I’ve been writing since my early teens and sharing blog posts, stories, poetry, art and photography on too many social platforms to recall. I had a voice and could reach out to a world which understood me. Of course, along the way I was unfortunate to encounter the darker side of the web, adding to the trauma I had already experienced and was continuing to experience. Needless to say, I found myself detached and paranoid many times, leading to the deletion of accounts before beginning the cycle again, though each time a little bit more prepared. Eventually, I found myself journaling on WordPress after receiving treatment from the CMHT and being a part of a therapeutic community. At times I wanted to stop, but I knew it was a key part of my recovery to continue the writing therapy that had played an important role in giving me a voice. Months later, I decided to create a separate account to journal my life, and not just my recovery… That was just over a year ago. Several posts later, it seemed to stop. An account created to journal a personal journey, with the intention of sharing how to live with mental illness and several physical health disabilities, yet show the determination to succeed in setting up and running a business. As this plan didn’t seem to materialise, I decided that 2020 would be the best time to try again. It wasn’t so much a “New Year Resolution”, but more of a pencilled in thought, that if it happens – That’s great, but if not, no big deal. However, seeing as I ought to be reflecting on my studies, it’s a no-brainer to get this account started again.
So, I’m going to try and summarise what’s happened to the lead up of where I am today, so that we can start this account afresh:
Fresh out of school, I went to college and studied BTEC Media, before heading to university and focusing on graphic design, with the hope of working in the media. I excelled at the media, with a Triple Distinction, but my university experience was a negative one, thus impacting on my grades. As a perfectionist, I could see that my level of work was not up to a standard to compete in the market, and with no support it was stressful studying, that I lost all interest in the work. The lack of support will always be a reminder of my strength to persevere – Despite being bullied by one of the tutors, I still managed to complete the work, and although it wasn’t up to my best standard, I still managed to pass the course. From then, I worked in a variety of customer service-based jobs, facing many problems in each of these, due to a lack of understanding and awareness of mental health in the workplace.
Over time, I realised that I needed to be able to do something I would enjoy, and something which would allow me to have the comfort to alleviate my personal stresses too. Having been through the “system”, I had developed a sense of wanting to help others – Almost like giving something back, but in my own way. During my time as a CMHT patient and being a part of a therapeutic community, the intense sessions were overwhelming, and my mental and physical health were in decline. It was when I got home, where I was able to receive the comfort of my pets which triggered the thoughts and realisation that animals have such healing, therapeutic value, and that this is something I could work with. So, I ventured into the realm of Animal-Assisted Therapy, and began to study several distant-learning courses which would be enough to allow me to get the relevant insurance and be able practice. During the studies, I had many set-backs of self-doubt. When dealing with mental illness, it can often be the one thing that gets in the way of wanting to achieve your goal, but at the same time, it can all be the reason for the determination! I’m currently diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety and Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder/Borderline Personality Disorder, along with Intrusive-Thought OCD traits and an Eating Disorder. Just because I have these “labels”, doesn’t mean I can’t do what I want to do in life, such as setting up and running an animal assisted therapy business! I gave the business my best shot, even though I battled a lot with the self-doubts and self-negativity. The problem with me is I have high expectations and low self-esteem, to the point I create doubt and feelings of worthlessness. My aims are too high, and I worry whether or not I’m actually any good enough. Of course, the fact here is that – Yes, I am good enough, but I need to reduce my expectations to start with and grow.
I cannot become the flower, without starting out as a seed.
I also had to consider and contend with the physical limitations which affected the way I work.
Aside from ongoing investigations, currently I’m diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Hypermobility, Hemicrania Continua, Chronic Migraine, and Primary Stabbing Headache (Ice Pick Headache). I’m unable to lift heavy things, or walk/stand for a long period of time without being in severe pain. I walk primarily with a crutch, two-crutches or rollator, and require a wheelchair on days of extreme fatigue or long days out. It meant that I had to find ways of adapting my business ideas to suit my needs, and after a variety of different trials, I found that the purchase of a pet-pushchair made all the difference!
I worked really hard to get my business up and running with the support from The Prince’s Trust. I had the fortunate opportunity of having a business mentor, and it was through discussion of business aims, where I thought that I would be focusing on the animal-assisted therapy, that I realised it was actually the activity-based sessions that I was wanting to achieve. I created a series of creative sessions, which are animal based, with the assistance of a therapy animal. After all, I know the creative arts is extremely therapeutic, having experienced art and writing therapies myself, I believed that with the addition of an animal being present, I believe it would still have the power to heal.
When I look back on the past couple of years, I still can’t quite believe what I’d managed to achieve. The self-doubt kicks in, but the proof is there – That I can do it! I have learnt so much from the experience of running a business, even challenging myself with public speaking and preparing presentations for groups of people. I worked with individuals and groups, guiding them through prepared activities, all with the assistance of a therapy rabbit or two! I was also a finalist in the Professional Achievement category, for the Kent Women in Business Awards 2019!
By mid-2019, I found myself dawdling, and whilst the business was getting clientele, I felt there was something missing.
My wife found a course at one of our local universities, and although I was anxious about the prospect of being a student again due to my last university experience being a pretty bad one, the thought of being able to enhance my skills and learn more about specific models and ways of practicing, would not only enhance my confidence but also enhance the business. After visiting for an open day, I found myself registering my interest, and it was a matter of wait and see. I needed an interview to be offered a place, and I was nervous about the possibility being accepted, but also aware of the possibility of rejection. Fast-forward to the point of being offered a place, the nerves become excitement. I’m excited at the prospects of getting a second chance at the university experience, and I’m feeling proud with how far I’ve come.
Of course, having been through therapy, I would like to think I was more self-aware, and therefore highly aware that an event as huge as returning to university could have an impact on my health. I ensured I had everything in place, with the support of my wife, we made sure that I had the necessary support networks set up, just in case.
Roll on September 2019, and I’m enrolled onto the BA (Hons) Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring programme. I was eager to get started, but when I did, I wasn’t expecting what happened next. I crashed, and experience a major relapse that I’ve never been so scared of my own actions before. Okay, I was slightly aware of the possibility of a “wobble”, but I wasn’t expecting to fall as deep as I did. I found the transition to university difficult, being around a lot of people and in an unfamiliar place, I battled with hyper-sensitivities, causing me to dissociate and revert to old unhealthy behaviours and coping mechanisms.
Just to note: I speak openly about mental health and physical illness to help reduce the stigma. I am not ashamed of dealing with mental health, and without my experiences of it, I would not be where I am today.
The first few months were hard. The festive break would see me trying really hard to get better. It was the longest break between semesters I’ve ever experienced, and all I wanted to do was get back to the studying. Despite having had a difficult start, I was looking forward to the second semester due to having chosen two optional modules. One thing I didn’t expect to happen, was to also make the decision to close my business, just as it was booming. The reason was for animal welfare, and my therapy bunny showing stress-signs, which meant allowing him to retire. At first, I was disappointed it would mean losing the business that I’d worked so hard for. But it also meant that I would be able to think outside of the box that I was so comfortably sat in.
January 2020. A new year, a new beginning. I was saying goodbye to my business, but by the power of the universe and synchronicity, I found my new calling, which I’ll discuss in due course – And I couldn’t be happier with the universe guiding me this way… I may have taken some time out of writing, but I’m discovering it again so I can continue to learn and look after myself.
It’s not a race, so I’ll take the scenic route, making sure I keep myself safe and enjoy the journey.