Blog #9 Coffee anyone?
It has been five years since I completed and graduated from my peer training course with the Institute of Mental Health. The training had been a journey of highs and lows, tears and laughter, challenges and in many ways, an adventure of discovery too. I would say it was one of the most challenging training courses I had ever attended but I would not change it for the world. It helped change my life in so many ways for ever.
With my wellness plan in hand, I had everything going for me. I knew what to do to stay well and was determined this would be the beginning of my journey of maintaining employment….something I had not managed to do to date, due to my own mental health distress.
After applying for a role as a peer support worker I attended an interview, taking with me a piece of drift wood. That piece of drift wood was one of nature’s treasures, a very dear friend had found it for me while on holiday. It didn’t matter from which angle you looked at it, animal shapes and forms seemed to spring out of it. It represented taking delight in the small things in life, looking for people’s treasures as they walk their journey of life. Im not sure if it was that piece of wood that got me the job or the fact that I had found my dream job and wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by without a fight. Either way I somehow managed to persuade the interview panel that they needed me on their team…thus gaining a post working on the acute wards at a local adult mental health hospital.
In all my years of employment I had never managed to hold down a job for more than a few months. I was so scared I would fail again, especially because I believed this was the job I had been searching for all my life. I could see that all the years of torment and depression, distress and self hate had been for a reason. I finally had some worth and could give back and belong to society. Something I had never felt before. All those negatives turned into something very positive and my journey of recovery had taken a leap forward.
I had been working for a few months/years as a peer support worker when my mental health took a nose dive. All the things I usually did to keep myself well such as listening to music, seeing people who were important to me and knitting were no longer working. Sadly I had to take some time out, to evaluate what was happening and what I was doing in my life. It was time to really put into practice all the skills I had learned on my peer training course for myself.…practice what I preached so to speak.
While off work, I became aware that I was very quickly spiralling into not being able to get out the house. If I was to ever get back to work I realised I needed to do something now before it was too late. I had to find a solution to this challenge.
That’s when I decided to challenge myself and start pushing my boundaries back out. I decided to go to a coffee shop with some knitting and sit quietly in a corner. I wasn’t sure I could do it but I had to try. A well known coffee shop had recently opened a new store, it was large enough to be able to sit away in the corner quietly, without being disturbed.
The first time I went, I sat with a small drink, not knowing how I would even stay there, but I managed to drink the coffee and knit for about 20 minutes. That felt like such a huge step for me back then. A few days later I went to that same store again with my knitting, not speaking to anyone other than to order my drink. This continued for a number of days, each day I would manage to stay a little bit longer too.
Before long I found myself looking forward to going out the house, knowing I had a treat of rewarding myself with a coffee and to sit quietly knitting in a safe corner. Those 20 minutes soon turned into an hour or sometimes two. I was going daily by now, The store managers were getting to know me as were some of the other regular customers. I very quickly gained the nickname of ‘the lady who knits in the corner’.
Regular customers would say hello to me and ask what I was knitting. I was making new friends and beginning to have conversations with people. The staff at the coffee shop all knew me by now and I was getting to know them. If for some reason I missed going for a coffee one morning they would ask where I had been and if I was ok.
My social network had increased. I had made friends with people, both staff and customers. I always took my knitting because I found it helped me stay relaxed. I had to smile when a customer asked if I took knitting orders. Soon other people would come in asking for me, because they had something they wanted me to knit for them.
I was feeling well again, that simple act of taking myself off to a coffee shop, sitting quietly in the corner, not talking to anyone and knitting had begun a whole new chapter in my life. I was getting out and about, and coping with daily life again. I had overcome my challenges and regained control of my depression. I was able to relax and be around people again, I looked forward to each day and enjoyed chatting to people. Quite often I found myself using my peer skills to encourage others who were struggling, that’s when I recognised I was well and recovering again….
With support from occupational health, human resources and a couple of NHS employees in particular I went back to work in a new role in the community that summer. To this day I have continued to go back to that same coffee shop on the mornings when I am not at work, because it is one of the things that continues to help me stay well. I still see and chat to the other regular customers and frequently get asked to knit things. I made some good friends who have become part of my support network and I continue to make new friends as customers and staff come and go. One store manager is in particular is now a good friend, whom I now babysit for, that’s because I chose to knit a little jacket for his newborn son as a thank you gift for his support and acceptance of me.
The coffee store also supported me last year when I had my head shaved for Macmillan Cancer…by offering to host the event. I am so grateful to the coffee shop and staff there. It took all the courage I could muster to walk through this doors initially but from that small step came more rewards than I could have imagined back then. My life is richer, more amazingly I have continued to sustain employment for years instead of just a few months. My journey of recovery continues, with each challenge I face, more healing and freedom becomes available. I realise now more than ever before that my recovery is completely in my control…I just have to be brave enough to take those steps along the road to recovery and discovery.
To finish, I am still known as ‘the lady who sits in the corner knitting’ or “B” to the regulars. Sometimes now though to challenge myself, I don’t sit in the corner.
“B” (Peer Support Worker)