There can be a lot of stigma around mental health conditions. And even now with much positive campaigning around mental health, it is easy to feel isolated and alone.
While being anonymous serves an important purpose in creating safety for people struggling with their mental health, if it were safer for people to say they were in recovery, it would be safer for people to say they needed help.
And to get the help they need.
If you’re in recovery, you’re in a unique position to speak to others traveling down the same road you’ve been down. You have a story to tell — and it has the potential to provide great hope to those who hear it.
It’s both an individual story of your personal journey from mental health difficulties to recovery and a communal story that relates to the greater whole of humanity. And in telling your story you are not helping others, but you will also find that you help yourself.
Even if you are simply not ready to talk about your story (which is completely okay) there can be great benefit in just writing your story down.
Why Sharing/Writing Your Story Could Be Important for You
Sharing the story of your recovery is important for you as the storyteller, and can enhance, underline, and strengthen your own recovery journey. Consider how sharing your story can help you:
It allows you to recognise the importance of your story. You probably already know your Recovery journey to be one of the defining experiences of your life. Sharing your story lends credence to that.
It also makes your recovery more real to you. No longer is it just something you hope for; it’s something you’ve spoken aloud, passed around with friends and strangers, and laid claim to as your very own.
Putting your recovery into words helps you find your voice and can be a richly cathartic, immeasurably therapeutic experience.
When you share your story, it will very likely be very well received. This encouragement and affirmation can strengthen your resolve and your commitment to recovery. And it can provide you with greater accountability.
Sharing your story can be a great path toward self-love: It helps you to realise that you are worthy of having a voice, worthy of being heard, worthy of being cared for, and worthy of being loved.
Each time you tell your story you will likely gain a new perspective on it as you process it more deeply. This can give you insights into your behaviour and your responses, and even change your relationship to what has happened to you in the past, and how you approach the future.
You can begin to see the progress that you have made - how far you have come - and how change really is possible. You will begin to realise that with the progression you have made already, there is much hope for the future.
Finally, it can be helpful to others, which enables you to turn a very dark and difficult part of your life into something that is actually positive and meaningful.
Why Sharing/Writing Your Story Could Be Important for Others
Speaking of which, you don’t just tell your story because of the good it does for you; you do so as a service to others who may be struggling with similar issues, or who may be just starting down their own path to recovery.
Hearing your story can be a tremendous encouragement to those who are wrestling with comparable issues—proof that they are not alone.
It also gives them hope: If you can start down the path to recovery, perhaps they can as well.
It forms instant bonds of solidarity between you, which may even blossom into something like friendship.
It can also be highly practical: Not only can you share your story, but you can share specific strategies, toolsets, and coping mechanisms that have been helpful to you.
Lived experience of Writing and Sharing a Recovery Story
"Sharing my recovery story was something I never thought I would do, but something that when I did it, I got so much benefit from. I didn’t realise how much of my past I was missing out when I played the story in my head. And I realised that many of the dates were muddled up. And it helped me remember many positive things and kindnesses from people along the way. I also began to see many connections that I had missed - reasons why I had behaved in certain ways. And I came to a new understanding of myself.
Presenting my recovery story was really daunting, but it was incredibly well received. Many people said they could relate to much of what I had said and that it mirrored their own journey. And I made a few connections through it who have now become friends. In fact it was a really positive experience overall."
How to begin writing your story
There are many ways that you could begin to compile your Recovery Story. Here are just a few ideas to get you going. But remember we run a course on this, so you do not need to do this alone.
You could compile your course in chronological order. Simply take a piece of paper and write your birthdate in the top left, and today’s date in the bottom left, and begin to fill in the progression of your life between these dates, adding further dates in between.
You might not want to start with your birthdate. It could be sometime later in your life. But starting earlier can help provide you with the conditions that led to any deterioration in mental health.
Do whatever feels right for you.
You could also compile your story based on main events. Here simply take a piece of paper and write ‘Main Events’ in the centre. Then draw lines to any main or significant events that happened in your life - a bit like a mind map. You could draw lines from each event too, to add further details.
Or just take any word, such as Recovery and jot down any thoughts that come from that. Allow yourself to write down whatever comes up without censorship. See if you start to find a narrative in the thoughts you wrote down.
How to present your story
If you decide to tell your story, you could give some thought as to how to present it. And again, even if your story is being written for your eyes only, you might still want to engage in the creative process of presenting it in a way that feels right for you.
Here are just a few suggestions as to how you could present your story:
You might decide you just want the story in written form - just the plain text. Even if you opt for another method it can be a great idea to keep your story in this format, as it is easy to edit later and introduce new events or reflections. And it can be easy for others to read if you decide to share it.
You could use a Powerpoint Presentation to simplify your story and introduce images or photographs of main events. And you can use headings and animations to stress and emphasise certain parts of your story.
You might like to form a scrapbook or picture book of your story. You could use pictures you draw yourself, or photographs you’ve found.
Or maybe you could write poems for certain parts of your life which illustrate the events that were most significant to you.
Again, there are many ways to engage in this, and none is right or wrong. It’s just a process of getting the information out of your head and into the objective world.
Recovery Stories at Sunderland Recovery College
Why not consider coming along to a course at the Recovery College where you can begin to do this? You will be able to explore your story in a safe and supportive environment. And you can share it with others if that feels right for you.
The first couple of weeks are all about getting to know each other and developing a bond with the other members of the group. Each session begins with a check-in to find out how we are and what sort of week we’ve had. Then we move on to a sentence completion exercise such as:-
· My favourite way to spend the day is…
· A moment I will never forget is…
· These things make me smile…
· This is what I love about life…
· These things inspire me… (Books, paintings, poems, shops, quotes etc.)
We also play light hearted word games such as going around in a circle saying one word to eventually make a sentence. Or we might tell a story about an object as though it were a real person. We’ve had a few laughs doing these activities!
Once we feel more comfortable in the group situation we move on to the main activity of the course. This involves using wallpaper borders as a background to producing a timeline of our life. Some students have brought in photographs, objects, concert tickets etc. to put on their timelines.
Others have used felt pens to draw their life story and others have chosen to just use words. It’s up to you what you want to include on your timeline. One student began hers from when she was aged 18 as she did not want to think about childhood events. That was fine. However it’s also fine to include negative life events and talk about what you have learned from them.
The timeline can be as long as you like and we have plenty of scissors, double-sided cello tape, pens and glue to go around. Most students used their timeline as a prompt to tell their story to the group. Some went on to write poems and accounts about aspects of their lives.
Remember it’s up to you how much of your personal experiences you wish to share with the group. It’s about feeling a sense of hope and being able to describe meaning in life beyond having a mental health difficulty. It is reassuring that group members felt comfortable knowing that other students could empathise with their experiences.
Want to come along?
The course is facilitated by Joanne) and Terry –who are both Peer Supporters with experience of mental health difficulties and using story telling as part of our recovery journeys. We promise you will have fun so why not give it a go? Simply sign up at our next Enrolment Day. We look forward to seeing you then.