Victoria’s recovery story built on her faith, love of music, and her own muscle power

Spotlight was delighted to hear from Victoria who accesses one of Penumbra’s supported living services. In Victoria’s own words, she describes how, over time, she’s built her own unique recovery journey through a number of interests and hobbies.

I was born in 1961 and grew up in the north east of Scotland. My father was a negative character. He chanted that he could not do anything right; then he was a failure because he was not educated. He had no emotional relationship with the family, just forced. My mother worked hard to bring up the family. She had to be right. There was always something wrong with anything I did. She liked to make things better. My brother and my sister are nine and seven years older than me, respectively. In my youth, I was determined to keep up with them.

I was brought up to think that I had to be busy all of the time. If I rested, there was something wrong with me. I would go hungry when I was not busy. I was often absent from primary school. I realise now that I was suffering from burnout.

When I started secondary school, I knew that the target-orientated approach of exams was wrong for me. I chose science as I could force myself on in it. Attending my grandmother’s kirk and my piano lessons were an escape for me. I developed epilepsy when I was thirteen years of age. My family, doctors and teachers made me feel bad about my seizures. I was prescribed medication, which stopped them. I felt under pressure to work on nervous energy. A year later, my brother got his first class degree in psychology.

I did not fully recover from gastric flu when I was 16. I feared that I had failed my higher English. When my sister got her 2:1 honours degree, I became anorexic. The doctors found that I was over prescribed with medication, making me severely anaemic. The dosage of my medication was altered, I was put on iron and sent back to school. Meanwhile I found I had sufficient grades in my highers to attend university. I started to recover.

I took lots of intense physical exercise, thinking that it would make me strong again. I was still badly underweight. I suffered from burnout and ended up in hospital. I was severely anaemic.

Now 18 years of age, going to university was a new start. Due to the cutbacks in university funding, I got an extra year of study. In the end, my degree was based on work which I had done under no pressure. I got a bachelor of science at 2:1. This was a relief! Christian workshop, piano lessons and piano practice had been important leisure interests.

I left university with a Christian vision “to let muscle power” take me from one place to another. This was the result of relating to a lecturer who could pace himself, despite being physically disabled.

I started to have overnight blackouts, followed by confusion. I told my psychiatrist, “I am developing my own concept of space and time”. He said, “I don’t want to hear about that.” He wanted me back in the professional world. To help me build my own recovery, I decided to study for a diploma in podiatric medicine.

I left home for the first time, in order to study this course. I learnt all about muscles, the body’s metabolism, and relaxation. It also left me questioning the relationship between my parents, and also with me. Were they loving?

I returned to live with my parents in their new, smaller home. I had no privacy. I soon became ill. A supportive friend helped me to find accommodation in a hostel. I had my own room and there was a piano in the basement. I was 30 years old.

I did not want to become a professional. I wanted to try everything good. I selected activities in voluntary work, university interest classes, the local church, and more. I still found time in which to relax – better than none! I stayed in the hostel for 6 years.

Once in my own flat, the doctor added something else to my medications. I forget why. I found myself having endless seizures. My GP was not interested. I became suicidal and ended up in Supported Accommodation with Penumbra. I bought my own piano.

I started to reveal the emotions which I had hidden in my piano playing. I threw off the negative influence of my father. I went from knowing myself as “you” to being “me”. I was having seizures, two per month, because I was still overdoing it. I had to become more selective about my interests.

When I was about 50 years of age, I found the Alexander Technique. I gained new muscle awareness. My muscles were very weak and easily exhausted. I needed my support to help me to acknowledge myself after a seizure and to help me with shopping, housework and using my computer.

The Holy Communion Services at my local church became very important. The bread, representing the body of Christ, seemed to be new muscle power. The wine, representing the blood of Christ, was washing away my nervous energy. This was exciting. I was leaving doing good on nervous energy behind. I was becoming honest with myself, by building up my relaxed muscle power limits.

I started one-to-one lessons in pilates to strengthen my muscles. My tutor and I have worked out a routine which I practice at home. At each lesson, we review the routine. I have worked at the slow controlled exercises and have learned to listen to my body. I now have to wait for my muscles. I am still having lessons after five years of instruction.

Then lockdown came. I was forced to rest. I went for a short walk for my daily outing, stopping frequently to sit and rest on garden walls. Now, six months later I can walk for twenty minutes without stopping. I still have two or three seizures a month, but they are a lot milder now. I am 59 years of age.

I thank Christ for my new strength. I am grateful to support workers, teachers, doctors, family and friends who have encouraged me in building my recovery.

Thank you, Victoria, for sharing your story.

If you’re inspired to share your own story, please drop us a line communications@penumbra.org.uk