More than a Mental Illness

GlynHello, my name is Glyn Butcher and I’ve been involved with mental health services for over 27 years as a carer, and for 15 years as a service user. I could tell you lots about living with a mental illness and about the very limited life I lived as a result. A life determined by my internalised beliefs about illness and about what I couldn’t achieve because of it. But I don’t want to share a story about mental illness I want to share a story about positive mental health and personal growth because more recently I’ve been involved with mental health services in a different way. I want to share how a change in approach and a change in focus has resulted in a dramatic change in my life. I hope you find it of interest.

My story begins some time back in August 2010 when I mentioned to a senior member of staff at a mental health trust I was involved with that one day I’d like to work in there, doing things like delivering training and workshops. She said it was a good idea and I should give some thought to how I might go about doing that. I thought about it a lot and felt that what I needed was a mentor who could help me to explore things more, make sense of things and find a way forward. Part of the making sense was actually about making sense of me and my place in the world and whether what I wanted to do was in fact possible. I had someone in mind but I didn’t really know him very well and because of past experiences with other people I had real fears about approaching him.

For quite a while I observed how he interacted with other people and eventually felt safe enough to ask if he would be my mentor. Having spent most of my life hearing a ‘no’ to most of what I wanted to do my expectation was that a no to my request was what I would get, albeit a gentle one. To my surprise the answer was an instant yes.

That person was Steve Tathata and from the very beginning of our work together he took an approach that was completely unfamiliar to me. His focus was on what I wanted to do, on my goals, dreams and my aspirations, and on my strengths and abilities. He began from a perspective of possibility and potential and, perhaps most importantly, the approach taken was grounded in a belief in me and in my future. This gave me real hope and although that was very positive it was also very scary because it had never been part of my life before. I also found Steve’s approach to be unusual in that we rarely talked about what I couldn’t do or about illness, symptoms, diagnosis or treatment. That’s not to say we completely ignored those things but that our work together wasn’t driven by them. He made no judgements about who I was or about my history, I was simply accepted for me and for who I wanted to be. Steve encouraged me to be proud of who I am, to believe in myself and in my abilities, and helped me develop a belief that I can potentially do anything I put mind to providing I also put in the effort required to make things happen.

I spent many years not putting any effort in, blaming everyone and everything else for not achieving anything, wanting to change but believing it was impossible. What I’ve realised is that change begins with me and also that it’s important to have an environment which supports and enables change. I think a big part of Steve’s approach is to create that environment. The other thing that has really helped me is that Steve has a very calming influence and I’m amazed at how this has resulted in me being calmer and more patient both with myself and with other people. I’ve also become more able to say no to things that people wanted me to do whereas in the past I would say yes to everyone for fear of the consequences of not doing so. What would they think of me if I did?

This is something Steve has helped me with as we have a healthy professional relationship where I am encouraged to think and explore my thoughts and gain new understandings. I can agree or disagree with him without fear of rejection or condemnation. I believe one of the most profound learning’s I’ve gained though working with him is how instrumental having a positive and authentic role model is to a person’s development. I believe I’ve learned lots from him although Steve’s view is that he hasn’t taught me anything but simply brought out what I already had within.

One of the goals I had when I began working with Steve was to deliver a workshop, and my biggest dream was to deliver a presentation at a national conference so you can imagine how amazed I was when he said there was an opportunity to do both. In December 2010 I presented a workshop at the National CPA Association Annual Conference to around 40 people including commissioners, nurses, social workers, care co-ordinators, psychiatrists etc on “Involving Service Users in the Care Process”. I couldn’t believe I was up there and not only did I do it I also got excellent feedback. It was an incredible experience.

The presentation consisted of my experience of involvement with mental health services as a carer and a service user and I also talked about the fantastic work of our User Carer Partnership Council with its emphasis on collaborative working between carers, service users, Trust staff and partner agencies. I presented the My Care Checklist as an example of good practice and shared how supporting understanding of a process helps people get the best out of the process because it enables understanding and collaborative working between professionals, service users and carers.

Following the conference I was asked if I would speak at a service user group meeting in another Trust and I did that and the feedback was fantastic. I wanted to dispel lots of the myths around mental illness and help people explore things for supporting people recovering from the experience of mental ill health. I also participated in a five day WRAP and Recovery Educator training course and have been delivering since then.

The other thing that I’ve done since working with Steve is to formally become a volunteer with the Trust. This gives me an immense feeling of pride and a real sense of personal fulfilment that exceeds anything I’ve ever experienced before. In my experience most if not all human beings want to be part of something and to find meaning and purpose. They want to contribute, make a difference and feel valued. I’m not certain where that comes from but perhaps it comes from a basic human desire or craving to belong and feel wanted, needed and loved. For me personally these where the basic human feelings and emotions that I lost when going through my mental health problems because (subtly) the experience of being mentally ill eroded my sense of self and my identity became that of an ill person. Being a volunteer has enabled me to live my life more fully, tapped into my passion to learn and grow and fuelled my hunger to succeed. What I’ve realised over recent months is that I have choices and one of those choices is about being in control of my own destiny.

One of the brilliant things about doing my voluntary work is the feeling of making a difference that it brings. I feel as if an environment has been created which enables me to be me and to learn and to grow and it’s a place I’ve dreamed of being for so long. I now realise how important this welcoming, accepting and non- judgemental environment is and that it’s something I’ve been searching for all my life. I previously always felt like an outsider, that I didn’t belong anywhere and I did not fit in.

I have realised that one of my wellness tools is doing my voluntary work and it as become embedded in Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). I’m hoping the voluntary work will be a stepping stone into paid work and that’s one of my longer term goals.

So things are really exciting for me at present. Instead of living a life determined by an identity of mental illness, believing that it was in control of me, I’ve realised that I am more than a mental illness. I remember on one of the first occasions we met Steve said he believed we usually get more of whatever it is we focus on. So I’ve changed my focus and I’m no longer a mental illness. I’m much more than that. I’m Glyn Butcher – volunteer, poet, artist, son, brother, partner, role model, educator and more. The list is potentially endless and I’m no longer limited by my own thinking or by the thinking of others who said I couldn’t because I had a label.

Thanks, Glyn

Glyn CPAA AwardsThis article was originally published in the national CPA Association quarterly journal – The Approach – and won the Association’s annual award for the article found most useful by its readers.