This is the final post in the series of personal accounts from Get Into Reading members which were first presented at our national conference in May. For Matthew, attending a Get Into Reading group has been a source of strength and hope, helping him to move forward with his life
Book Break has had a massive impact on my life
I am becoming the man I should have been and Book Break is a significant part of enabling me to do this.
I grew up with parents who loved me and whom I love dearly, however my mother suffered severe mental illness with suicidal depression.
I struggled with my life, working till I was 30 (I am now 58), then the toll of extreme social phobia, isolation, several breakdowns, self-harm, anxiety and depression eventually led to my being diagnosed with Schizoid Affective Disorder.
I have worked hard to try to find a way out of this wretched perplexity. I knew something was very wrong but didn’t know exactly what it was or how to change it. I have had a great deal of help over the years from various forms of therapy, community psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, day centres.
I lived in ghettos and made friends with people that did not serve me well. I was homeless for some time and really struggled to make any sort of life that felt good or positive or satisfying. I developed an act that pushed people away from me, becoming loud, brash, insensitive and seemly confident. But it was a layer and underneath I was cripplingly unconfident with an utter lack of self-worth and negative self-image. I was increasingly using alcohol to mask the horror inside.
I was referred to Book Break at a time when day centres were being rebranded as ‘outreach’ and ‘bridge building services’. The policy has been to move people out of services for people with mental health issues into the wider community. I have some misgivings about this course of action however since the referral to Book Break I have not looked back.
Coming to the group for the first time was not easy but when I did my immediate thought was ‘this is for me’. I felt a sense of happy relief that I had done it. The stories affected me emotionally and they gave me pleasure. I found that coming to Book Break would set me up for the week. My mind would previously have been obsessing about something or other whereas now I think about the story we have read and the discussions we have. It has changed my mental processes and my mental energy and helped me to be less self-absorbed. It provides a positive and enriching focus to my week.
As a result of my family life and situation I missed out on a lot of educational achievement and opportunities and doubted my intelligence. I worried that I would not have anything worthwhile to say or contribute as I felt my life experience was too narrow and that others would see how ignorant and uneducated I was. However I have discovered I do have worthwhile things to say and that I am intelligent, and people are interested in my contribution. Book Break is not academic but I have found it very educational. It has confirmed for me that I am as good as anyone else.
The poetry has been thrilling. I was anxious about poetry. It had previously been a closed door. I now choose to read it sometimes at home and will buy or borrow poetry books. I always look forward to the poem in the group.
I was fearful of being observed in public. I certainly would not have read in public. A very close friend died recently and I was asked to do the eulogy and plan a lot of the funeral. I know I could not have done this before I came to Book Break. I stood in front of the entire congregation and read aloud. I felt very proud of myself and so very pleased I could honour my friend in such a way.
Prior to joining Book Break I had little idea of what real friendship was. For some time I had wanted to find like-minded companions who were not identified by their having a mental health problem or addiction issues. Many different types of people come to Book Break and I have made friendships with several. One person in particular has become a great buddy. We meet every week and read together or go to exhibitions or other events. It really is great having this sort of contact in my life, enriching and supportive.
One of my goals in coming to the group was to ‘reinvent’ myself, to find an identity that I was comfortable with and to be defined by something other than being a mental health service user. I wanted to consolidate and integrate a lot of things that I have been working on and developing in myself over many years. Book Break has helped me do this. The positive feedback I have received from other group members has helped my build self-esteem. I am starting to enjoy myself and even beginning to believe I, too, am an OK person. People find me interesting and like my humour. The group has helped me change the negative opinion of myself, an opinion I have had all my life.
I am happy to say I have great hope for my future and for the rest of my life.
These are exciting times for me!