Turning on the light

We’re very grateful to Leanne, who has written this moving and powerful account of her Shared Lives journey with the Blackpool Shared Lives scheme. Thanks Leanne!

Leanne writes:

When I was asked to do this for Shared lives week it took me a while to write, not because I didn’t want to write it, mostly because I didn’t know what to say. What do you say about the service, the shared lives carers who helped you to grow into the person you could only dream about four and a half years ago?

Anyone that knows me, will know that one of my favourite hobbies is to write stories and tell stories to anyone who will listen, so if you don’t mind, I would like to tell you one now…

It all began many years ago when I was 10 years old, I had this dream of becoming a social worker and despite my disabilities I worked as hard as I could (and sometimes not at all) throughout school and college in the hope of one day achieving my dream. –How is this all relevant you ask? Let me tell you…

In the January of 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare medical condition on top of my already complicated disabilities. The condition took over my life and put a stop to my dream. Not only did I now have a medical condition, which I couldn’t control, I had increasing mental health issues. I don’t mind sharing, suicidal thoughts were becoming like an old friend of mine. My condition and my mental health state was putting enormous pressure on the relationships I had with my family. In the January of 2013, I found out just how much. I was admitted to hospital for what was supposed to be routine treatment, a few days later I was visited by a social worker who explained to me that due to a breakdown in the relationships between myself and my family, I was now homeless.

It took a lot of discussion between the social worker and I but I brought up the option of Shared Lives as I had heard about the support it offered to adults with additional needs.  Me being who I am, I was a little reluctant to become a part of the scheme as “I don’t need help” how wrong I was. In hindsight, I can truly say I didn’t realise how much help I needed until I’d had it.

On the 23rd of January 2013 I met Josephine, I can remember like it was yesterday, I was sat in my hospital bed trying to concentrate on what was being asked but all I could think was how this woman with the kindest smile and it seemed even kinder heart had made me feel the most human I’d felt in a long time. I was so distracted by this, I agreed to not liking cucumber… 4 years later and both Josephine and Paul, Josephine’s husband,  still believe I don’t like cucumber, when really I do.

Anyway on the 24th,  I moved into the place I was only supposed to be staying “a few weeks.” A couple of months past and I’d found myself fitting in with Josephine and Paul’s lifestyle, even joining Blackpool Bears with the help of Josephine, but this wasn’t my greatest achievement. My greatest achievement in that first few months was the smallest of all things… getting on a bus. By myself. It sounds ridiculous, a what was 20 year old that had never been on a bus on her own before, but it was true. My mental health state was the biggest issue, my anxiety stopped me from doing almost everything, making me fear I was going to get something wrong, get lost or worst die. So that day when Josephine told me she was going to drop me off at my appointment and I would have to make my way back by bus myself I feared everything. Literally dreading the end of my appointment even though she had told me the exact route to use. To cut a long story short, I did it. I got on the bus and I got off at the right stop. Although it was a very small thing, I felt like I had achieved a lot. Yes the whole plan seems a little unorthodox to some people but Josephine knew that was the kind of approach that I needed and what a fantastic approach that was. I now spend half of my time on and off buses, and the other half it seems waiting for them….

Anyway that wasn’t the only breakthrough I’d had in the few months after I’d moved in, Paul had even talked me into going to see a Counselor and I found myself being able to open up to not only the counselor but Josephine and Paul too. If there is one thing I can always count on is for at least one of them to show an interest in what I have to say. I say at least one because lets be fair to them I talk a lot now but I never really wanted to. That’s the point I’m getting at. When you have a mental health issue like I had, sometimes all you really need is someone to take notice, to listen and overall offer the help you didn’t think you wanted. I found that in them both.  They have offered me so much, in the way of offering me the space to express who I am, yes they might not agree with my loud music or my constant concert going, flying off to different countries, including America with nothing but my best friend for support,  but without the support from them in the first instance, like throwing me into the deep end and onto a bus I wouldn’t do these things.

In the beginning of this story I began by telling you about the dream I had of becoming a social worker and how it had all come to an end. Turns out that wasn’t the end. Thanks to Josephine and Paul’s constant support with my physical conditions and my mental health  I was confident enough and motivated enough to return to education.  I started my social work degree in the September of 2013 only nine months after moving in with these two. Its been 4 years now and I’m just coming to the end of my degree, hoping to graduate in December with a first class honours degree in the one profession I’d dreamed of since being a child. I always get a little over emotional when I speak about this because over four years ago I would have never have dreamt I would be in this position and that is without a doubt down to the support and love I have received from being a part of shared lives. Josephine and Paul have given me back my self-confidence and self worth and a lot more besides. Without them I can truly say I wouldn’t be the person I am today. There is a quote from Harry potter, that I love that says “happiness can be found in the most darkest of times, if one remembers to turn on the light” -Albus Dumbledore. I love this because it reminds me of what they have done for me. They helped me turn on the light in my darkest times, with my depression and illness, when no one else could and through that, I was able to grow as a person and find happiness. True happiness.

I’ve learnt a lot whilst being here, like how to cook, how not to bake, how to clean and how not to… mostly how to avoid it, but most of all I’ve learnt so much about myself and for that I probably owe them everything.

I’ll be moving on soon, to a house of my own, and despite how far I may end up, because thanks to them, who knows, I’ll never forget what they have done for me.

This was a story about how a young girl, found the light with the help of two wonderful people and became a woman.

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