"The help and company of good friends, the rediscovery of old pleasures, the support of my family, being useful to others, feeling part of the community – these are all essential factors in my recovery.
I was 21 years old and studying for my exams at university when my mental health problems began. I felt lonely, sad and utterly exhausted after having spent 18 years of my life going to school. On top of this, I think I had difficulties in making the transition from boyhood into adult life. I had no desire to adapt to the future I saw ahead of me, and felt lost and destitute.
As the crisis broke, my life turned into chaos. I was overwhelmed by strange ideas and painful feelings, and I could not undertake normal everyday activities. My delirium and paranoia frightened everyone around, including me. I was lucky to have the support of family and friends, but my relationship to them rapidly deteriorated as I grew worse. They were as helpless as I, and everything seemed hopeless, knowing that the pain I was in was a mental illness.
I suppose I had what is called schizophrenia. Fortunately I had only one breakdown, or maybe two, but I was never hospitalized. Since then, I have seen my doctor regularly. I have received talking therapy, which has been a positive experience, and has helped me to understand myself better. Personal effort and desire to be better are the most important things in recovery, I believe.
I prefer visiting mental health services located in the community, rather than a large psychiatric institution. They are much more pleasant and relaxed, as well as more easily accessible by users.
My involvement in a users‘ organization, the Association for the Social Inclusion of the Mentally Ill (AEMIS), has proved rewarding and useful. I joined AEMIS seven years ago, without any idea of what it would lead to. We began as a movement of service users, believing that working together, obtaining more possibilities for ourselves, would make us feel better.
Today AEMIS is made up of people with mental health problems, volunteers, health professionals and staff members. AEMIS runs a leisure and cultural centre, and an employment resource centre for mental health service users, with funding from the European Union. It has carried out an anti-stigma campaign, organized festivals with regional artists and musicians, and developed educational material on mental health for public colleges and volunteers. In addition, it campaigns for the rights of users.
I have worked as a communication officer, teacher of literature and journalism, and spokesperson of AEMIS. I have given interviews to the press, radio and television, and made contact with a great number of interesting people – journalists, family members, politicians and volunteers. I am proud to have participated in all this, and feel that helping other people helps me, too. And our joint efforts in AEMIS have won us more dignity, attention and self-empowerment.
As to stigma, I do not hide the fact that I have had mental health problems, but I do not tell everyone about it. My family and friends know, but I do not think that my illness defines the person I am.
As an AEMIS member, I have discussed my mental health problems in interviews to demonstrate that people can recover from mental illness and thus to give some hope to my fellow service users.
I believe that stigma can and should be fought in many different ways, including through the media, through better treatment, family therapy and self-help groups, and by giving service users a voice and allowing us to take part in all decisions concerning us.
At the same time I think it is normal to feel a little constricted by shame about one‘s illness. Is anybody entirely free of shame? I would be surprised to find such a person.
Housing has been one of the most difficult aspects of my illness. Living with a person with mental health problems is difficult. It requires a lot of patience and love and puts much strain on the family. I still live with my parents because it is the best place for me at present, but I expect to be independent in the near future.
I have a job in public administration (a new law in Spain requires that 5% of such jobs be reserved for people with disabilities), which is what I studied for. I continue my studies, though, and hope to find a better job in the future. I have always been a big reader, but because of my illness I had to put it aside for many years. When I recovered, I resumed reading, and started writing for the first time.
Today I feel included in society, perhaps more than many others, since I work and deal with so many different people from all walks of life. Further, the work we in AEMIS are doing to fight prejudice and discrimination is beginning to show results. There is still a long way to go, but step by step I believe we are moving towards a more inclusive society."