“Everyone has at occasional times bursts of sanity.” A wry comment from Val who has suffered from depression for years but knows that the ways out might start with Timebank or your GP…
“When you know you are on the way down, don’t wait till you hit rock bottom, go to see your GP before things get really bad…” that’s the advice from 61-year-old Val (Valentine) who has found the resources that are right for him to overcome years of depression…
Val’s depression became severe after his mum died in 2005 (he had been caring for her since 1987 after a traffic accident. His dad died in 1980). Val’s heart attack a few months later laid him low. “It was not a nice place to be, I just switched off,” he says. “The only time I went out was to go to the post office to get my money, to do my shopping and then back home.”
Those dark days turned into two lost years; a shocking realisation for Val looking back today on a life rich in experiences, which have proved his resilience and tested him to the limits. In 1970 while on a “jolly”, serving with a Royal Air Force ground crew, he was forced to land a light aircraft after the pilot was struck in the face with a lump of plastic following a bird strike. “Once we were down and landed I got out and did a Pope John Paul (kissed the ground), ” he says nonchalently, “luckily I’d had a few flying lessons.”
Tragically a year later his fiancé, also serving in the RAF was killed in a plane crash and Val’s life spiralled out of control and he was forced to leave the service.
But in 1973 he got back to work as head porter with the Royal College of Surgeons and over the years took on other jobs (ironmonger’s, motorbike messenger , and searching for oil on a seismic survey).
Later he became a guard for London underground; a job he sustained for more than 14 years until he was sacked for smoking (cigarettes) on board his train back to the depot. “To this day my body is still switched into the shift system I was working,” he says.
Ask Val what helped bring him out of the darkest moments after his mum’s death and he can pinpoint his recovery journey.
A doctor who made a referral. A support worker – who got me to a mental health team, Fluoxatine (an anti-depressant) and most importantly Timebank.
“I went to the Clapham Park Timebank in 2008; Timebank is very important in recovery. I went to the meetings and there were social events to the theatre and Lambeth country show… There was no stigma; we were all in the same boat, we all had similar experiences.”
As his life was renewed Val joined Vital Link, a group of carers and those in mental health services working to help redesign mental health services in Lambeth. He was a Vital Link representative in the crucial embryonic days of the Lambeth Living Well Colloborative. “I didn’t say much, but what I did say was listened to,” he says. He also found out about Green Routes, a charity refurbishing computers, “a nice place to travel to.”
Equally important, through Vital Link, Val was able to explore his childhood fascination with science and the stars joining the Camden Amateur Telescope Societyy (CATS), helping to build a telescope and buying his own.
Val has been to hell and back… he recently endured another heart attack but was “mentally in a far better place”, and has found the strength within himself and with the right support to move forward. He knows also how stigma around mental health can hold people back. “If you ask around those that use services you might find a common detestation of authority, because it’s about a loss of control…The moment you get anyone else involved you are losing control of a part of your life; it’s the reason why people with mental health issues resist.”