From survival to starting the healing process

In this blog, Penumbra Peer Worker, Marie, talks about her own mental health journey, what helped her in her recovery, and how lived experience is helping her role in peer support.

I’ve spent a lot of time during lockdown thinking about all of the things I’d like to move forward with in my life, but I think sometimes we can forget to look back and think about how far we’ve come. My recovery journey throughout the years has not been so much about recovering anything that has been lost, but about grieving and healing from those losses and building something new. As a care experienced young person who had experienced complex trauma (although I didn’t realise this at the time), my life was filled with loss and pain.

Life became about survival for me, and the ways I learned how to deal with that may have looked chaotic and destructive but to me they were my way of getting through it.

The systems that surrounded me didn’t understand this and instead much of my life after this became about hospital, medications and labels. Some of these labels not only denied my experience of trauma but also denied me of the support and meaning I needed to truly heal and build a new life for myself.

Someone once asked me the question ‘what was the turning point for you?’, and I have to say that there wasn’t one. The process has been long and slow, but it has had to be. I have had to take things at my own pace with many ups and downs. I am now 29 and have went from a young person who had been out of school since I was 13 and never worked until I was 25, to someone who is half way through my Community Education degree and is now a peer worker. I needed the opportunities out there to be able to do this such as work experience projects, employability support, the access summer school at university and I needed the important people who believed in me to do this. Alongside this, I found a way to grieve, heal and find new ways of connecting with myself and the world again.

When starting my Community Education degree and again when starting my new role as a peer worker for Penumbra, I asked myself the question ‘Am I recovered enough to do this?’. However, I have realised along the way that recovery or healing is not something that will ever just be over for me. It is something I am still learning how to do and will continue to learn. I can’t ever change my experiences, and nor can I ever just move past them, but I can own them. I can be the person I am who knows how to feel it all but who has also learned how to live rather than only survive. My lived experience has led me to my peer worker role within the new self harm service in Dundee.

I know that I do not have any answers, but I know how to walk alongside people whilst they find their own answers.

I know this because it was what I needed and despite the many people and systems that didn’t help, there has also been the people who have. I understand the value of someone just being there, of someone believing in you and of truly hearing and seeing you. In my own life the people who have made the most difference to me were not the people who offered me the solutions, but those who created a space for true connection to happen where I could find my own ways forward.

I used to look back filled with anger at myself and the world around me but now I mostly look back with compassion for my younger self for getting me here today. Learning how to be kind and compassionate to myself has been a difficult but important part of this process, especially when I am in pain. Along with that, allowing myself to find some compassion and kindness from other people in the world has been an important part of healing. We can’t always do this journey alone and sometimes we just need someone to be there alongside us. As a peer worker that is what I hope to do and allow for a vital part of all of this: connection.

Thank you, Marie for sharing your story. Marie is a Peer Worker with the Dundee self-harm service. You can follow the Dundee team on Facebook.