I discovered Launchpad in the autumn of 2006, I’m not sure how I heard about it, might have been through the Crisis Team. I was at a very low ebb in my life. I’d been diagnosed, in the spring, as having Bi-polar. Then in the August I lost my mother to cancer, the blow being all the greater as I was her primary carer. The Crisis Team were called in to offer support. It was a traumatic time but from the wreckage came new beginnings. This included getting involved with Launchpad.
One day in the September or October I arrived at the Holy Jesus Hospital on City Road, Newcastle. It was a Friday and I was there for a meeting of the self-help group hosted by Launchpad. Well the first thing – I liked the building, steeped in a calm, age-old atmosphere; in fact the smell of old, polished wood is a pleasing characteristic of the Holy Jesus Hospital. This is especially the case if, like me, you love history!
I was met by Alisdair Cameron, project leader for Launchpad, and was shown to the adjoining function room. This is where the self-help group met. I was introduced to the facilitator and he and I sat and chatted, during which time I learnt more about the group. Several more people came into the room over the next 15 minutes or so. Finally, the facilitator closed the door and took his seat. He formed a steeple with his fingers and ran his gaze around the room. “Well, how is everyone this week?”
And so began my first attendance at a Launchpad hosted event. A few guidelines were read out by the facilitator before we started, about the aim of the group. This was to offer a supportive forum for the exchange of experiences and to provide mutual support. And that is exactly what happened, over the following couple of hours.
It was a revelation to meet other people who were in the same boat as me as it were, with MH. Some people in that room had really been through the mill, had seen the worst of what mental health services had to offer. But the atmosphere was relaxed, positive. Everyone in that room was a survivor and there was a lot of support to draw on. Something else I quickly noticed was just how comfortable the seats were! I’d chosen a rather age-worn armchair. By the time of the coffee break I had sunk so comfortably into the chair that only the top of my head could be seen!
At the end of that first meeting I knew I’d be back.
Over the weeks and months that followed I got more involved with Launchpad. Both the self-help and creative writing groups became an integral part of my weekly routines – and the magnificent old armchair was my regular seat!
I took part in various user-led projects, such as focus groups. It was so good, being able to share my experiences with health care workers. No one had asked for my thoughts about MH services before!
In 2007 I went into self-employment, as a freelance writer. Launchpad was very supportive, letting me put their address on my business cards (for collection of mail) and use the function room for meetings. Over the past year or so paid freelance work has been available with Launchpad and it has been great, to see the volunteers benefiting from this. The jobs market is tough going, even more so for people with a serious health condition. Not only that, an MH condition with the stigma that, shockingly, is still attached.
As a paid freelancer I am able to bring to bear my experiences of MH to various user-led events. I can work from the Launchpad office with my laptop. I benefit from peer support and not least of all, company, friendly faces. This is so important, especially when you’re not well. I have so many memories of sitting in the Launchpad office, with people arriving to see Alisdair: students and academics, mental health care workers and fellow service users; people crowded into the small, cosy room, for discussions and debates on topics related to mental health. All the volunteers have particular skills and attributes that they can bring to bear and it’s even better when you can earn some money. My freelance work includes managing the walking club and writing features for the Launchpad website.
Being diagnosed with an MH issue is stressful. It is a difficult condition to manage, there is the danger is of social isolation, a drawing in of one’s life, of its horizons and expectations. Launchpad has offered an at times desperately needed helping hand and continues to be an important part of my recovery. The organisation provides peer support, somewhere to work from and company.
And great chairs!