2009; what were you doing? What were you seeing? How were you feeling?
Time; that amazing essence that we’re unable to capture; to slow down or in fact speed up. Its unique ability to make an occasion feel like a life time, or pass within the blink of an eye, and the distinctive trait of easy deception; to think that every minute is special but looking back each day merges into another.
Three years ago I was a very different person, consumed by the world of mental illness; lost, dependant and unsure. Scared to leave my own home and petrified of even speaking to others. I was a mere shadow of the young adult I am today.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of living, battling and fighting, and incredibly easy to lose sight of the distance you’ve come and the journey you’ve made over a period of three years. Mentally I’m no more stable; my life is still dominated by mental illness, I’m still struggling to find who I really am and there are many a day when the outside world is just too much to bear, but I still know that those three years have taught me a lot, they’ve let me grow and they’ve taken me on a journey I’ll never forget.
Three years ago I joined the VIK panel; still in its infancy, with probably less than a third of the staff and even fewer young people; it had a dream, an ambition, to make life better for young people affected by mental illness. I will never forget my feeling as I walked away from my first panel meeting; I doubt I had barely talked to anyone, and I don’t believe I actually contributed a huge deal but what I took away is something I still hold with me today; the belief that us as young people can make a change.
The past years have been incredibly rocky, both on a personal level but also with my growth within the project. It’s been a time of great change; the significant increase in staff and the changes within the team, the panel members themselves as not only we grew in number but as we grew in ourselves and our friendships developed and as the VIK message spread from London to the regions. My personal struggle to accept and manage my own mental health has been one full of highs and lows, and one I continue to contend with much to my own annoyance and the frustration shared by those around me. However, I can honestly say the past three years have given me some of the best memories, best friends and best feelings in the world, as at last I found my voice and a platform to speak from.
I’m not going to pretend VIK is perfect, I know, and everyone in the project knows, that’s not true. Things have gone wrong, tears have been shed and there has been many a phone call, text and email where frustration has been expressed, by both staff and young people. We’re learning and together we’re all making mistakes and trying to patch things up that maybe we wish we could forget.
The thing is though, whatever bureaucracy, tension and fall outs that may be happening, VIK has given us all something we can never give back. For the past three years it’s given me and my family support, its given young people a voice and it’s given professionals and the media an insight into what mental illness is really like.
The message of VIK is one that is spreading across services, some parts more than others, but it is still there. Participation, service user involvement, young people’s rights are all slowly becoming embedded in the framework of treatment, and that’s something VIK has to be proud of.
Over the coming weeks I know I have got to begin making decisions about the direction my life is going, both with treatment and my involvement within the project, and I know that there will be no easy answer, but I guess when I began writing this it wasn’t about me personally, it wasn’t about the grey areas of VIK at present and it wasn’t about the people we’ve impacted, but it was about the journey we’ve travelled and the direction we’re going. Not everyone has been there throughout, and not everyone will see it through to the end, but everyone, staff and young people, all share the same hope. We may have walked different roads, are thoughts may have collided and our opinions may vary but really we all want the same thing, and that’s the very thing I grasped that first day three years ago.
If you told me I would present to a crowd of 100 plus professionals, run my own workshop sessions and stand my own ground in a debate I would never have believed it. If you told me that joining VIK would give me friends I will have forever, experiences that will stay with me a life time and made the impact to services it has, I would never have believed that either. The fact is VIK has grown in a way that nobody could ever have envisaged three years ago and so have I. I can’t pinpoint the times that made me laugh or the times that made me cry all I can do is look back and recognise the achievements we have all made. VIK has made an indent in a world that is notorious for big wigs, scepticism and tradition. We have been there to influence policy, to lobby in parliament and to build up a service, but most of all we have been there when no one else was. VIK believed in the importance of young people and our voice and however much time passes that message will always remain with us all.
As we all begin to tentatively look to the next phase of the project; the battle of securing funding, the role of young people as the NHS begins to change and our own personal journeys, I wonder if in three years time, when we stop, look back and acknowledge where we have come from, what new achievements we will be adding to the list.