It is practically 12 months ago since I last wrote a blog entitled relapse. I spoke about how I was afraid that it would happen; “A lot of the time, the monster is small and I’m hardly aware it’s there. I can get on with my life, with no worries or dark thoughts, the monster stays quiet. At work, I can be extremely productive, full of ideas and positive energy and life is good.”
And then it happened. At first I felt ashamed and embarrassed, I worried what people would think – but then if peer support has taught me anything, it has taught me that by being brave and honest about my experiences, my honesty may give others the courage to do the same.
I don’t just want to blog about the fact I have relapsed, I want to share with you, deep dark parts that I can remember, the part of relapse that nobody sees, and very few bear witness to.
Being a peer support worker can make relapse feel terrible as to me, my role is about so many positive things, and when I don’t feel positive, I feel like I am losing part of my identity, part of who I am.
So let’s look at my relapse together. Despite the fact I run groups about recognising early warning signs, noticing the exact moment it begins is often hard, and it’s only when you look back on the experience, you can pinpoint where it began.
It began by me coming to work, keeping as busy as I could, avoiding taking breaks, not eating, and then going straight to bed when I got home. I was determined to keep the’ monster under the bed,’ and felt this was the only way. Trouble with monsters is, if you ignore them, they just get bigger and more demanding.
They get to a point where everything else comes second as all you can hear and see is the monster. So I took some time off work, with a little ‘encouragement’ from my work colleagues. All the time, I was saying to myself, this isn’t peer support, this isn’t hope, this isn’t recovery. Then I began to hear whispers, first very quiet, and this escalated to a point where I could hear nothing else. The voice I could hear was dark and repetitive and I stopped all my medication, I had to shut out all sounds, no tv, and just sit in absolute silence. I couldn’t eat, as everything tasted bitter and poisonous, even coffee that I love tasted unbearable. Meanwhile, outside of my house, the world was going as normal, except that I was no longer a participant.
I’m not sure how long this went on for, but shortly, the home treatment team began to come and see me daily. There’s much I can’t recall about the early weeks they were with me, just that they came, gave me medication, and talked to me and listened to me. I remember feeling so frightened – convinced that something bad would happen if I took any medication, so it really took some convincing and the home treatment team had great patience with me, every day.
As things progressed, I then began to feel that I would lose everything, that the dark monsters that were swirling around would never go – I would lose the job of peer support worker that I loved, that I would lose my house, and end up homeless with nothing; which the voices told me would happen.
So early one morning, I made a bad choice and started to drink alcohol. My old friend addiction had come knocking, and I had answered, willing to go astray to oblivion, to failure, what |I deserved. I drank all day, and remember waking up the next morning, the first thing I did was go to the fridge for another drink. Something stopped me,I could see the disappointment on so many people’s faces, so I closed the fridge and walked away from that fake friend, alcohol.
Time passed by, days rolled into each other, and the home treatment team kept coming, no matter what I said or how hopeless I felt, they came and slowly supported me to a point where I could push the monster back under the bed! They held onto hope when it seemed I had none. I chastised myself for letting go of hope, the cornerstone of peer support.
Peer support colleagues that I had trained with text me regularly, offering support, coffees and validation of just how rotten I was feeling. So with home treatment, peer support colleagues and friends, I began to feel better. The hope that I felt I had lost, came back to me and I could return to the peer support job that I love. Once back at work, my work colleagues welcomed me back to the team and as usual offered their unconditional support, coffee and good humour.
The terrible thing for me, about relapse is that I feel that it will take everything away – leave me with nothing, no purpose, no hope, no life. So now, back at work, I can smile and say – I made it. I’m back and functioning well. All thanks to those around me who had such patience, expertise and belief in me in my darkest hour.
So to finish this blog on a positive, what have I learnt from this relapse? I have learnt that I am strong, and feel sure that knowing my job was sitting there waiting for me was a key factor in pushing my monsters back under the bed. I have learnt to trust people more, allowing them in to understand the nature of my distress, and of course I have added to the breadth of my lived experience which can only help me in my peer support role, and ultimately improve patient experience.
Clare is an accredited peer support worker based in Worcestershire, a passionate coach, mentor, cat owner and lover of kindness..NHS champion..survivor….expert by experience. You can follow her on Twitter @knightonstar for daily tweets about peer support.