I’m not sure whether I’m a service user or recovered. These are often fixed terms used by other people and on occasion this has caused me problems. Before suffering depression I wasn’t a service user and had an everyday job, did everyday things and lived in an everyday community as included or excluded as the next person.
Then I spent 10 years in and out of hospital and became a “service user”. I lost much of my previous identity by being seen as a service user and thinking I was a service user.
For the past six years, I have been back at work and now work for a mental health association. I have not gone into hospital, not used medication and am now, apparently, not a service user. Neither am I the person I was before so I do not easily fit into either slot.
I am going to be running an advice surgery in a community mental health team in Glasgow along the same lines as one I’ve been running elsewhere in the city for the past two years. The difference this time is that I used to be a service user with this community mental health team.
I’ve made a couple of visits to the team in the past but recently went to familiarise myself with the layout and issues such as fire procedure, moving through the building and using a swipe card to go through locked doors. They showed me how to use the personal attack alarms and what happens when they are used. It was a strange experience and I felt uncomfortable, particularly thinking back to my frequent earlier visits to the service when I had no control or power.
The other thing that will take time to get used to is working with community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) on an equal footing when previously they had so much power and control over my life. Today I saw two familiar faces, one of whom was a former ward sister who looked at me in that “do I recognise that person?” sort of way, but I didn’t say anything. I remembered her name but wasn’t brave enough to say hello. A bit of me started to worry about what she was thinking and I felt like a service user again. The other person was a previous CPN of mine who did say hello, knew I was starting to work there, asked when I was starting and didn’t make me feel like a service user.
I’ve been in this situation before and overcame it. I usually make myself feel like a service user, not other people. It feels easier or more natural for me to think and feel that way, and I’m not sure that is a state of mind from which I can ever fully recover and always have to confront myself when it happens. This is why I don’t accept praise comfortably. Perhaps that is why, for me, terms like “recovery” and “service user” are about states of mind which I can impose on myself, as well as other people.
It is easy to say I needed to recover from services, but the hardest recovery is recovering from myself which is an area I don’t think I talk about.
Chris White has used mental health services