Val talks about her lived experience of mental health

I have worked in the Social Care sector for over 30 years because I wanted to make a difference to people. This has taken me through many areas of experience in Learning Disabilities, Domestic Abuse, Dementia but mostly Mental Health.

I have worked for Brecon Mind for 7 years and for Hereford Mind in the past, also for Hafal.

My own experiences since childhood have led to my greater understanding and passion for driving mental health services forward to help and support as many people as we can.

It can be a very lonely journey which is very debilitating at times. Sometimes we are embarrassed about our own inadequacies and seeming lack of inner strength when the rest of the world seem to be coping just fine. Well that was my experience.

As a child I had my safety net removed at the age of 4 when my parents split up. I stayed with my Dad who went out to work every day and to the pub every night leaving me with elderly relatives or neighbours when I was not at school.

I never felt safe and that is when all my anxieties began to affect my life.

In my teenage years this led to social anxiety and agoraphobia. I ran everywhere for fear of something happening to me when I was out there on my own. On a couple of occasions something did happen to me which re-enforced my fears, men trying to attack me or draw me into situations where I was at risk.

I would have panic attacks and have to leave lessons. No-one seemed to understand how horrible it felt. I couldn’t use public transport and found it very hard to go into shops.

It was only when I had my first child that I talked to my GP about my anxiety and fears and this was because it was preventing me from taking him out in the fresh air and mixing with other Mums.

Thankfully I was lucky to see a GP who had an interest in Mental Health and she set me on a weekly programme of tasks to achieve between each appointment until I was able to cope with going out. I still could not go to a supermarket on my own as these completely overwhelmed me.

After my second child was born I had Post- Natal depression which affected my bonding relationship with my son. Following that I had several periods of depression and anxiety throughout my life.

My most severe period of anxiety and depression was following a very stressful period at work whereby I became quite unwell and was off sick for 7 months. I had always worked even with the children so this was completely alien to me. The longer I was off the worse the anxiety became and I thought I would never work again or be able to live normally.

Something pushed me one day to go to a women’s business meeting where a chance conversation led me to the advert for the position with Brecon Mind. Having worked for Hereford Mind previously I was keen to apply and to my surprise I was offered the job and I have never looked back. It is a great place to work with like-minded people, many of whom have had their own lived experience and understand when you are having a bad day. We all support each other which makes us a fabulous team who support and encourage those who access our services.

We know that life can be lived to the full if you have the courage to reach out and talk to someone and get the support you need to help you to cope with life’s ups and downs. Mental health is part of us all and not something to be ashamed of when it is not so good. If you broke an arm or had pains in your chest you wouldn’t feel ashamed to get help, there are no differences except that mental health is not always visible.

So if you see someone who is looking a bit down or not quite themselves, just talk to them , ask them if they are ok. Having someone to listen is sometimes all it takes and can make the biggest difference to someone’s life and sometimes saves someone’s life.

In these very strange and difficult times that Coronavirus has brought with it, most people’s mental health is being tested so please be kind to each other and be mindful that we can all have bad days when we need just a kind word to help us through.

Val Walker