Negotiating daily life

People talked about the ‘ups and downs’ of daily life. Anna was unsure about what the future held because, she said, living with a serious mental health problem was ‘such a roller coaster’. Most people spoke about coping with their severe distress, or finding relief through sports, music, involvement with animals, religion or spirituality, recreational drugs, or other means (see Self-help strategies). At other times they could struggle with the demands of daily life and begin to feel unwell (see First becoming unwell). You can also read more about the support people had with everyday life decisions here: Support in life decisions.

Brendan talked about having ‘good periods’, but said he would then begin to feel unwell again.

Although most people had worked in paid employment at some point in their lives, many found it was difficult to maintain continuous employment (see Experiences of Work). For some, this was because of the ‘stress of work’ but for others it was the unpredictability of their severe distress and how they felt as a result. That, for many, made getting or maintaining work difficult. Brendan enjoyed working as a drug and alcohol counsellor for people with mental health issues but found that it was difficult listening to people whose stories were similar to his own. When he noticed that he was starting to ‘slip a bit’ and felt that he couldn’t give people the support they needed, he decided to resign. Jenny struggled to get a job she enjoyed because she ‘would get lost on the way to the interview ‘or, alternatively, ‘didn’t have the confidence to go’. Luana found the workplace ‘triggered’ her feelings of paranoia and she felt uncomfortable ‘being around people in that close environment and having to perform to a certain standard’. Allen described being able to work part-time but said it was important not to ‘overdo it’, to have a long weekend off, and, for the time being, not work more than two days in a row.

Although Evan has worked in many different industries, he never held a job for what considered to be a long time.

Charlie has been employed in the past, but now sees her main job as looking after herself.

Susana found that studying was better for her than working. She said particular types of work are not good for people’s mental health.

A few people who had found work as counsellors, or support workers said this has had been a great comfort for them. Simon said he enjoyed working as a counsellor for an ‘internet based counselling service’ that is an online chat facility. He also does charity work for an organisation that gives toys to children in refuges. Jenny started a charity fund for women fleeing domestic violence and described working as a consumer consultant in mental health. She feels able to use her ‘lived experience’ to support others.

Passionate about art, Maria, trained to be an artist and now also does mental health advocacy. She enjoys both and says ‘life’s pretty good’.

Michelle studied psychology and now works as a peer support worker. She described it as ‘an amazing milestone’.

Some people said that when they were experiencing severe distress they would make poor decisions about their health or struggle with basic housework, and their relationships could suffer. When she had stopped taking her medication, Helen, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said she couldn’t look after herself, stopped socialising, and spent ’18 hours a day watching TV’. Many people we spoke to had divorced or separated from their partners. When Ann came out of her last stay in hospital her husband told her he ‘couldn’t cope’ with ‘living with someone with a mental illness’.

Anna cares for her eldest son, but finds that she struggles with daily household tasks. She described how she felt ‘incapable of doing the most basic things’ when she made the decision to have electroconvulsive therapy.

Lisa described how she was prone to ‘excessive’ behaviour when she was in a ‘manic’ phase.

Several people we spoke to had experienced periods of homelessness. Some described short periods where they found themselves living in shelters or on the streets, whereas for others the period of homelessness was over a much longer period. As Gurvinder’s mental health deteriorated, he said he started to drink heavily. His mother made him leave the house and he ended up sleeping in a park for several nights before finding a homeless shelter where he stayed for six weeks. Ann was homeless for a short while when she was living in London and began to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol.

Chris was homeless for many years and didn’t want to get out of bed or shower. Eventually he was able to take ‘back [his] dignity’.

Some people described how they struggled to find happiness in their day to day life. A few people talked about how they couldn’t understand why they didn’t seem to be happy even when things seemed to be going well for them. Brendan said ‘I was working, I was married and had a child, was living in my own house… how could I not be quite happy?’ Anna, who was most recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said she tries not to think about the future and doesn’t know if she will ‘survive another cycle’ of ‘whoopee times’ and ‘crushing lows’. A few people, however, were positive about the future and were making ‘plans’.

Ann now has a ‘supportive partner’. She would like to start a family but is worried about coming off medication.