A hug changed my life

As an adopted person I have experienced great difficulties in
coping with life and, earlier this year, was diagnosed as suffering
from complex post-traumatic stress disorder. On really bad days I
cannot even cope with going out to the shops. A lot of people have
said they cannot imagine me being so afraid, but they only see me
on good days.

A turning point for me was when I became a member of Highland Users
Group (Hug) in January this year. When I joined, I explained I
could only cope with background work, but within six months I found
myself attending various meetings.

The first one I ever attended was about homelessness in the
Highlands. I found real freedom to share my experience of being
homeless, and the impact it has had on my mental health.

Then, as a result of appearing in the If You Ask Me column, I was
given the most amazing opportunity by Peter Kampman from mental
health charity InterMinds to get involved in Grundvig 2, an
international project aimed at service user participation, active
citizenship and empowerment. In the first instance it would involve
a trip to Bucharest in Romania at the end of September.

Before I left I was very nervous, partly about travelling and also
because I would be meeting a lot of people from different
countries, although I was looking forward to meeting other users of
mental health services and hearing their experiences.

We visited various services in Romania including an organisation
which fights for the rights of lesbians and gay men, who until 1996
were imprisoned because of their sexual orientation.

Most of the week was spent in the Estuar drop-in centre for people
with mental health problems. I met a lot of lovely people and was
struck by the amount of different services the centre provided on
extremely limited resources. The centre has a psychiatric
counselling service, a lawyer who can be consulted every week and
activity groups that cover everything from living skills to hobbies
and even English lessons. However, I was told that the centre was
revolutionary in comparison with the rest of service provision in

Many service users I met spoke good English but lacked confidence
because they had had so little conversational practice. One of the
most poignant moments was when a woman shared her experience of
surviving the communist regime and her view that many people were
still struggling to break free from the mind-set of oppression.

It was at this point that I thought perhaps I had not really lived.
Above all, I felt humbled to find myself in the midst of people who
shared so much of themselves despite the poverty in which they

Kaye Hardie uses mental health services

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