When I started with VS in April 2021, I was utterly terrified of the world around me and myself. After years of battling a losing fight with my mental health, there was very little left in me to keep going. But from the very first conversation with Sophia, her kindness and understanding gave me a glimmer of hope, and the strength to give it one last go at change.
Getting through the first stage of the course was a case of trying to survive each day. My only goals were to turn up, and try to speak. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, and really found it difficult to speak at all within the group. However I also quickly found that being outdoors made me feel more at ease and calm – emotions that are quite foreign to me.
As the programme continued, I found it harder and harder to maintain my mask that everything was fine, when it wasn’t. I was really struggling. I kept waiting for VS to lose their patience and give up on me, like I’d given up on myself. Instead I was met with a compassionate, nurturing environment, and generous amounts of time. When I was at breaking point, in floods of tears on the floor of the VS car park, I was finally able to let the walls come down and open up. I was terrified of the consequences of this. I had never found talking to be any help. However, this time I felt listened to. I felt supported. I felt like someone cared and would work with me to find a way forward, not force a quick fix upon me and then cast me away.
From this point, slowly but surely, the possibility of a future became more of a reality. I learnt that every time I was confident enough to communicate and participate more fully, there was not a day where life didn’t seem that little bit better and more manageable. I learnt that I am entitled to have opinions and a voice to express them. I learnt that I can experience happiness, laughter and have fun. I learnt that the outdoors makes me feel free, and people aren’t so scary after all.
There are still regular wobbles and moments where the world is too much to handle. But it is not every single second of every single day anymore. I am beginning to find the words to describe what I am feeling, share them with those around me, and ask for help when I need it. I am more able to sit with my crippling anxiety, fighting the urge to run, recognising that in a safe environment, it will pass with time. I am forever indebted to my group and family for supporting me with this.
The most valuable gift that VS has given me is time. The thought of change and getting better is scary. After so long in the darkness, I had got used to being there, and no matter how horrible it was, trying to get out was too daunting of a task on my own. With all other help, it stops when you ‘get better’, even though that is where the real work begins. Therefore, you end up not wanting to get better because all the support will drop away. However, with VS it has been comforting to know that you will continue to receive support for the duration of the course, regardless of how ‘well’ you become. You are celebrated for your achievements and progress, but continue to be supported with the demons that still linger. This is what makes VS special, and what has allowed me to come so far.
It has been the journey I never contemplated being able to make. There are so many things that I have done, which I could never have imagined being able to do. It is thanks to VS staff, volunteers, fellow participants and building my support network at home that has enabled such progress. Thank you all for sticking by me. Thanks to our beautiful earth, for providing nature as a space to breathe, take up space in this world, and be my true self.