By: Eloise Stark

My journey to this point, writing this today, has been long and challenging. But they say that calm seas don’t make skilled sailors so I would choose not to change anything about this journey of ups and downs.

I first became mentally unwell during my undergraduate degree in Experimental Psychology at Oxford University. It happened slowly, and I was able to graduate with a good degree, but once I had begun my PhD in Psychiatry at Oxford, it rapidly overwhelmed me and I became very unwell. I spent most of 2015-16 on a psychiatric ward, very poorly and struggling to make it back to living in the community. The longest time I managed outside of hospital during these two years was seven weeks. A staff member once told me that she thought I was destined to become a “revolving door” patient and live my adult life in and out of psychiatric institutions. I was rapidly losing hope but desperately wanted to regain my life outside of hospital.

Then I was visited by a volunteer for the charity Restore, who told me about the Recovery Groups they operate and suggested it might help me to be part of a community when I next left hospital. I signed up and was offered a place at The Beehive on Manzil Way. Here, I found a group of people who understood what I was going through. I could walk in through the door and not have to answer with “I’m fine” when someone asked me how I was. Alongside kind and compassionate staff, the members support each other to recover and keep hope alight. I attended the Beehive for just over two years, during which they supported me to return to studying for my PhD part-time. I grew in confidence, and eventually felt ready to make the next step in my recovery and graduate from the Beehive.

While I was looking for options for the future, I found out about the Oxfordshire Recovery College. I was immediately attracted by the balance of educational opportunity and focus on wellbeing, and the opportunity to use my experiences of recovery to help others. My years of illness were miserable, but if I can use those experiences to benefit other people then it makes every second worthwhile. I therefore applied to become a tutor, passed the interview, completed the intensive tutor training (which was really fun!) and was accepted as a tutor and member of the team. Since beginning this step of the journey with the Oxfordshire Recovery College, I have grown in confidence above and beyond what I had hoped for. I have made new friends with a wonderful group of likeminded, inspiring and passionate people. Each course teaches you something new – no group is the same. I cannot accurately describe the feeling you get when you see someone go home at the end of the course with a little more hope in their heart. Alongside studying for a PhD, the Oxfordshire Recovery College offers me the opportunity to give something back to the community, share my recovery tips, and be part of an exciting, forward-thinking community of people in Oxfordshire. I am excited to see where this journey will go next.

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