Before I experienced mental illness for myself, my knowledge of mental illness was zero. That all changed in 1997, when I found myself in a very dark place. A lot of unpleasant experiences occurred at the same time, which resulted in my feeling that I could no longer cope with life. This resulted in a mental breakdown and began a journey which lasted for about 10 years. There is no doubt that I was severely mentally ill. However, once I was aware that there was hope for the future, the recovery process began.
Between 1997 and 2007, I suffered two major episodes of severe mental illness. My family and understanding friends did absolutely everything they could to support and encourage me through hospital visits, phone calls, letters, cards and small gifts. Little things truly do mean a lot. I am very grateful to all of them. It was at that time that I discovered who my true friends were.
Between my two episodes I met a young man who ended up being an advocate on my behalf. Through our conversations, my new friend was aware of my past achievements. When I became seriously ill for a second time he went beyond the call of duty on my behalf.
My friend had no previous knowledge of mental illness. Nevertheless he took it upon himself to find out as much about my diagnosis as possible. He was concerned that no one in my situation should ever be written off.
There were some people who knew me who thought there was absolutely no hope that I would ever recover. Thankfully, these were in the minority. However, I have sometimes encountered personal instances of stigma. Fortunately I had the maturity to realise that people who stigmatise people with mental health conditions need to be educated.
What I want to say to anyone with little or no knowledge of mental illness I am a person, not a diagnosis. I am a person with a hope and a future. My friend believed in me, which helped a great deal. Everyone needs to achieve their full potential, including people with mental illness. In my case it is schizoaffective disorder.
The misconceptions people have about those with my diagnosis is that I must be dangerous to other people, unsafe to be employed and that there is no hope of any form of recovery. All these things are false.
The reality is that I am living a full life, wanting to contribute to the local community.
Being a Time to Change Champion is an excellent platform to challenge stigma against mental illness in a positive way.
To challenge stigma against mental illness is important to me because although progress has been made, there is still much stigma concerning mental illness. In other words, I have felt uneasy about mentioning my mental health condition to, for example, prospective employers. Through the Time to Change literature, I realise that the longer I remain silent, the longer the stigma will continue.
The one interesting transformation that has taken place during my short time as a Time to Change Champion is my own attitude towards my own mental illness. Until a few days, ago I felt ashamed about my mental ill-health. Now I see it as a tool to challenge and educate those who lack knowledge and understanding of mental illness.
Since being well enough to live in the community, the first thing I did with my supportive male friend was to get married. We have been married for 11 years, was a carer for my late mother-in-law and have been involved in several voluntary activities such as helping at a village fete. Who says there is no hope for anyone with a mental illness? I don't.