Podcast Episode: My Life My Way: Chris White
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
CW - Chris White
You are listening to My Life My Way on Iriss.fm and we are joined by Chris White today. Now basically Chris was in his 20s, he was doing okay, he was married, he had a good job and a decent social life. Then he started feeling worried and anxious about most things and quickly developed into feeling as though he couldn’t cope. He attended a kind of a day centre from 1995 to 1999, and in about 2002, Chris made the decision not to use the day centre. Now, Chris, what experience did you have going to the day centre and what was it like for you?
I think I first started using mental health day care services around the age of 28, 29. I’d had a long period in hospital, I had been in hospital 9 months, and when I was discharged I was living on my own. I had lost my job and there was really nothing happening for me, and I got referred to a day centre service, which, to be honest, was pretty dull and pretty boring and I didn’t really understand the point or purpose of it.
MM Did you have a say about going to the centre or do you feel as though at that time in your life where you had to?
CW I didn’t really think that I was given much choice and the referral was made by my psychiatrist and my CPN, and I was basically told … we’d made a referral for you to go to this day service, I wasn’t given any information about what they would be doing, what would happen there, but you kind of feel obliged to go along, particularly if you are recovering from a mental health problem where your confidence might not be that great, so you just agree to things because you don’t feel as though you have a right to say no.
MM So, you went to the day centre, what was it like day to day when you went to the centre?
CW It was pretty unstructured. In the past I had actually worked in learning disability day centres, which tended to have some kind of organised structure, planned activities. Some centres were better than others, but when I went into mental health day services, there kind of seemed to be no structure: very often it was a case of sitting around and doing pop quizzes or doing Trivial Pursuit, and there’s only so many days that you can actually play Trivial Pursuit. Sometimes we might go for a walk out to a cafe, but everything kind of seemed very kind of ad hoc and no planning. If you were, certainly if I was struggling emotionally, then I just wouldn’t attend, ‘I am not going today, I don’t feel great’. No-one would kind of question that or follow that up.
MM When you went to the day centre, how did you feel about leaving the house, to go on a bus I presume?
CW At that point I really, really struggled with panic attacks and therefore I would generally walk to wherever I was going. And there was 2 centres that I attended, at the time I lived on the south side of Glasgow and a couple of days a week I went along to a centre in Govanhill, which was probably about 20 minutes walk from the house. A couple of days a week I actually attended a centre in the Gorbals, which was probably an hour’s walk from the house. So actually in winter I would very often not attend because of weather, but really had very limited access to support to get over the panic and anxiety of getting to a day centre. And also, you kind of feel, particularly in a mental health setting, as though everyone in the area is kind of watching you go, ’there’s that person going to that mad centre’, so there’s a lot of … you feel a lot of stigma. Whether or not anyone was actually thinking that, they are the thoughts that I had.
MM So, do you feel as though that you were going to the centre but you were living in your own wee bubble?
CW Very much so, I mean I was living in a flat on my own, so sometimes when I felt comfortable and coping, then I just wouldn’t attend the centre because it just kind of put you in a place that you felt out of place. And other times where I was feeling depressed and not able to go out, then I would just stay in the flat. And quite often, when I hadn’t gone along for a time, I started going back more really of a sense of guilt, of … I better go back there … but, there generally wasn’t much follow up of, you’ve not been for a while, what’s going on? So it didn’t feel like a helpful, therapeutic intervention.
MM You stopped going to the day centre in about the year 2000, why did you stop going?
CW I had started to feel a little bit better and wanted to regain some kind of control and choice over the rest of my life - we are talking about my early 30s. I, at one stage had been told by a psychiatrist I would never be able to live independently on my own without significant social care support, I was unlikely ever to work again and again I didn’t want that picture of a future. I’d started attending an employment day service, a mental health employment day service, who were funded to help people move back into work. But to be honest at that point, I don’t think there was very much opportunity for them to support people back into work … they kind of said you have got a mental health problem, that’s always going to cause you problems in the workplace, you have to limit your expectations. If you do go back to work, you won’t be able to go back full time, so instead of being motivational, it was de-motivational. I actually thought that that would both harm my health and harm my work prospects, so I made the decision that I was going to leave those types of provision and I looked to do some voluntary work in an advice centre where people knew that I had a mental health problem, but just treated me like anyone else working in the centre, actually asked how I was feeling, offered me support. If I was struggling with something, spent time with me. So actually it was a much more healthy environment to grow and develop skills in, than I found in those day care services.
MM So fast forward to a couple of years later, what is life like now for you, Chris?
CW I’ve volunteered for a couple of years and then I started to make the transition back into work. I moved back into work full time in 2003/2004, with a large mental health organisation, working in responsible policy areas. That actually started to make me feel much better about myself, much more confident, it opened up social opportunities. I actually got married 8 years ago and have a 7 year old daughter. If I think back to 1999/2000, they just weren’t possibilities. They were things that other people had, other people could expect, and they weren’t for someone like me who struggled to cope, was in and out of hospital and spent most of their life in day care services. Moving out of that, I feel much more valued, much more valuable, I am happier in myself, and I feel as though I make a contribution to the world around me, rather than being in this, as you said earlier, this kind of ‘bubble’, that exists in the rest of the world.
MM In your office in Glasgow, you are part of the Mental Health Foundation, is that right, yes?
CW Yes actually I have worked for the Mental Health Foundation now for 3 years, but they were a big part of my recovery and moving back into the workplace, because back in 2002, they gave me a small amount of funding to do a research project. That was a good experience for me. It gave me something good to put on my CV, but it also kind of gave me that confidence and belief in myself, particularly when an organisation place a degree of trust and faith in you by giving you a grant to go off and do something, something yourself. So when the opportunity came up 3 or 4 years back, to come and work at the Mental Health Foundation, it was a very straightforward decision to make. I think we always try to look at how we make a difference to people’s lives.
MM So do you feel that you wanted to give something back, because they kind of supported you in your earlier years and you wanted to kind of like, repay them, as it were?
CW I don’t think I felt that I owed any debt that had to be repaid. I think as an organisation, it has a culture that I very much agree with, it’s a supportive culture, it’s a culture that will allow people to develop and thrive, but we always look to … what can we do to make a practical difference to peoples lives … I think we all have that kind of philosophy of the one thing that we should do in our time in the world is try make it a better place.
MM Do you like your job?
CW I love my job. Whether it’s with the foundation or other pieces of work that I’ve done, I think that I have a great deal of autonomy and control and I am doing the things that I want to do. In the past I have worked in jobs where the reason that I had been in that job is that I have got bills to pay and I haven’t enjoyed that. For most people in work, that’s one of the main reasons that people are in work, I am in work because I have got bills to pay and there are things that I want to do in life. I have the added bonus of working somewhere that I enjoy and with colleagues that I enjoy being with.
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