In 2017, I was like any other woman in my 30s; I had a place to live, an office job and a good family support network. However, I was living with epilepsy and bipolar disorder.

I started having seizures and eventually had to give up my job. As a result, I began struggling more with my mental health and was hospitalised. While in hospital, I was served with an eviction notice and had to leave the security of my flat.

That’s when Hestia stepped in. I was moved into supported accommodation in Ealing, and it was there that I started to get back on my feet. My support worker was lovely and provided me with advice on everything from staying physically and mentally healthy, to applying for benefits.

My support worker also helped me look for move on accommodation. With Hestia’s support, my housing application was moved up on the priority list, and in July 2019, I moved into my new flat.

Melissa BLF Hestia

When I got the call to say I’d secured the property, I was ecstatic. It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to have my own space. The independence is the best part.

While I was supported by Hestia, I joined their Better Lives Forum (BLF). The BLF welcomes people from Hestia’s services to meet up and share ideas about how we can improve our services, and you can remain part of the group even after you’ve left the service.

The BLF provides a space to socialise and work with other people who have similar life experiences. Sometimes, people living with mental health issues can feel unimportant, or pushed to one side. As part of the BLF, you feel understood and accepted.

I’ve gained new experiences through the BLF too. I’ve taken part in dozens of interview panels, conducted presentations alongside Hestia’s Director of Operations, and carried out surveys with Hestia’s current service users to get their feedback.

Melissa BLF Hestia

In 2020, due to Covid, I had to adapt to completing the BLF activities from within my own four walls. I found it difficult at the beginning of lockdown as it was very lonely. My social interactions were diminished, and I could no longer see my family and friends. That triggered a bit of depression for me, but I kept on top of it by staying in touch with my family via video calls.

I was nervous about remote working at first, but I welcomed it as a distraction from the pandemic. I learnt how Zoom worked and my interactions improved. Since then, I’ve co-produced safeguarding training and presented to Hestia’s Board of Trustees.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself this year; I know I’m a courageous person, and the hurdles of 2020 have shown me I can jump over anything in my way.

Lockdown could have been a stumbling block but now I feel content. Of course, everyone has their down days, but I’m now having more good days than bad. I’m taking each day as it comes.

When I reflect on how I felt in 2017, I can see that my mental health is a lot more stable and I’m seeing friends and family a lot more. There’s been a change in me.