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Aashni’s Story: Finding A Place to Call Home

… the minute I stepped in, I felt like I came home… like I belonged here.

I’m an Indian, a 21 year old female, also a daughter, sister, friend, and student, volunteer, aspiring therapist, moreover an anxious soul. Diagnosed with anxiety and depression at 13, I had absolutely no idea of what mental health was, neither did my family. It took some time to understand the basics, but over the years, with the help of medication and therapy, I started living a ‘so-called normal life’. But one must think, my condition was all in the past…well, it stayed with me, deep inside. It was just looking for a chance to return.

The bouncing back happened when I moved to the UK a year ago to study for my Masters. I was 20 then and had never lived alone, away from home. I was in a strange city with strange faces, around people speaking in a strange accent. SCARY! And let’s not deny the pathetic all-time gloomy weather! I found myself getting anxious day-by-day, and I eventually developed obsessive-compulsive symptoms. I would take ages to have a bath, wash utensils or to read a sentence in my book. If I felt I hadn’t done anything properly, I feared something terrible would happen; hence, I kept doing things again and again. Luckily, I was studying psychotherapy, and I knew when to seek help. But unluckily, there was no help around. The NHS had a three month waiting list, and my University had a two month waiting list. I was tired of explaining it to people that I needed immediate help, and I had no support around. I did eventually get therapy from University, but that was just a few weeks of CBT. I still felt lonely, homesick and anxious.

That’s when I discovered Manchester Mind. I started attending a peer support group I read about on their website as a volunteer. I still remember the first time I went there, absolutely no idea of what I was getting into. It changed my life. One might find the concept of sitting in a circle and sharing your deepest truths to strangers weird and awkward. But that was not the case; the minute I stepped in, I felt like I came home… like I belonged here. It became my family away from home.

Peer support is a space for me where I can be my true self without having the fear of judgement or without worrying about how others might react. There is something beautiful about being your own raw self around strangers. The support I got from other members of the group changed the way I viewed myself or life situations. At the same time, I learnt so much from the experiences of others and had the privilege of listening to people from varied backgrounds/ages; peer support got all of us together and acted as a connecting bond. At times my friends or family wouldn’t understand what I was feeling, but the group members knew exactly how I felt and what to say to me. It has helped me tremendously in my recovery. I don’t see myself not attending the group now. It has become my support system and my rock, keeping me stable in the chaos outside. Peer support for me is non-judgement, support, connection, stability, positive mental health…and home.

Along with peer support, Manchester Mind has given me so much over the past year, and I am more than grateful. I now facilitate the peer support group at Hulme. I am also a mental health ambassador for Manchester Mind’s Children and Young People’s Service. As a volunteer, I have received tremendous training opportunities, and I have found myself to have grown so much. A good example of this would be an 8-week Mindfulness course that I got the opportunity to participate in. I am also currently working with National Mind as part of a peer support event this November.

Manchester Mind has opened doors for me and has had a huge positive impact on my mental health. It has given me tools for my well-being. I believe I enjoy volunteering here because of the values the organisation holds, a person-centred approach, particularly. The organisational ideals resonate with my belief system. Manchester Mind sees individuals beyond their mental illness, and every employee shows acceptance and care. It has been there for me, in the most challenging time I’ve had in the UK and it continues to do so for many more individuals like me who are lonely, struggling with their mental health, and are just looking for somebody to listen.

As for me, I have now completed my Masters and am going on to study a Doctorate this January. I still do get anxious occasionally; however, I feel like I’m better equipped to deal with it. I practice yoga and mindfulness every day in the morning, which allows me to start my day with a boost of positive energy. I practice deep breathing in moments of panic or take a walk outside. I have started looking after my own well-being, and I am also learning to be increasingly self-compassionate.  I no longer feel lonely here and have found the best friend within. After a long time, I am comfortable in my own skin. If you’re struggling with anxiety, I would like to tell you one thing… you are stronger than the fear that is preoccupying you. Do more of what makes you happy, practice self-care, and surround yourself with people who love you. Take one step at a time; it’s a process…a process which requires you to be kind to yourself.

Find out more about our Peer Support Groups here

I no longer feel lonely here and have found the best friend within.