This ‘Moments That Made Me’ post comes from Cara Lisette. Cara tells her inspirational story of how getting involved with the Time to Change campaign changed her life. Time to Change campaigns to normalise conversations around mental health. It’s an issue that is close to my heart, and Cara’s story is a fantastic example of just how much of a difference telling your story can make.
I truly believe that every moment in our lives contributes to who we are. Although parts of us are deeply ‘us’, I feel that many aspects of our personalities are malleable, and that this is influenced by every event, big or small, that we experience. We are constantly growing and developing.
When looking back at the ‘moments that made me’, there are a few that come to mind. Some positive, some not so. But there is one in particular that set off a chain of events in my life that play a significant role in who I am today.
Time to change
A little under 5 years ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and by chance I came across a post shared by an acquaintance of mine – somebody who had been an inpatient at the same psychiatric hospital as me as a teenager, but who left before I arrived. We had never met but shared mutual friends.
That post was an advert from Time To Change, the mental health awareness organisation. It was for the role of ‘Youth Involvement Worker’ – somebody who would share their lived experience of mental illness with young people in schools, and at events across the country. Applications closed the next day.
I’m not sure what compelled me to apply.
I had never in my adult life spoken about my mental health. I learnt quickly that it wouldn’t serve me well to do so. I almost lost two jobs as a result: one halfway in, and one before I even started. I was bullied at school. I lost friends.
Looking back, maybe it was these experiences that were the very reason I sent that form off.
I didn’t really give it a second thought until I got a response inviting me to London for an interview, with the proviso that I would need to be able to attend four consecutive training days. I frantically scrabbled some annual leave together and begged my supervisor for the time off. I’ll be forever grateful that he said yes.
Time to talk
Part of my interview was giving a presentation about myself and my lived experience. I pulled a Powerpoint together and shared it with my boyfriend, which was the first time I had ever gone into any real detail about my mental health, even to him. He came with me on the train to London and sat with me in Vauxhall Pret while I nervously picked at some sort of breakfast food, running over what I was planning to say.
I can’t really remember how the presentation went, or what questions I was asked. I don’t remember leaving with any indication of whether I had done a good job or not. What I do remember is feeling incredibly emotional that I had bared my soul to three strangers, for what was essentially the first time ever, outside of therapy. It felt freeing – like an enormous weight had been lifted. I was finally being honest, not just with others, but with myself.
A life changing chain of events
The chain of events that followed next has honestly been life changing. I got an email telling me I had been successful. I went to London on my own for four days and met a group of people who inspire me to this day. I shared my truth with them, and they to me. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but when I left after those four days, I felt such a deep connection to those people. I still see some of them at events now, maybe once a year or so, but it’s like no time has passed each time we meet. There’s an incredible bond created with people who you are so open with, and who understand you at such a deep level.
Initially, I didn’t tell many people around me what I was doing. I travelled around England to schools, events and youth groups, sharing my story with young people of all ages. I went to assemblies, ran stalls, trained teachers. And gradually, little by little, my shame fell away. I learnt about self stigma and realised how much I embodied it and how much it controlled me. After a few months of campaigning, I finally told my friends about my mental health. Around a year later, I publicly shared a blog post I had written for Time To Change on Eating Disorders Awareness Week across my social media, knowing that for the first time in my life I would be exposed to my family, friends and colleagues.
I don’t really know what people said about it behind my back, and frankly I don’t care. The response I received was incredibly supportive and only encouraged me to continue.
Campaigning for change – at home and away
Over the last few years I have continued campaigning and also contributed behind the scenes to other Time To Change projects. I met the then Health Minister Jeremy Hunt at an event last year, to tell him all about my role within Time to Change and what it means to experience stigma and be a part of the drive to change it.
I started volunteering for my local Mind in a similar role, using my Time To Change experience to educate children and teachers in schools around where I live. I helped set up a peer support project in a nearby child and adolescent psychiatric hospital.
Strangely, I presented our project at a national mental health conference in London, and finally met the girl who shared that Facebook advert all those years ago.
She’s a mental health nurse now. I also trained as a mental health nurse, and during that time I won a scholarship to work abroad. A huge part of why this was given to me was because of my contributions to the voluntary sector and how passionate and dedicated I have been to educating others about mental health.
I used my scholarship to travel alone and work on a psychiatric ward in the Philippines for a month (which is also certainly high up on my ‘moments that made me’ list). I honestly believe that never would have happened without Time To Change giving me a chance all those years ago, in the first cohort of what is now known as ‘Young Champions’, subsequently opening so many doors for me.
Cara’s Corner and a new career
A year ago, I finally built up the confidence to start a blog about mental health. Honestly, I do still worry about people I know stumbling across it sometimes, but ultimately I’ve had some amazing feedback from it and this is what encourages me to keep going and push my worries to one side.
I have been a mental health nurse for a year now.
In a very strange turn of events, my current manager is the nurse who primary nursed me during my inpatient admission as a teenager. My old carers are now my colleagues.
My initial anxieties about this have dissolved over time; every person I meet who remembers me tells me how proud they are, and I have been shown nothing but personal and professional respect.
Would I change the fact I have mental health problems if I could? When I’m well, sometimes I think I wouldn’t because of all the opportunities it has given me, and how much I have been able to help people. When I’m not so well, I’d probably give my right arm not to feel that way anymore. Mental illness is incredibly complicated.
Although experiencing poor mental health has undoubtedly had a significant impact, it’s learning to talk about it that has really made me who I am, and I will be eternally grateful to Time To Change for starting me on this journey.
You can visit Cara at her blog, Cara’s Corner, and follow her on social media: