Tracy Cullen tells us of her incredible journey from a user to helper at The Sanctuary. A project that offers mental health support along with a great welcome.
As we reported last week, The Sanctuary community café attracts people of all ages – from young mums, some of whom are struggling with postnatal depression, through to older people who are bereaved and lonely, as well as residents from the local nursing home, who are suffering from early-stage dementia.
Tracy started visiting The Sanctuary 15 months ago, not long after it had first opened. She opens up about her full circle transition from her first visits to the cafe whilst suffering from depression to becoming a helper as she is now one of a committed group of volunteers that helps out each week.
“I’ve been on an incredible journey. When I first started coming I was basically a mess. I have suffered from my mental health for years and there are ups and downs. This particular time I was really down and I couldn’t pull myself back up. It was Jimmy (also a helper), who I’ve known for years said to me come to the Sanctuary. I didn’t go the first week because I was too anxious. I wasn’t working, I was basically hiding in the house so the week after that I thought, I’ve just got to go. I made myself take that first step and came. Then after that week after week I was building up my confidence to the point where I went back to work as a security officer.
I’ve met a great group of friends; they are like family to me now. My home life is happier as a result. I’m more able to help with my grandchildren. That’s the thing about suffering from your mental health, every aspect of your life is affected and you don’t want it to, work life, relationships, children and grandchildren, everything. This place has given me confidence. I’ve tried other things including counselling in the past and nothing has changed my life as much as this. I started coming as a user who needed the help to gradually becoming a helper. Helping people less fortunate or recognising when someone is not quite right is an amazing feeling. I do feel that it’s important to give back because I have taken that help when I needed it, I want to be able to repay that kindness to someone else. What better place to start than giving back to a community that had been crumbling but is slowly coming back together.
It’s just a nice peaceful place. People are there for each other and can celebrate together. No one judges you. You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to be. I can come and have a good cry or a good laugh depending on how I’m feeling. The emphasis is not just on mental health alone; it’s also about a welcome to everybody and bringing the community together. Some people that might not have had a hot meal for a few days, it’s nice to see them come in and know that they are at least getting to eat something nutritious.”
Tracy has benefited from The Sanctuary herself and now has been able to help others. She continues:
“A few weeks ago, one young single mum who has started coming. I looked at her and she was just blank. I asked her if she was OK and she just said no and burst out crying. I took her to one side and I was talking to her and it turned out that she was experiencing a few problems but hadn’t been taking her medication. I think she felt a bit lost and didn’t know where to start getting herself back. I asked Rev Laura to help and she phoned her doctors and got her an appointment that day and so she was able to restart her medication and dealt with her issues. The next couple of weeks after that, I saw a massive improvement. She really is just so much happier. It’s lovely to see. There are so many examples like that. It is a lonely job being a single Mum, it’s a tough job even if you have a partner, but so much harder when you are on your own and when you suffer from mental health issues as well.”
There can be a stigma around mental health. Tracy shares her experiences of people talking about this issue.
“I think there is, particularly amongst the older generation, the way they were brought up. It was never discussed. Issues were brushed under the carpet and you were expected to just get on with it. I think there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues for that generation. I have found that in general people today are being brought up with more acceptance and awareness of it. I find for me personally, the more I talk about my mental health, the more people understand me. That takes the pressure off me then not to be something that I don’t want to be.”