"I feel passionately now that in this day and age, as a society we should be more open to talking about mental health"
It helped to know that some of the advisors there had faced issues of their own; I felt like there would be a better degree of understanding and empathy because of that.
I had a traumatic childhood. My father was a heavy drinker and there was a pattern every weekend; dad drunk and lots of shouting and confrontation at home. There was also emotional neglect, and abuse, so it was a time of great fear and suffering.
When I was 10, my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer which worsened my father's behaviour. Doing all of the household chores, budgeting and paying bills, studying for exams, whilst also visiting Mum in hospital on and off for 5 years meant it was an incredibly difficult time for me and an enormous emotional strain. Mum died when I was 15 years old. I can remember one evening standing in the kitchen making dinner, with silent tears rolling down my face and feeling deep despair and sadness. I didn’t understand at the time that what I was feeling was depression, but these feelings continued throughout my teens and beyond.
Years later I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I have come to understand that OCD can develop as a means of creating a feeling of having control over your life, which was obviously something I hadn't had as a child. At times, the OCD has kept me at home to a significant extent, and I haven’t always been able to work. I have also had back problems and other physical symptoms which are a result of my sedentary lifestyle. Over the years I have taken medication and done some therapy.
I also became a Nichirin Buddhist 6 years ago which has helped massively with the anxiety and depression and has also contributed significantly to helping me go out more. My Buddhist practice is about observing and mastering the mind - I consider it as a form of self-therapy, not always easy but definitely effective and worth the effort. Reducing my OCD symptoms, however, is a work in progress, as it's the thing that still affects me most.
I heard about the Community Wellbeing Service whilst I was seeing the practice nurse at my GP surgery for a routine health check. When I mentioned some of the issues I had been facing, the nurse offered to refer me to the service as she thought it could help.
In just two weeks I had received a phone call to arrange my first appointment. It was explained to me that it was a signposting service and also, to a degree, peer-led. It helped to know that some of the advisors there had faced issues of their own; I felt like there would be a better degree of understanding and empathy because of that.
I had a weekly support session over four months. We’d set goals together; things I’d feel comfortable with and that seemed achievable to me.
I was signposted to an advice centre, as well as a health trainer, and was referred to Health in Mind who specialise in treating OCD. When you’re suffering from depression, just contacting someone can be really difficult so having somebody there helps you to take that step.
For years I had struggled along on my own feeling like I was hiding a big, dark secret and felt real shame and guilt that I couldn't be 'normal' like other people. All that served to do was to make my situation worse. I feel passionately now that in this day and age, as a society we should be more open to talking about mental health/emotional issues, as there are so many people out there suffering, but who don't seek help for fear of stigma.
Those who are affected by these challenges need to be able to feel comfortable and secure talking about their problems, just as they would if they were dealing with a physical illness. I'm glad that I've been given the opportunity to do that.
To get to a place where you’re truly happy you’ve got to deal with things that have happened in your life and I feel that the Community Wellbeing Service, along with my Buddhist practice, is helping me on the way to achieving that.
Ultimately I want to see myself in a more positive way and to continue changing how I live. I used to work in finance and I also did professional actor training when I was younger, so I know I’ve still got the potential to do things in the future. I have led a restricted life at times - not going out and doing things other people do - but now I'm definitely working towards managing my OCD so that it doesn’t affect my life as much. Going forward, I’d like to continue acting and to just... live.
The Community Wellbeing Service provides Social Prescribing to support people with mental health challenges in Hastings. The Social Prescribing model links patients with non-clinical specialist services in the community to enable them to get practical help in many different areas, including advice with housing and benefits, and to connect them with social activities to help improve their wellbeing.