My journey with Penumbra has been a very long one. I’m one of the very lucky people who have been in and out that service a number of times since 2006/7.
I’ve had long-standing mental health issues – everything from suicide to self-harm, depression, eating disorder, anxiety, all that jazz. I actually went down to York for treatment in 2012-13 and when I came back up the road in 2013, I was doing better but I still needed support. In 2014 I started getting support again from Penumbra and things had improved again where I left getting one-to-one support but was still going for the social aspect of it. Then I sort of volunteered with them for a period and then in 2016 I think it was I got a paid role as a Peer Support Worker for Fife Self Harm Project, which was amazing. And fast forward a couple of years, I left that role for another peer worker role.
Then two years ago, I was in and out of hospital and also getting support from Penumbra again. The support that I got from Penumbra through Covid was amazing. I was having weekly phone calls with them. I live on my own and I’m not within walking distance to my friends and family. So in effect I’m quite isolated in that sense. I don’t have that support network around me.
However, I have to say through Covid I have managed to blossom. In the last year I’ve lost about 50 kg by changing my eating habits, exercising every day, meditating and doing yoga. I came off all my medication last August and I just got discharged from psychiatry.
I’m not saying I’ve not had bad days or not struggled not seeing people. I’m quite a people person. I like seeing people, I like hearing people, I like to keep busy, I like to keep going. But one of my friends that I play rugby with (when you can play rugby!) we were talking, and you know how people go to an Ashram for like four months to really work on themselves and block out all the noise and all the distractions around themselves? It’s like I’ve been able to utilise Covid for doing that because instead of letting the fear and the anxiety and the unknown override and take hold I’ve managed to acknowledge it and take control and take a hold of my life and guide it and steer it in a direction where I want it to go. I think without the support of the two Penumbra workers I would have struggled through the first lockdown a lot more than what I did.
Having the weekly check-ins with Natalie from Penumbra and being able to offload and just purge the worries or the stresses that I was feeling and have that safe sounding board, for her to go “Yeah, OK. That’s perfectly reasonable you’re feeling like that and you’re still doing it. You’re not turning to old habits, you’re not self-harming, you’re not letting it get you down, the fact you’re doing this, you’re doing that, you’re doing the next thing”. I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that I have not felt actively suicidal in, actively anyway, in a year. It’s got to be about a year.
Penumbra itself, the project, especially the self-harm project, I can honestly say, without that support over the last ten years, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. Genuinely I would not be sitting here today. I didn’t think I would make it to my 30th birthday. The service that Penumbra provides is life-saving. And that’s not me being dramatic or trying to big it up in any way, shape or form. But Fife Self-harm Project has saved my life on many occasions. And it’s the workers, the people on the frontline doing the work, having the right people in the job and how much they care about their clients that makes the project so worthwhile.
Another thing that Penumbra does is it holds the hope for you when you don’t have that hope for yourself. If you’re in such a dark place that you can’t see getting to the next day, never mind the next week or the next month, and they’re very, very good at holding that for you. And they’re also very good at handing you that hope back so that you can take it with you. There are points where you can’t see, your eyes might be open and it might be light but you can only see the darkness, and you need that person to hold that candle, that light, until you’re able to take it back. And until you can see the light for your future.