Today I’m collaborating with my local NHS mental health Trust; Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) to bring to you a post about how much it means to recognise skills, assets, or qualities. This theme is based on it being the Trust’s thirteenth Staff Excellence Awards on Friday 23rd September – you can keep an eye out on their social media (links above and below the post) and mine (@aimes_wilson on Twitter and Instagram), for some live posting and photos at the event…
HAVING MY CONFIDENCE ANIALATED
Growing up, I was always encouraged and taught that I could do anything I put my mind to, so I had a fairly decent amount of confidence – mostly in my creative abilities… Until I got to High School when I was a teenager, and I took Textiles as an optional GCSE subject. The teacher was so incredibly overly critical of all the work, assignments, and projects I created and submitted. Initially, even though this was a kind of alien attitude for me, I thought that maybe it was a helpful act and that she had good intentions. That she was giving me constructive criticism. Then, though, I began comparing her treatment of me to her responses to the work of other pupils in the class and had a starkly blunt and sad realisation that there was no genuinely kind meaning behind it. She was being so incredibly spiteful!
I think that the one reason I can think of as to why I received a lot of these comments was that, unlike the other students (who she would be encouraged and supported), my work wasn’t a very literal representation of the task or subject that was assigned to inspire and influence it. I remember feeling so frustrated that I was trying to be myself by using my imagination, but it looked as though the teacher was looking for the exact opposite. So, I felt sort of confronted with this dilemma – do I change my ideas and creativity to fit in with everyone else? Or do I stay original and try to toughen up against the criticisms, but risk getting a lower grade?
THE DAMAGE THAT DID
Keeping my future in mind and appreciating the consequences having a low grade would have on any further education or career opportunities, I decided to conform and blend right in with the crowd. And yes, I’m so pleased and proud that I managed to pass all my GCSE’s – even with the abuse occurring for the six months prior to the exams starting! – but I’ll probably always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t felt as though I’d had to change myself in order to achieve that. It’s not just about the grade though, if anything, it’s more about the thoughts and feelings I was left with that resulted in me losing so much creativity confidence that meant I didn’t draw again or engage in any artistic activities for a number of years.
My lack of confidence in my creativity meant that when my mental health deteriorated, I wasn’t able to cope in a healthy, safer way – like I do now with my blogging – and so, I began self-harming and making suicide attempts. Now, it’s no secret that there can be a competitive element between psychiatric service users; and whilst I honestly don’t think that was ever something I engaged in, I do recognise and accept that I turned that competition inwards though. I would – and I acknowledge that this is so unhealthy, but I don’t want to be dishonest – sometimes think that I hadn’t hurt myself ‘enough’ or that I hadn’t put myself in as much danger as possible and this would drive me to do something ‘worse’ the next time. And when I was at my absolute most poorly, I would deem those occasions to be an achievement and thought that it was all that I was ‘good’ at doing now. I could no longer think of myself as having any skills or talents. There was nothing special about me.
LEARNING TO PUT MYSELF FIRST
Sadly, it took just that one teacher to destroy my confidence and creativity, yet it took something pretty enormous to reinstate it! I’d say that it wasn’t really until I started blogging in 2013 that I began to make some serious steps forward with this. Before creating I’m NOT Disordered, I had a bit of a weird thought process in that when it came to anything good, I would never put myself first – I wouldn’t think up ways to make myself happier. If it came to pain and upset, though, then I’d either blame myself for its presence or inflict it upon myself. Starting to blog was kind of like a step in a healthier, safer direction towards recognising that I needed to do whatever it took to recover, to maintain my safety, and to stay well.
I think I gravitated to blogging because from a young age I had enjoyed writing short stories and had just begun to appreciate the therapeutic response and value I’d experience when I wrote down all the thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing but felt unable to voice and gave them to the psychiatric hospital staff. I found that it enabled them to be more understanding and therefore better placed in providing me with more efficient and effective help and support. Recognising these benefits, kind of prevented my lack of confidence taking over and convincing me that I wasn’t capable of creating and maintaining a blog. It made me finally prioritise myself and concentrate on the fact that it really didn’t matter what anyone else thought of my blog – I was doing it for me. I was doing it to have an outlet for all the pent-up frustration that understandably came up as a result of being sectioned and on a psychiatric ward for so long.
THE POWER OF POSITIVE BLOG FEEDBACK
As time went by though, I’m NOT Disordered came to be about so many other things… It came to have so many other benefits and rewards. I found that whilst I was only sharing my blog posts with my private Facebook account ‘friends,’ word-of-mouth was occurring, and my readership was growing. Massively. And before I knew it, I was receiving so many emails and so many messages across my social media platforms that I felt I’d look almost foolish if I didn’t recognise that my blog was now helping others too. It’s like when people say that someone is ‘fishing for a compliment’… Well, I thought that to deny knowledge of the impact my content was having on others just looked as though I was looking for more, reassuring, positive feedback. Feedback that I shouldn’t need because I should be accepting, recognising, and appreciative of all those that I had already received from some lovely, thoughtful, and kind readers.
When I began receiving all these messages of support and encouragement and readers calling me inspirational and that knowing someone else had experienced something even remotely similar to their own experiences was somewhat comforting; I finally felt the realisation that I had found a purpose. You know, for what felt like forever – but which was really four years – I had been utterly convinced that I was destined to kill myself in a way that would highlight the failings of various professionals. I honestly believed that I had been put on this earth to prove that mental health services weren’t good enough. That they weren’t doing enough to protect and support their service users. But, in personally benefiting so much from blogging and then hearing that it was also benefiting so many others, I felt this strange warmth – a reassurance – that I was finally doing what I was meant to. That I had finally found a reason why I had gone through all that I had. Why I had survived all that I had.
THE LINGERING DOUBTS
Since that Textiles teacher all those years ago had so frequently undermined and contradicted my thoughts on my creative abilities, I think that for me to believe she was wrong, I’m desperate for some sort of ‘proof.’ And being told I help others through the content I create feels like a piece of evidence to recognise my writing abilities… It’s still weird to write like this, because for so long I became used to feeling completely incapable of acknowledging any skills, assets, and qualities I might have. But again, I felt as though I couldn’t deny how helpful I’m NOT Disordered can be because of the number of comments I’ve received stating that it is! However, when people compliment my writing, I still sometimes feel really uncomfortable because it feels unjust and unnecessary. Like, I don’t think I make enough effort or put enough thought into my writing to justify people saying I’m ‘naturally gifted!’ Perhaps that’s the words and actions of the teacher kind of shaping and influencing my thoughts and opinions on this. And the notion that someone else can be – in some ways – controlling those things, is really challenging and difficult to accept, so I turn it into a bit of a competition. I look at it as though I’m fighting against everything the teacher said and I’m going to win. I’m going to beat her and the only voice in my head – the only controller of my thoughts, feelings, and actions – will be me.
Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful; I mean I’ve just said blogging left me feeling as though I had a purpose in this world, but receiving messages from readers telling me the hugely incredible impact I’m NOT Disordered has had on their life? Well, it can be pretty overwhelming and there have been two instances that have always stood out and which I’ve held onto for dear life when I have a crisis of confidence:
1. A lady got in touch saying that she had been abused by a family member over twenty years ago, and after reading one of my blog posts on how to cope with reporting abuse, she had gone to the Police. Her abuser was imprisoned.
2. Another, younger girl, got in touch saying she had sent her best friend a ‘goodbye’ message and was about to attempt suicide when her friend sent a lovely message and included a link to my blog telling her it would help her to have hope. She backed away from the edge.
These two emails have been so instrumental in me finding the confidence to continue to put my blog ‘out there.’ I mean, in all honesty, it still takes some effort every single time I tweet the link to a blog post; but these emails and comments mean that it’s getting easier. I would also say that another hugely confidence-building achievement from my blog has been reaching the one-million-readers mark in November 2021. I think of it has helped to become another reason why I can’t deny the success and popularity of I’m NOT Disordered! I mean, I’m not stupid – I know not everyone will have liked the content, but still…
HOW SUPPORT FROM OTHERS CAN BE SO IMPORTANT
In addition to developing my own confidence and self-worth, I’ve been incredibly lucky and honoured to have received so much support from others. My Mum has always been my biggest cheerleader(!) and whilst she’s incredibly honest; I think there’s always something in you where you wonder whether your parent or family member or loved one is just being biased… So, whilst her support is the most important one, I want to have; I’ve really benefited and felt so fortunate to have also received a ton of support from various members of staff and teams from CNTW. Their encouragement is quite a contrast to the attitude I received from the staff in the psychiatric hospital I was in when I began blogging. They actually had a meeting about it, and some made a few throwaway comments like “I can’t reply to that because I can’t trust Aimee won’t put it all over the internet.” So, to feel helped and supported by mental health staff, has proven massively beneficial.
The first CNTW staff to have really shown this attitude was their Northumberland and North Tyneside Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team (the Crisis team) who became involved when I discovered that mental health recovery isn’t linear. When – after two and a half years in the psychiatric hospital – I came back to my hometown, I honestly thought I’d never see another mental health professional again! I mean it actually made me wonder whether I’m NOT Disordered would actually come to an end because I wondered what I would blog about if my mental health was completely safe and well! This jaded, rose-tinted-glasses notion meant that when I found myself in a mental health crisis after moving into my own home, it was a real shock and I felt completely thrown off guard and panicked that it meant I was immediately going to be put back in hospital. Fortunately, though, the Crisis Team do as is their team’s name and try to initiate that the resolution of a crisis occur within the home.
HOW CNTW’S CRISIS TEAM HAVE SHAPED I’M NOT DISORDERED
When they came to assess me, I remember crying and telling them that I felt like an absolute failure because so many people saw my steady recovery on my blog as inspirational and regularly commented that it filled them with hope that their mental health could improve too. Feeling overwhelmed and pressured from these messages worried me that I wasn’t grateful, but the Crisis Team assured me that these were natural thoughts, feelings, and concerns. And they actually ended up inspiring me when they pointed out that perhaps I could use this crisis for good and blog about it to help others see that recovery isn’t linear. To reassure people that having a crisis doesn’t mean they’re no longer in recovery or that they’ve taken a step backwards (as much as it may feel that way). They also pointed out that it might show professionals the importance of being honest with service users and not leading – or influencing – them in a way which results in them thinking that they’re failing if they were to have a crisis after being discharged.
I can’t even begin to explain how helpful this piece of advice from the Crisis Team was for me in that moment – actually, it’s still hugely helpful because it drives me to remain honest and open in my content and to recognise how important it is that I am true to reality. I mean, over one million readers is quite a big number; so I realise that, potentially, gives me a lot of people I could influence and if I lie and talk about mental health in an ideal way/world, that might leave readers feeling isolated and alone in their experiences. A notion which, I know for a fact, can be debilitating and potentially, life threatening.
A FINAL THANKS TO…
CNTW’s Chief Executive James Duncan, their Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs; Debbie Henderson, and Adele Joicey; Head of Communications for believing in the skills, assets, and qualities of myself and I’m NOT Disordered.
The categories and those shortlisted this year for the Staff Excellence Awards are as follows: