• Michelle Partington

Peer support, you can guarentee it!

So I’m sat at home waiting to go to hospital for a scan to see whats wrong with my ears!!! Then I will hopefully make it to Derby to attend a funeral if my scan is on time. Fingers crossed.

I returned from Jersey on Sunday and it was a mixture of emotions. I had an amazing week but I was ready to come home. I cannot believe that on the last night of the holiday I was hiding in my room because it sounded like I was in the middle of a bloody war zone!!!! Fireworks had been going off at Elizabeth Castle to mark the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day. They weren’t just ‘soft’ fireworks. Some sounded like motars, huge explosions and gunfire (as well as rapid fire). Now this was a display of celebration for most of the island. However, in a hotel full of veterans with PTSD you can imagine how that went down!! It was awful. For a few seconds I thought I was back in Afghanistan and then I would come round to the realisation they were fireworks, then a bigger boom happens…..

I know most of you may have questions in your mind following the treatment I received for PTSD. However, it won’t stop triggers from affecting me and it has not stopped the bad dreams. Although my dreams are less extreme they remain part of my daily struggle for now. I spoke about the wonderful treatment Eva and Nick Speakman afforded me which has allowed me to step outside my front door and have a life again. Triggers will still affect me but my reaction will hopefully reduce in time.

The week away itself was just fantastic. Being able to go away, meet new people (some I’m sure will be lifelong friends), and be able to socialise was just fantastic. It didn’t pass without problems though. Up until the week away I had only really been out and about for a few hours at best following treatment. I had spent the majority of my time with family or on my own in quiet surroundings. Now I was miles from the sanctuary of home, in a hotel with a group of others in the same situation. It was ok to begin with but halfway through the week I started to feel smothered. Despite there being such fantastic people in the group I just started to feel hemmed in without somewhere comfortable to go to. I started to become agitated and anxious on and off. I was not used to being around so many people constantly. In fact the last time I was in this situation was when I was on tour. Everywhere you went you could not get timeout without someone being there. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being there but I just needed an ecape every now and again. For this reason I was very pleased to come home.

I will never forget the generosity of Dawn, Richard and the team as well as Lee Butler, his biker crew and Dave, our wonderful driver. The whole week is laid on free of charge. It was very humbling and I felt blessed to be a part of it. Most, if not all of the goup had PTSD from various operational experiences stemming way back to Bosnia, Northern Ireland etc. You could tell throughout the week when members of the group were having a ‘tough day’. It was good because it just didn’t matter to anyone, we just accepted it. We had this hidden rule that if someone wanted to talk about it then we could but equally if noone wanted to then we didn’t. The banter grew as people became more comfortable with each other and that is something I miss deeply. I met some beautiful people, albeit mainly on the inside!!!! Everyone thought my friend Hayley and I were a couple for most of the holiday which was quite interesting at times but that’s another story!

So it’s Mental Health Awareness week where for one week out of 52 lots of people, TV programmes and stars who have suffered with mental health issues come to the fore. However, there needs to be more people talking about it for the remaining 51 weeks. There are TV personalities who are true ambassadors for mental health who are not afraid to speak out about their personal battle with a mental illness. Denise Welch, Beverly Callard, Stephen Fry & Ruby Wax are people I look up to. They are not shy in sharing their journey in the hope of helping others. Of course it isn’t just stars who need to speak out. We also need to do it because peer support is one of the best means of helping. There are no better people to talk to than those who are also living with a mental illness. This also works with those who support us, they also need a support network to help them through it.

Almost everyone living with a mental illness nearly always have a selection of masks to hide the turmoil going on within. One day there will come a time when we come across a person who helps us throw away those masks and lay ourselves bare. Someone who you can trust to talk about your journey. They dont even need to understand whats going on, they just accept you for who you are.

Once you feel strong enough then try to speak out so we can support each other through peer support. It is only through speaking out that people can start to accept mental illnesses. Accept that it is real and that it doesn’t mean you are ‘a loony’, nor do we just need 2 weeks rest to ‘get over it’. I have been extremely open about my own personal journey with mental illnesses but in summary; I experienced depression at a young age, mental trauma from physical and sexual abuse, an eating disorder which keeps rearing its ugly head from time to time and combat PTSD. I’m not ashamed of the experience I’ve so far lived through and I intend to continue to talk about it in the hope it helps others. I would ask that those of you who feel strong enough, talk about your journey. The more we share the more we can help other’s whilst attempting to stamp out stigma!

I have received a lot of emails and messages following my blogs etc. It has been suggested that I should consider starting up a charity. Well, after a lot of thinking and soul searching I have made a decision. Those struggling with a mental illness need support. Those supporting sufferers of mental illness also need our support. Therefore I am starting up a new charity ‘Behind The Mask’. Watch this space…..


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