The idea of change fills me with dread – like it does with most people.
As human beings, we tend to become very comfortable with our lives and resist any changes happening – whether that be changes to our daily routines, or far bigger changes, like changing careers or relationships etc. As human beings, there is evidence to suggest that we would prefer to be unhappy rather than uncertain, and of course, change brings about with it huge uncertainty. As someone who particularly dislikes change, I think we fear what we may lose through change, and our aversion to loss often keeps us in undesirable places – literally and metaphorically – in our lives. The fear of change can literally prevent us from moving forward. Whilst we prefer a predictable outcome, our brains actually have the capability to evolve with change, because they are flexible and adaptive – or at least – can be trained to be flexible and adaptive.
Of course, change doesn’t always happen for the better, and change is not always something that happens quickly; it is often a marathon, not a sprint. Whilst it’s true to say that life can ‘change in the blink of an eye‘, the changing of cultures and attitudes is a mountain that can take years to climb. I am thinking particularly about the change in attitudes and culture surrounding mental health. Yes, we have come a long way and society as a whole has made big changes in how individuals with mental illness are treated, yet there is still so much further to go. The need for change in attitudes and culture extends to mental health services and professionals. Speaking from experience, the mental health world is saturated with stigma, discrimination, and prejudice directed towards patients who are labelled as ‘manipulative‘, ‘difficult‘ and ‘challenging‘. I have recognised and seen things in my local mental health services change for the better over the last 3 years, but there is still a long way to go. I am still subject to stigma and discrimination because of my diagnosis, and I hope there is a day soon that that ends. I hope that professionals and lay-people alike continue to embrace a change in attitude and culture when it comes to mental health.
I think it is fair to say that 2020 has pretty much seen a change in everyone’s life in almost every imaginable way. The global pandemic has forced us to change our way of living; depending upon where you are in the world, we can no longer see our loved ones, hug our loved ones, or go about our busy daily lives ignorant to the world around us. The change that Covid-19 has imposed upon us is scary and uncomfortable, but it has changed our lives for ever – and for the better probably – though currently it is hard to see past the discomfort and fear. The changes I hope most to see once all of this is over, is that as human beings we realise we are all the same; none of us are immune to bad things happening, but what the pandemic has shown us is that when humans come together, change can be embraced and overcome.
When living with mental illness, the idea of change can be a hundred times more overwhelming than it is for anyone else. I think this is why I have spent the last few years holding on to my illnesses – because the idea of letting go of them – of allowing myself to get better – was a complete change to what I was used to. My mental illnesses do not define me, but they have become a huge part of my life, and I feared the change that ‘getting better’ brought with it.
Despite the overwhelming fear, I’m currently going through a period of big change.
I have begun DBT or Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, and it is hoped that this will offer me the chance to change some of my unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as self-harm, into healthier ones. I think beginning therapy of any kind is daunting, so I was expecting a certain level of anxiety. I’m actually quite proud of myself for the way I have handled it all so far. There have already been some tough discussions in therapy, and there have been goals set that require a huge amount of change. But, I think I am up for the challenge. DBT has a huge evidence-base and is really interesting, so I’ll look forward to explaining more about it, and sharing some of its theory and skills in other posts.
I also, last week, started a new job. Whilst I absolutely loved my role as a Peer Mentor (and hope to continue this on a ‘bank’ basis with the employer), I was offered an opportunity that I couldn’t pass by (I’d just like to put this out there – but I was totally head-hunted for my new job – something I never thought I’d get to say!). My job role as Peer mentor, the people I worked with, and the opportunities they offered me, has done so much for me over the past 18 months. I was offered the job at a time I really believed there was nothing left for me in the world, and I do believe that in many ways, that job and the colleagues I had there saved my life. But I am looking forward to my new role as a Family Wellbeing and Resilience Worker for the Mental Health charity MIND.
And so, whilst I knew it was time to accept change and go with the flow, it was also a decision that was not taken lightly – nor was it an easy decision. Am I scared? Yes. Am I anxious? Yes. Am I worried it won’t work out and everything will fall apart? Yes. But, am I making the change and taking the chance? Also, yes.
I don’t know what the future holds, and that feels scary. I don’t know what all of this change will bring about, and that terrifies me. But what I do know, is that things feel like they’re falling together at the moment. Life doesn’t feel perfect, but I’m ok knowing that it might not ever feel perfect. There will always be bad things and bad days, and that’s ok. The more I look inside myself, the more I am slowly beginning to understand myself, I think.
Jess Matthews is both a mental health service user and practitioner, having first-hand experience of experiencing the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health and illness. As a Time to Change Wales champion, Jess shares her experiences in the hope of starting conversations around sensitive topics such as self-harm and suicide to a range of audiences, including schools, businesses, universities, and health-boards. Jess has worked as a Peer-Mentor at Hafal’s Gellinudd Recovery Centre, and at Mind Newport as a Family Wellbeing and Resilience Practitioner. Jess works on co-produced projects with her local mental health services, and has co-facilitated workshops on quality improvement and patient experience, as well as speaking at conferences including Welsh Confederation NHS annual conference 2020 and Swansea-bays self-harm and suicide prevention conference 2020.