2 March 2018

Empowered, Inspired and Motivated...

I’m not sure how to pinpoint exactly how I felt yesterday evening. As soon as Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn walked into Hallam Hall I felt a wave of emotions- excitement, nerves and pride. Firstly, I couldn’t believe that the event was actually happening considering that everything was against us in terms of the weather, but secondly, all of the attendees that made it were going to have the opportunity to see one of the most inspirational speeches I have ever witnessed. Thank you to the wonderful society committee members, the Students’ Union and the university, the event was going ahead and I could not wait to see the impact it would have.

This next moment I am about to detail is something I never thought that I would be able to do. Neil asked me if this was the first time I had heard them speak and I detailed that actually this was the second time I have had the pleasure of hearing their story. Naturally he asked me where I had heard them previously, and whilst beaming with pride I told him that it was when I was at Rharian Fields Specialist Eating Disorder Unit in Grimsby. I say beaming with pride, but the pride wasn’t solely based on the fact that my illness had led to hospitalisation, but pride that I was now stood in front of them as one of the society committee members that had helped to bring them to the university. I had been at an incredibly low point in my life when I had seen them first time round, stood at the side of the room at NAViGO House buried amongst other attendees; embarrassed that they may notice me and ashamed of where my illness had left me. This time was completely different. I was so proud of my journey and how far I have come from the place I found myself in 3 years ago.

I hope that one day everybody will be able to talk about mental illness in this way. Of course it is important to acknowledge the low points, but these should be viewed like platforms that have pushed you on to that next step. When I was suffering I felt embarrassed, ashamed and like a failure, but now I can look back on those moments and see how much I have progressed. I know that some people look at a diagnosis of a mental illness as a label of shame, but why? I think that listening to Jonny last night demonstrates exactly why our mindset needs to change about how we perceive mental health conditions. He is doing amazing things and still struggles with the illness that has brought him to where he is today. That isn’t due to a miraculous turn of events; it is due to him making it happen. He chose recovery, he chose to speak out and he chose to see the positives in a situation that once led him to try and take his own life. I think that is incredible.

I am still in awe of what I listened to last night and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to speak alongside both Jonny and Neil during the question and answer session sharing my personal experiences. It felt like a dream and now I want to make it my career. I want people to see that mental health recovery is something to be celebrated, not something that should be hidden away, pretending it never happened. I am ready to share my story further and reach out to those that feel exactly how I did 3 years ago. It’s time for me to try and make this happen and follow in the footsteps of the role models I witnessed last night. I would like to thank Jonny and Neil for not only sharing their incredible story with an engaged audience last night, but for inspiring me once again to take that next step in raising awareness of mental illness.

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