Supporting people with mental health issues

A Volunteer’s Story – Part One

Our life experiences don’t define us, but they do shape how we see things.

James’ support worker contacted us asking for funding for a laptop to support his volunteering work and job search. We discovered that he was a passionate volunteer, and wrote an amazing account of what he had been through.

James’ Story

Over time they can change who we are, and what we see as truly important. In my case, I decided to use what I learned to repay those who helped me.

26 June 2016

The turmoil of a breakdown comes in different forms, and for me, it was a devastating blow. I found myself homeless, without family or friends.

Mental health is so stigmatised. A 46-year-old man like myself was expected to move on and cope. I managed as best I could while running my own business and employing over 100 staff.

When it happened, it came without any warning. I awoke to find out I’d failed for only the second time in my life – this time in taking my own life. The first failure was my business folding a few days earlier, after 20 years.

My family, who I was never close to, despaired and reeled away as quickly as possible. The shame I brought was quickly swept under the carpet.

At the time, all I felt was a deep loss. Everything I’d achieved in 25 years had gone. To say I couldn’t cope would be an understatement. The man I had been was gone, never to return.

Well, maybe not quite.

After a few days of recovery in hospital I had no home, no belongings, no car, and no money. I was sent to a hostel, something I’d never seen or heard of.

Through a haze I remember thinking, “Why are they helping me?” I remember a lady making my bed and ensuring I was OK. I must have looked a terrible sight. I’d gone from a nice home, car, and family to a small bedroom with a shared bathroom and kitchen.

Over the next three months I adjusted to my new surroundings. My ever-attentive housing support worker gradually coaxed me out of my room.

Everyone in the hostel had their own demons. Mine was guilt and being lonely. I’ve learned a lot from the people I have met along this journey. All of which I’m glad for.

I was fortunate enough to have a housing support worker, called Denise. She was always polite and listened to me. Listening is the key to volunteering. I was stronger and more confident knowing she was there to support me if I needed it. She never failed me.

I was told I had the chance to move into my own flat, which would help me even further. It was as if I’d won the jackpot – a feeling of joy I’d never had before.

It was six months since my breakdown. I had no confidence in how I looked, or acted. I simply didn’t feel I deserved to be alive.

When the offer of a flat came, I received the good news with a sense of dread. I’d have to move 15 miles, and before that I had to see the new flat. Terrified doesn’t describe it.

To say I hid my terror was an understatement, and on reflection, I wish I’d had someone who could have gone with me.
When the day came, I was a complete mess, but I had to do it. I wasn’t going to miss a golden chance to restore a little of the old me.

On arrival, I was so pleased to see Denise and another support worker I knew: a familiar face makes a massive difference to someone’s confidence. I was shown the flat and took it immediately. The room was perfect for me, and right in the centre of Leeds.

Find out what happened next in Part Two.