MY EXPERIENCE OF RECOVERY – AMANDA SCOTT
|Amanda Scott, peer support worker and WRAP facilitator, shares her recovery journey and experiences of self-awareness, setting goals, partnership working, self-respect and the power of limitless hope. Amanda, who was described eighteen months ago as a “revolving door patient”, now uses her personal recovery and educational experiences to train and inspire recovery in both professionals and other individuals with lived experiences of mental ill health.In order to share with you my recovery journey I feel I need to share with you a little of where I have come from, but the emphasis will be on my ongoing recovery journey. I experienced significant challenges within my family from a young age. I had no significant roots as the family moved homes frequently due to the nature of my father’s work making it very challenging to feel a sense of belonging anywhere and in forming trusting relationships.In spite of this I achieved qualifications which enabled me to train and work as a staff nurse in both general and paediatric settings. As a senior staff nurse was frequently in charge of running a ward and all the responsibility that entails. I developed a wide and varied circle of acquaintances out with work and persuade many interests and hobbies. In short I would say I had a good quality of life at this time. However, that was over twenty years ago.In the past twenty years I have lived with:Recalling childhood abuse
Being actively suicidal
Surviving on benefits
Repeated hospitalisation – not always voluntaryBecause of the above symptoms, and experiences associated with them, I became enmeshed in a care system which did not actually work for me or meet my own needs. At times this system contributed to my unwellness by negatively influencing my ability to move forwards with my life. It is important for me to say here that it wasn’t that professionals did not care for me or go out of their way to create this situation – they were working with the approaches that were followed at that time and within policies that were in place. However, it led to my feeling I had no choices, and no control over my life and caused poor relationships and at times total breakdown in relationships with professionals.
My experience with the mental health system caused frustration and anger at myself, the situation I was stuck in, as well as with others when I was not being listened to or indeed heard. This experience led to me losing control of my life, the direction I wanted it to take and ultimately it led to loss of all hope of having a happy, purposeful future and indeed at many times having any future.
During this time I experienced periods of compulsory detention (under both the 1984 and 2003 Acts), some of which I concede were necessary. However, these periods tended to be marked by professionals who treated what I had to say very glibly and did not give my views enough importance. Often detention was used as a threat with no room for discussion; however, I would say that more recently this process has started to improve and is used less often.
There are always turning points at certain times in all our lives and my first turning point, putting me on my recovery journey, was during a review meeting where I was being told by professionals that I was a severe and enduring case and that no more could be done for me. I was told that I had had all the available time, resources and treatment and that I had not responded properly .e.g. medication, CBT, ECT. They told me I would continue to be a revolving door “case” but there would always be a bed for me and the ECT I had had could always be repeated. Finally they indicated that when they felt it was necessary I would be placed in a hostel. This bleak look at my future left me feeling powerless.
I left that meeting accepting that this was to be my future and that I had no say in it. However, in the ten minutes it took me to reach a park near where I live I decided “NO”. No-one had the right to decide my future except me. I realised I had to find something for myself, something that would prove to me and others I could have goals and aims, work towards them and achieve them by making my own decisions. So, I took up running – I must add here it wasn’t to escape from professionals or compulsory detention but it did come in handy!!!
About three and a half years ago I ran a 5km race, my first organised event. It was advertised as a “Fun Run” a concept I struggled with as, on propelling myself across the finish line, I seriously thought I’d gasped my last. However, everyone who gets over the finish line, no matter what state they are in, receives a medal. Most of the competitors thought nothing of their medal, heading straight for the beer and hamburger tent, but I was mesmerised by mine. I couldn’t put how I felt into words – for the first time in twenty odd years I had set my own goal, worked towards it and achieved it – I had made my dream become a reality. I put my medal on a hook on the back of my door in my flat and when things become challenging for me I look at it reminding me challenges are there to be overcome and are an opportunity to learn and grow. I have many medals now for 10kms, half marathons and marathons. I have even run with Liz McColgan our famous Scottish Olympian, but that first one remains the most important medal to me to this day and the one I return to when I have doubts about myself.
Things did not simply go smoothly from then on – recovery is a journey with many twists and turns. About eighteen months ago I hit a prolonged difficult patch when I could barely leave my flat except to go for a run or attend out-patient appointments. Around this time I painfully realised that it was actually my own reactions and learned behaviour that was keeping me stuck within services which were not working for me. Along with this self-awareness came the realisation that only I could change my life, no-one else could do it for me. Only I knew what would truly help me live the life I wanted and become the person I aspired to become. Only I could decide what support I needed to do this and that I had to take personal responsibility for all areas of my life and for my future. I was the expert on myself, no-one else was an expert on me.
I applied for a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) training course and, although I found it incredibly challenging, it did improve the overall quality of my life and increased my personal empowerment. It enabled me to recognise the strengths I have within myself which had always been there but I had lost sight of them. I am now more able to seek out my own solutions which helps reduce the intrusive, isolationist thoughts, feelings and behaviours and experiences which contributed to preventing me moving forward. By using my WRAP as a daily self management and self monitoring tool, I am continuing my personal growth by using and reviewing my own wellness tools. I have recognised that these tools enable me to maintain my wellness and allow me to take small steps which I can build on towards achieving my hopes and dreams; including how I want others to respond to me when I am temporarily unable to care for myself and maintain my own safety.
Following completion of my WRAP training I was accepted for Peer Support Training course. At this training I learned the principles of formal peer support – the powerful use of recovery language, the ethics, the “do’s and don’ts” practicing in an equal, validating approach. However, I learned so much more about myself, continuing to grow in my own recovery and maintain my own wellness. The most important aspect of this training for me was that it was delivered by someone with a lived experience – making it more real and pertinent to me. It was so empowering that someone with very similar experiences to me could in fact deliver very valuable training to others. I saw what they had and I wanted a piece of that just the smallest part – little did I know just how much more I would end up with.
I noticed the potential for reducing barriers between me and the professionals supporting me, creating a more equal way of working in partnership and with respect on both sides, and recognising the elements of positive risk taking this would involve on both sides.
I returned to my original hurts on my own rather like peeling an onion and built myself back up using all I had learned from the previous inputs making them work for me. This allowed me to, dare I say, love myself but not in an egotistical manner. I was totally unaware that I was allowed to respect and show myself some love or how good that would feel. As I did this gradually the baggage I had been dragging around for years – the guilt, the hurt, the anger, the self hatred gave way to self acceptance “warts and all.”
The energy this has released enables me to reach out to others and support them in their recovery journey. Giving back is an important part of my recovery after taking from others for so long.
Since my introduction to recovery as an approach in the past eighteen months I have come across many people from different backgrounds willing to work in this way. Although there are many who remain unwilling to think outside the box; for example, when I was told self harming was my way of coping and there was nothing anyone could do about that – they really didn’t know who they were dealing with!!
Well, I have a paid position of employment with the Community Rehabilitation Team in the Royal Edinburgh as a Peer Support worker; I am a qualified WRAP facilitator providing opportunities for people to develop their own WRAPs and a recovery trainer with Lothian Recovery Network. I am frequently asked to contribute to a variety of presentations and present workshops to students in mental health training using my lived experience of recovery.
Personally I have a strong network of truly equal respectful meaningful friendships which I dearly value. I have a supportive partner who never takes advantage of me and he’s very handy when my car breaks down!!
I am able to work in partnership with the professionals who support me in the way I need, enabling me to continue moving forwards in my life by offering me encouragement, listening to me, showing respect for the choices I make and treat me as more of an equal.
I have shifted my identity from being one comprising solely of mental health challenges to an all encompassing one of a more positive identity. I have tapped into my creative side taking up art and crafts.
Not bad for a revolving door patient who was severe and enduring… and yes I still go running!!
I used to send out SOS messages. Traditionally SOS stands for “Save our Souls” and I took this rather passive approach of picking up the phone to my supports when things weren’t going so well, waiting for them to “fix” it. I still send out SOS messages but they now stand for:
It is time to focus on what is strong not what is wrong and on ability not disability. HOPE is the emotional essence of recovery. It is the key that unlocks the door to recovery. Without HOPE recovery is unlikely and it must be a hope without limits. HOPE is a personal process and has a powerful impact in assisting people regain control of their lives.
At times I can lose my hope and at these times others have to temporarily hold it for me, but as I continue on my recovery journey such episodes are less frequent and of shorter duration.
There is nothing special about me – I have no special attributes. I passionately believe everyone who chooses to, has the potential to recover.
Eighteen months ago I was totally stuck and had little hope of leading a meaningful, happy, quality life and the thought of ending up in an institution was very much to the fore. The future has now opened up for – a future without limit.
I know that the challenges of my mental health will be there and that I will need periods of hospitalisation – indeed in January just past I was in crisis and had a short hospital admission, but this does not mean I am not in recovery. I now see a hospital admission differently. It never means failure but rather part of the process of recovery for me.
For me recovery is an ongoing journey in which I remain open to learning about myself and growing.
To quote the Scottish Recovery Network, “I now let my hopes not my hurts shape my future.”
I hope my experience encourages you to believe that recovery is not a dream but a reality. We all have a responsibility in recovery; sharing the positive message of hope and recovery to professionals and individuals alike.