When the wind finally blew me in Ron and Karen’s Recovery Croft I had reached a turning point in my life. On offer to me were the usual types of mental health services; an intensive day service or perhaps an inpatient stay in an acute psychiatric hospital. You see, I had already been through the system and while I feel bound to recognise the fantastic contribution of so many staff who work there, there are still those who hold what been called ‘asylum mind’ – the idea that ‘madness must be subjugated for recovery to happen, a place where the mind of insanity must learn to bow before the superior power of reason and logic’. For me, personally the system didn’t help, it simply re-enforced my own sense of dysfunction and failure – plus relapses were growing even more frequent. The future looked bleak, like a plant that had out grown its pot – I needed space, space to think and just be.
I heard about the croft and discussed, with my psychiatric nurse, the possibility of going there in place of statutory services. This choice was recorded in my care plan and sanctioned by my GP. And so it was in June 2013, I drove to Lewis and embarked on a journey of personal discovery and pig rolls.
The croft is not a holiday venue, there is always work to be done, physically, mentally and emotionally. The long row of pig enclosures demands the use of a quad, but let me be clear this was a joy to a city boy; the row of folds take you to the edge of the rabbit warren known locally as the makah with a view across the Europie Dunes Park and the dramatic Atlantic Coast. A panoramic reward for bringing temporary contentment to the hungry drove of pigs and farrow of piglets. The practical work also involved keeping the home fire burning, namely a Stanley which sits at the heart of the house, warming the water, the radiators, the hands and the heart. Tasks are not optional at the croft, like the daily tasks of life we all have to fulfil; the pigs and ducks are relying on you with an innocence which demands personal responsibility.
Traditional mental health provision has in the past denied the sense of personal responsibility creating feelings of hopelessness and the loss of self reliance and resilience. There is the sense that becoming ‘well’ again rests in the hands of others, experts who have learned all they know from books, with a knack of stigmatising those who stand before them seeking help, while posing themselves as rescuer, to which one should be grateful and obedient.
Here at the croft I discovered a different approach, one which has time to listen to your personal story and recognise the place for such narrative in the midst of your distress. For most of us have found, while in hospital no one has much time to listen. This is a place which stresses recovery, indeed Ron Coleman was one of those who initiated the use of the term and has helped nurture it to its present state of popularity.
Recovery is at its heart – the knowledge that there is life beyond diagnosis, that we can move beyond simply coping, to a place of growth and thriving. Many of those who help at the croft have their own experience of living with mental health challenges, peers being the most current and popular term for that. Although, I have found amongst such terms as service user, patient, client or peer only people. People trying to do their best to make sense of their distress. I found myself with those who knew well how to listen, how to hold their own thoughts and opinions and allow me to uncover the answers which were already dormant within me.
Add to all this the gneissian wind, the great open sky and the call of the wild geese. A friendly wave from the neighbour and the kindly reception from the local post mistresses, at Willy’s and Cross Store, it was, for a short time at least, living as a member of this warm community, that I found the space to grow beyond the problems which escorted me there.
To be admitted to the mental health system one can find oneself subject to a great power. Here on Lewis at the Recovery Croft I was shown how to uncover my own power.