Sitting On The Other Side
Guest blogger Vanessa talks about her experiences as a VIK member.
The day begins like any other and I have a meeting to attend. The meeting is to be held with two other YoungMinds VIKs and the regional worker, along with a person from the education services and CAMHS. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss an audio recording to be used as a training tool, for young people who may struggle with anxiety and how this affects their attendance at school.
I am walking to a meeting that at any other time would have sent me running to the hills, but I am calm. You see...this is what I have noticed since I started volunteering with YoungMinds, that I can attend meetings with key professionals and keep myself together. Maybe it is a sign that I have become more confident, or maybe it is because I'm a little less inclined to rarely care what people now think of my personality these days, but the truth is that it feels like I am somewhat protected with my new status as a volunteer. This is what it all comes down to. That word: Status.
Throughout my years in the middle of a Mental Health Minefield I have been many things and fulfilled many roles. I have been the patient, turned student nurse, back to patient, and now I find myself in the delicate position of being both a patient whilst at the same time trying to make changes in how young people with Mental Health Problems are both seen and treated. Throughout all that time I cannot say that my views and thoughts have changed significantly. I still like to be opinionated, will grab every opportunity I can to stand on my soapbox and mostly I like to challenge people and have a good old- fashioned debate. I think what I have to say has some value behind it most of the time, and the other half the time, well I'm just your average 20 something year old.
However, back to my point and the meeting at hand. Undaunted I allow my thoughts to be heard, I answer questions and in turn question some of their thoughts and thinking. It is reassuring to see that these two separate authorities are working together in order to make a better training package for people working with young people. What I find even more wonderfully surprising is that they genuinely seem to value what we have to say, and are not just there for the sake of being there, or to tick some box. The meeting has gone well, as have other meetings that I reflect back on, and the same applies for other work that I have done since becoming a VIK member. This should be all positive but I leave with something nagging at me which I can't quite put my finger on.
Later it comes to me in a somewhat sickening revelation. The status thing and something more such as environment. You see in all the years that I have been on the inside as a patient all my thoughts have been either dismissed or deemed as the irrelevant ramblings of a mentally unstable person. Words and thoughts have often be turned round and used against me. What in that meeting were seen to be positive attributes like being challenging, thought provoking and challenging a professional’s logic; would and have often been my downfall in a different environment such as a ward round. In a ward round or a meeting with professionals in charge of my care, who have access to my notes, I would be seen as nothing other than difficult, resistant, argumentative, possibly manipulative...and a million other negative adjectives.
The term service user involvement is often thrown around a lot in the Mental Health field and it is becoming more common, but does that mean that our involvement is only relevant when we reach a certain point? Does it become irrelevant if we dare to disagree? Does having a different view to someone who just happens to be sitting on the other side mean that we are wrong and they are right and we have to take it? At the moment I worry that it does. I wonder how many people will read this and if put together with my diagnosis will see me as having a problem with authority, as opposed to questionable observations of a curious, and slightly cynical mind?
So the conclusion I came to is unfortunately quite sad...that whatever words I use, whatever logical, rational argument that I put across maybe it doesn't quite matter. Maybe what matters most is what side I'm on, whether I'm a patient or a volunteer, whether someone knows my diagnosis or not.
Ultimately in essence I wonder if what matters most is something as trivial as if I'm sat in a shirt and jeans with freshly washed hair as opposed to wearing my pyjamas and slippers.
Find ot more about the VIK project here.