Eight weeks ago I was going into the office everyday and travelling the country promoting the value of lived experience and attempting to initiate systems change on any level possible. Now I’m sitting at home, joining numerous video conferences and writing blogs as a way to process my thoughts. I work at Expert Citizens, a community interest company led by an independent group of people who have all experienced multiple needs – combinations of mental ill health, homelessness, addiction and offending behaviour. We all have powerful stories to tell, and we use our unique skills and experiences to be a voice for others. We give our ideas to services like the local authority, police and homelessness services of Stoke-on-Trent, and nationally, to help guide and shape them to improve the care of multiple needs citizens. We act as a support network for each other and engage in team building and promote healthy lifestyles.
A lot of the work I do in my role puts me in direct contact either with people who would be described as vulnerable or people who would be working directly with people who may be vulnerable. I love what I do, sometimes it’s going into a service and seeing how they work, giving them pointers to how they may be able to work better. Other times it can simply be interviewing someone, letting them tell their story and putting all that to good use in either a piece of research or as part of an ongoing evaluation of a service. Every day is different but also the same as I see everything I do as working towards a goal of eventually making every service the best it can be so that the next person to use it gets the help they need.
I was already expecting the decision to go into lockdown. But that still didn’t stop me from going into full on panic mode. As someone in recovery from addiction I asked myself questions like how is this going to affect me? Am I going to go back to alcohol as a support system now my main way of coping for the past year of me being sober – working with Expert Citizens – has been taken away? And what can I do to pass time until we are able to go back to normal and do we really want to go back to what we thought was normal?
I have an amazing team of people around me that know my situation and how my mind works better than most people. I have also been making sure I keep really busy as well as taking time out to do things I enjoy which luckily enough for me are things I can do in isolation i.e. binge watching TV shows and spending a ridiculous amount of time on my PS4. I think it’s very important for people in general not just those of us in addiction recovery to identify our own self-help techniques which will be different for everyone.
‘..this needs to be taken forward once this is over so that the myth of non engagement is proven wrong and it’s just a case of finding the best way to interact with people with complex lives’
I think the positives that have come from this are the things like how some services are taking advantage of the multiple methods of communication that are available. I have been receiving telephone based CBT which I didn’t even know was possible and I have had so many emails from various support services that had out of necessity started using other forms of communication. For me this needs to be taken forward once this is over so that the myth of non engagement is proven wrong and it’s just a case of finding the best way to interact with people with complex lives. So many services forget to take into account the intricacies of mental health and addiction and simply put people down as they do not engage when they fail to attend meetings. I’m hoping that because those companies have had to adapt to a new way of working and have found different communication methods work they continue to use them. I am also hoping for an increase in people with lived experience in the workplace, having somebody on the staff that has a lived experience of what the service user may be going through can only help show more empathy. I hope the sense of kindness and community continues and we appreciate the work of all our key workers, be that the brilliant NHS staff or the undervalued retail staff that have been working hard throughout this time.
I feel the discussion around things like addiction, mental health and poverty have been brought to the forefront now and that we have to ensure these conversations are going to continue long after lockdown ends. I for one feel that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg and there is a lot more to follow. I hope the fact I have been as open as I have been during my blogging will open the door to people in similar circumstances and maybe give them hope that things can and will get better.
About the Author
Phil works with Expert Citizens, he is a part of multiple peer research teams and is an insight evaluator.
Read Phil’s blogs for Expert Citizens:
Changing Focus http://www.expertcitizens.org.uk/blog-changing-focus/