Paying it forward

Liz’s* story is one of pain – and of beauty, kindness and understanding. Now, she hopes to “pay it forward” and help others find their strength and dignity as they journey towards recovery.

Looking back I feel a world away from where I’ve been.

My personal experience of mental illness, like that of many others, is painful to think about – but in those moments of pain I saw beauty and found kindness in people I didn’t expect to find any in. I gained an insight into suffering and through it all, a great truth and appreciation for life.

At 14, my coping mechanism for dealing with my pain after a difficult experience of abuse was self-harm. At 17 I lost my will to live altogether. I became unstable and detached from my family and friends. I would spend days in my room in the dark, curled up on the floor wondering what I had done to feel this way. When I could no longer cope with the highs and lows and simply waking up became too difficult, I made my first of several suicide attempts. I spent my time in and out of the psychiatric ward, taking up to eight pills a day just to feel OK. On the last attempt I woke to find myself staring in the same white ceiling in the intensive care unit, overcome with a feeling of disappointment. I had been given another chance at life – although it would take me a couple of years to see it in a positive light.

The biggest barrier for me towards recovery was the stigma surrounding mental illness. I felt ashamed for not being emotionally in control – like I had somehow failed. I would be told by many to ‘pull myself together’ or ‘just think positive and cheer up’. It took me some time to understand that many people cannot comprehend how physically debilitating mental illness can be and that it is more than just a case of the ‘Monday blues’.

Tupu Ake became my safe house, where I was free from stigma. That made all the difference. I was surrounded by people who understood what I was experiencing and I listened in workshops to stories of people’s journeys and successes in life despite their battle with mental illness. For the first time in years I began to see myself as human again, I accepted my weaknesses and was encouraged to see my strengths. Tupu Ake restored my will to live through the peer support I received and coping skills I learned.

Antidepressants and mood stabilisers were only ever going to get me so far. Ultimately I had to dig deep, accept the past and – more importantly – forgive myself and those that did not stand by me.

A few years on, I am now studying Occupational Therapy and have an eagerness and passion to help. I still have moment where it all comes rushing back, but I talk, I cry, I allow all the old feelings to pass through and then I let go. I hope one day my chosen profession will enable me to pay forward to people the strength and dignity that I received through the beautiful people whose paths I crossed at Tupu Ake. Thank you.

Tupu Ake is a Pathways residentail recovery service in Papatoetoe providing a peaceful, friendly environment and support to people, like Liz, who need a short time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Staff at Tupu Ake come from a variety of backgrounds and include registered nurses, counsellors and peer support specialists. Peer support specialists offer a unique understanding and relationship with the people who use Tupu Ake, as they too have experience of mental illness and have had training in how to use their experiences to support others on their recovery journey.

*Liz’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. Everything else about her story is real.

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