’ll be grateful
that I did keep going and am still alive. The reminders of illness
will always be there but the relapses become fewer, shorter and
less damaging.

Social care staff need to recognise this juncture in recovery and
the conflicts it presents for those with long-lasting severe
emotional problems. A major disincentive is that once we are out of
crisis and managing, our support is often withdrawn or reduced.
This is a great disservice – it feels unfair and like being
abandoned when help is still needed. It also undoes personal hard
work as well as services’ time and money investment. Assistance
should be provided for the duration of a person’s need. Even though
progress may be slow and tentative, workers need to remain
optimistic. Offering reassurance and continued support makes a
critical difference.

Alex Williams is a mental health service user.

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