50 Years 50 Voices "I can see the light glimmering at the end of the tunnel" Melody's* story *Names changed to protect identities When I was very young, my doctor told my parents that I had psychological problems and I needed support. There was a lot of stigma about mental health at the time, and my parents just brushed it under the carpet. But our minds are like our bodies. If you hurt your knee and you keep walking on it, it will only get more damaged and worn down. Our mental health is the same. You can keep pushing yourself, but eventually there won’t be anything left to push. In 2014, I had a nervous breakdown. It was an accumulation of things, including a stressful work environment and a family history of ill mental health. After that, I didn’t get the help I needed for a long time. I was so ill that just functioning was a very hard task. I tried all the regular routes to accessing treatment, but I kept going round the houses. Last January, I was in a very isolated and dark place. I was waiting for a diagnosis and a mental health practitioner referred me to Hestia. The team kept asking if I needed help. I managed to put the stigma aside and was honest; I told them I was very lonely. That was the best thing I could have done. I started by attending the peer support groups on Zoom. They brought me out of me shell and it gave me a lot of confidence. When the first lockdown ended we were able to do other things like yoga, mindfulness, and art classes. In October, we held an exhibition of all our artwork at a local library. I also started attending the service’s creative writing workshops. I used to love writing. With the nature of one’s illness, you feel like you’re in a downward spiral, and just living day to day is overwhelming. You lose yourself and the person you are, so I completely stopped doing my writing. When I started the writing workshops, that spark got lit up again. I got such lovely feedback and I really thought wow, I can do this. It’s like a domino effect; you just need that one little push and it starts a flow of creativity. Writing can be cathartic. When you’re unwell, it feels like you don’t have a voice. But with writing, you can get all your thoughts down on paper. It’s self-care. The sessions have pulled me out of such a dark place in my life and I’m now in a much more positive space. In a strange way, Covid-19 has caused the whole planet to experience loneliness, anxiety, and fear to some extent. Maybe the stigma around mental health is decreasing now. However, the knowledge is still not there, and a lot of people still don’t understand mental health. I was ill for a long time but hid it well from my friends. I knew how heavy it was on my heart, and I felt like I didn’t want to burden other people with it. My friends said they couldn’t imagine that I was one of the people struggling, but the thing is, there is no one face of mental illness. People with mental illness look like me, they look like you. Anyone can be affected. I’m in a much better position now. For many years, I was in the tunnel but there was no light at the end of it. It was just darkness. Now, I can see the light glimmering. I’ve started getting the treatment I need, and I’ve also joined Hestia’s Digital Inclusion service, which has been helpful. In some ways, my illness has shaped me. I wouldn’t have wanted to go through the experience I have, but I’m a better person for it. For anyone going through anything similar, I would say that you are worth it. Don’t give up on yourself. Sometimes, we think we must live for our kids or our families, but we need to live for ourselves. It sounds cliché, but it is a journey and you can feel better at the end of it. For me, my aim is to just be as well as possible. Coming this far and engaging with Hestia’s services has been an exponential thing. It feels like I’ve planted the seed, and so many saplings are starting to grow. I’m in a good place. Which book has impacted me the most? Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Sally Brampton. It’s her own story of self help and depression. I read so many things in it that resonated with me. It was so good to see somebody else put into words and explain how it feels. I also like The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. It’s an amazing novel. It’s a teenager’s story of dealing with grief and bereavement after their sibling passes away. It stuck with me. Which film has impacted me the most? The Personal History of David Copperfield with Dev Patel. I hadn’t read the Dickens novel, but I went to see the movie and it was visually very beautiful. It’s set in the heart of the Victorian era, and it’s about how society labels or misunderstands people who have certain conditions or struggles. You see the main character’s development throughout. It resonated with me. The cinema is thing I’ve missed most through Covid! Which song has impacted me the most? Bridge Over Troubled Waterby Simon & Garfunkel. That song has given me a lot of solace in dark times.