Grace Spear overcame depression and arrest, finding inner peace through friendship with her peers. Now she helps other people do the same through Peer Support.

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“Living with Mental Health can be one of the toughest things. It will always be there whether you are having a good day or bad. Mental Health will always be a part of your life. Anxiety and depression and feeling overwhelmed can be termed as suffering from stress, but it is more than that. It is a fear that hangs over your head every day. It is something that can suddenly hit you and bring you down. For my anxiety, when things get bad, it comes in the form of depression. Living with mental distress made me feel sad, angry and hurt. This does not only affect me, but also but also the wider family and this can be so overwhelming for all concerned.

For anyone who has never experienced this, they will never understand how isolating this can be. As a woman and a mother, I have had to learn that depression may always be a part of my life but it will never define who I am. When I have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month or even a bad year, I just look at that as a setback or blip. I know that I will get better again by stepping away from everything and taking the time I need to get myself better. Living with depression means that this can strike at any moment, so it is always important to be on your guard all the time.

At the beginning, I was ashamed about struggling with my mental health. I had a lot of very unpleasant experiences that occurred at the same time,”which resulted in my feeling that I could no longer cope with life. I tried to cope alone. I found myself in very dark places and got through these with the help of people who were going through similar experiences.

I was arrested for driving whilst disqualified and was taken to a police station. I was charged and went to court and was banned from driving for 2 years. When you are arrested, it is best described as a loss of innocence, plus the awareness that all you love and cherish is hanging in the balance. This balance can be tipped by any law enforcing officer in this country. Anyone who has ever experienced being arrested knows what I mean, If you haven’t been arrested, I hope you never do. The experience was humiliating, overwhelming and totally degrading, especially as a black woman. I felt drained of everything I regard as human. I felt humiliated and belittled. It was a psychological challenge and an unforgettable traumatic experience. To be arrested is to experience first hand the realization that there is no real freedom, not under the existing system.

In the midst of everything I was going through, I managed to finish studying and keep in touch with my service user groups, lobbying organisations and Government on changing laws and listening to the voice of service users. This helped me to deal with the stigma of being arrested while struggling with mental health distress. I was not alone! I am still battling depression but that will not define who I am. This is what makes me a survivor.

I have been treated badly so many times because I am a woman. I have come across as very strong and sometimes can be perceived as being arrogant. It used to break me down, but now I keep my head high and my confidence in all I do has grown stronger. I think that as women take on more roles these days and work with platforms that empower women, there is more awareness and less stereotyping. I manage a successful, award winning peer support project, with a group of amazing peer supporters, who use their lived experience to help others to manage their mental wellbeing. This helps to empower, and is of mutual benefit to both parties.

There are so many strong female role models that I have taken strength from. There are some who are quite famous, but the person who inspires me the most is a service user called Eve. I have been honoured to meet this lady who, by her own determination and growing self- insight, despite enormous difficulties and setbacks as a child, has developed into a mature adult now able to advise, help and support others less able than herself. She is a living example of someone who has turned her own corner, understanding and learning to trust the power of God’s forgiveness. This lady has experienced the depths of despair for 20 years, but, with God’s help and her own determination and the support of those who love her, she has come through and been able to tell her story.

And finally… to all the women who are going through similar experiences, I know you are going through a lot. You have worked hard to be where you are. You have made a lot of sacrifices. No matter what you are going through, it is important that you stay strong and don’t stop believing in people, in humanity, in peace, in selflessness, in giving. Learn to be more accepting of people and of yourself. Be yourself and accept yourself for who you are. I understand that when you are a woman with mental health distress, you feel misunderstood in so many ways and struggle to find things that make you feel settled. Remember you are not alone.”

Grace Spear is a Peer Support manager with a national mental health charity.

Photo Credit: @thiszun

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