Feast on your life

VB has recently joined Missing Link as a peer supporter on its new venture, working with those who are in transition from their community mental health team. Peer supporters are working with the Community Options (COT) and Primary Care Support Service (Pass) teams, sharing their lived experiences with people for up to 12 weeks in the community. 

Peer support is all about having somebody walk by your side who isn’t trying to fix you but just being there and empathising. While they may support you to do practical things, like sorting your benefits, the uniqueness of Missing Link peer support lies in the fact that those involved have lived experience of mental health. So just having someone to listen could be all it takes to start to turn your life around.   VB knows how this feels because when she was at a low ebb, it was linking with others in similar circumstances that changed her life.

VB praises Missing Link’s co-ordinator Lucas Teague, who has known her since she joined Vital Link and encouraged her to keep believing in herself. Vital Link worked to reshape mental health services and do things differently for people in Lambeth and Missing Link is its prodigy.  The encouragement has helped VB build on her skills. In  2012 she gained certificates in peer evaluation at Southbank University (Qualitative Research and the Advanced Qualitative methods and Vital Involvement in training and learning).

VB says her faith is her foundation and over the years she has built on that, always prepared to try new things to get her through the terrifying things that happened to her in 2004, which  created her mental health problems. After that, her GP referred her to a counsellor and from there she started attending Fanon Resource Centre (Certitude). She joined the women’s group, the choir and started to cook. She gained much from a New Beginnings course (Expert Patient Programme) to help her  cope with her depression. She started volunteering on a ward at Lambeth hospital as part of Fanon’s in-reach work,  thanks to the support of her key worker who walked by her side. ” I know how scarey mental health can be and I want to put something back; that’s why I go and and cook the breakfast every week. I am also cooking voluntarily at the new Living Well Partnership hub once a week, cooking is important to my culture and my recovery.”

Up until  June 2004  VB was happy, healthy with a bright future ahead.  She was born in Jamaica “before independence” and  has four grown up daughters and a son and grandson there. She had moved to England in 2002 and was studying for an NVQ in Health and Social Care.

 VB was living in Brixton and on that fateful summer’s day in 2004 she had popped in to see her friend in the local restaurant where she worked as a chef. Little did she realise that the events about to unfold would change her life forever.

She was enjoying her lunch and talking to her friend when suddenly two masked police officers burst into the kitchen carrying guns and wearing helmets and bullet proof vests.

“One of them pointed a gun in my face and said ‘get down’, says 56-year-old  VB. “I was extremely  frightened… He said something about a drug’s den and I had no idea what he was talking about.”

VB and her friend were made to lie face down; they were handcuffed with plastic ties and transported to Lewisham police station. VB asked the arresting officer for her bag, which had been left in the restaurant but the officer in charge told him to leave it.

The ordeal lasted 18 hours. VB was strip-searched and moved to Catford police station where she was held overnight. She was further traumatised as she had her period at the time. “It was disgraceful the way I was left in that  state in the cell,” she adds.

VB was released the next day without her bag and had to beg the bus fare back to Brixton (her bag containing her bus pass and keys has never been returned, though her mobile phone,  which was also in the bag has).

Looking back on her ordeal, VB says. “I was in shock, I couldn’t remember anything, my head felt like it was exploding. I stopped studying, I was depressed and threatened suicide.”

 The months that followed were agonising. At first VB refused to have a solicitor because “I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, I certainly hadn’t been involved in any criminal activity”. Eventually she changed her mind and after reporting to  Brixton police station several times with her solicitor,  she was told there would be no further action  taken against her. Although she made an official complaint against the police and got a letter back, which confirmed she had been in the  ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ , she Is unhappy about the outcome. The Home Office still holds her passport and she awaits a decision about her right to remain in the country.

VB is resolute that it was those who had lived experience of mental issues that got her through. She is proud as she feasts on her life and looks forward to becoming a peer supporter. “I  feel highly supported by the Collaborative group”, she says.

Karen Hooper

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