Here at Penumbra we’re strong believers in the power of sharing recovery stories. it’s not only a helpful part of the recovery process for the person sharing, but it also inspires hope for other people that recovery is possible. In this blog, Gemma’s journey touches on a number of life events that many people will be able to relate to. This is Gemma’s story.
My mental ill health started when I was 12 years old. My dad just died the night before my 13th birthday, on christmas eve 1999 Very suddenly and unexpectedly. Me and mum had to move out of the family home in the middle of England very suddenly after his death due to Assets being uninsured we lost our home. We went from a lovely family home to absolute squalor.
My mum’s mental health then deteriorated I became her care support. We would sit on the couch in our damp run down flat every Sunday night with a blanket to keep us warm sharing a tub of ice cream watching the last of the summer wine. With the big city lights in the distance glowing from the window this was our big treat of the week.
I was finally starting to get settled with it just being myself and my mum now. My mum met someone else and the relationship moved very quickly. Mum asked if I would like to meet her new boyfriend I instantly felt hate like he was replacing my dad so quickly. Mums new boyfriend asked us to both move into his house an hour away from us. Being 13 I had to move away from all my friends move schools on top of moving in with a family I hardly knew. I Suddenly gained a four-year-old sister and we had to share bunkbeds. No good for being in your teens.
The little girl had not long lost her mother to cancer. She was very confused and upset about the new situation too. My world felt turned upside again. I was just getting settled with the realisation that dad had gone, I had no friends in the new location, and the next day was the new school day.
My first day at school in a new area, I was instantly bullied and targeted for the way I looked. A gang of girls come up to me and pulled my long brown hair and called me a stick. I had an eating disorder most of my teenage Life. I came home crying to my mum shouting that I really didn’t want to go back to that school. Mum managed to get me in a really nice school. I made lots of friends and the school was in a closer catchment area. I would catch the school bus every day I began to feel happy there.
After a few years I left school at 16 with only a few GCSE exams. I was skipping a lot of school and found myself in the wrong crowd. My home life was abusive, not physically abusive but mentally.
My now step-dad chucked me out of the house at 16 he said I was a very troubled teenager, although he was abusive towards me. Mum knew he was abusive to me, as he was as abusive towards her too. I think she was too scared to say anything in case she also got chucked out. She watched as I picked up the black bin bags with my belongings.
I went to live with my best friend and her family for a few months. I managed to get myself on the property waiting list for a flat and landed myself my first job at a high-end retail shop as a christmas temp. They were very impressed with me and decided to keep me on. I stayed there for eight years in total. I loved working there I even had a mother figure, which I loved as my mum and I didn’t have a good relationship anymore.
At 22 my works mother figure started to notice a decline in pattern of behaviour with me. I would come into work drunk as I’d have been out all night still dressed in my party gear. My behaviour started to really decline. I was getting myself into dangerous situations by going around with people I didn’t know and spending too much. My works mother figure told me she thought I needed to see a mental health professional. I was in denial that there was anything wrong, I thought I was just having a good time.
It wasn’t long before I had a psychiatrist and after a few visits he finally diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. He started me on meds that made me feel numb. I was now sleeping the days away so much that I was no longer turning up to work. I ended up losing my job.
As the months went on I decided to go to college to study hair and beauty. During my college studies my nan deteriorated with Alzheimer’s and I started to become her main carer until it was too much. She became a massive risk and I had to make the hard decision to put her in a home. I would visit her every day. I felt so lucky that she would still recognised me we had the most amazing bond. In February 2014 she lost her battle to Alzheimer’s and COPD. I received the call whilst I was in hospital (my physical health started to deteriorate and I started to get problems with my lungs). I blamed myself for not being there for her when she died.
I passed my hair and beauty course with full distinctions. I then met someone and not long into our relationship we moved in together for a fresh start. With my nan passed I didn’t feel there was anything keeping me there anymore and moved in with him. Not long into our relationship we decided to get married. Everything was amazing. About three months in into our new marriage he became physically and emotionally abusive towards me. I became suicidal. I attempted to take my life. Anything seemed better than being physically and mentally abused by him. In the end I plucked up the courage to get the police involved and tell my friends.
A year later I met someone else at a convention. We instantly clicked. The only problem was that he was from Scotland and I was still in England. We were good friends for a year until we both found the courage to say we liked each other. I decided to take a big step to move to Scotland. We purchased our first house together and moved up my ragdoll cat, Angel, that I had from my previous house. We have been happily together seven years now, and he is my best friend and my rock. Myself and my mum are closer than ever now. She left my stepdad in the end and is now happily married. I get on so well with her husband.
I’m now very happy and settled in Scotland. Although my physical health has deteriorated and more frequently I find myself in hospital, I still try to remain as positive as I can.
With my ongoing mental health battles I was referred to Penumbra. Penumbra haven’t just helped me with my mental health but they’ve helped me physically. I’m newly in a powered wheelchair due to my physical health. I have found it difficult to get on buses with the small disability space they have. I had no confidence. But the Penumbra practitioners have been fantastic. They have helped me to gain my confidence to travel on a bus and become more independent. They have travelled with me and kindly asked the bus driver If we could have a practice. With no passengers on board of course – HAHA!
The weekly meetings have been brilliant. It never felt like I was talking about my mental health, it was more like I was meeting up for a coffee and confiding in a good friend.
The interactive coffee groups and relaxation groups have made such a difference in meeting other people that have gone through the same or similar past situations as myself. I’m very happy that I’ve made some friends for life in the groups. I feel a lot happier and more positive about the future now more than ever.
My psychiatrist started me on new medication recently that’s been so beneficial. I wish I took his offer sooner for the drug but I was scared. It’s uplifted me to want to do more. I’ve got my interest back in my passion for make-up.
I now look after my neighbours puppy in the day whilst they’re at work. I have also recently taken on the role as a British Lung foundation Patient advisory advocate. This is my big passion due to my lung disease and passed families lung disease.
Now it’s time for me to move on from Penumbra. It will be emotional but it’s been a great experience. Thank you so much.
I hope who ever reads this knows there’s always hope. Never give up. Keep going. Gemma x.
What an inspiring blog and a brilliantly uplifting finishing line. Thank you, Gemma, for taking the time to share your journey with us. We wish you all the very best for the future.
If Gemma has inspired you to write a blog, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org