My experience at Willow Farm has genuinely been life changing. Before I moved to Willow, I was in various mental health hospitals around the UK for almost 3 years. I had been in a very dark place for a very long time and I couldn’t see a way out. I was struggling with multiple different things and found the majority of day to day tasks difficult. I also had no confidence within myself and I struggled a lot with meeting new people, being in new situations and environments, and trusting people. I had limited contact with family and friends and often felt isolated and alone.
When I moved to Willow Farm in 2017, it was the closest I’d lived to my home town in years. It was comforting to know that I would be living in an area that is more familiar to me, as oppose to living hours away from my home, however I was still utterly terrified about the massive change that was about to occur. Something I found very helpful when I first moved in was how welcoming all the staff were. Being moved from hospital to hospital, you tend to find that you’re treated as a number as oppose to an actual person, whereas this was definitely not the case here. The staff took their time to get to know me to find out what would help me settle in, and they seemed to show a genuine interest into my life which I hadn’t had in such a long time. I was supported into focussing on the positives in my life, and my strengths and abilities, rather than my weaknesses and struggles which for so long had defined who I was. As I got to know the staff, I was able to share my interests and build up on skills that both myself, and the staff members were interested in. This was a massive turning point for me as it not only helped with my confidence, but also helped me build up a relationship and trust between me and staff which was something I usually found incredibly difficult.
I was able to engage in various different activities whilst at Willow Farm which helped me with my transition back into the community. As I had been in hospital for such a long time, I felt segregated from society. I felt as if I had missed out on too much of the ‘real’ world and I would never be able to get my life back on track. The staff at Willow Farm put in a lot of effort to ensure that this was not the case and that I was able to fulfil the life I wanted. I was supported to able to get back into education, rekindle difficult family relationships that I thought were beyond repair, work on my own independence skills, massively reduce my risks and increase my coping mechanisms, as well as build up on my social skills and minimise my anxiety when going out. I was able to do all of this at my own pace so that it would not become too overwhelming for me, but the staff were there for when I needed that extra bit of encouragement to step out of my comfort zone and overcome particular challenges in my life.
Willow Farm supported me to achieve many incredible things. I completed numerous AQA’s and developed my educational and independence skills. I was able to engage in a lot of baking which has now progressed into a small business. I was able to complete my driving lessons, pass my tests first time and buy my own car. I was able to go to places and events which I had always wanted to visit such as Leeds festival, Manchester Christmas Markets, Brighton, visiting my friends in Northampton and my Grandma in Windsor, and go to a few concerts etc. I was able to arrange a Macmillan Coffee Morning and raised over £100 for the charity. I was able to talk about and work though some of my struggles, and learn to ask for and accept help when I need it which has had such a positive affect on my mental health. I was able to go from feeling completely hopeless and not wanting to go out or speak to people, to getting up each morning and filling my day with different activities and interacting with different people, so that I could make the most of every day.
When it came to leaving Willow Farm, a few issues arose as different external people wanted different outcomes for where I would be living. This was quite unsettling for me as there was a lot of uncertainty and I had a different opinion to some of the professionals involved in my care and I did not feel that their decisions were in my best interests. Willow Farm supported me through this and reassured me that they would not allow me to go somewhere that was not suitable for me, and they would ensure that my transition would be as smooth as possible. This made me feel a lot more at ease and despite the disagreements with my external professionals and the difficulty it caused, with support I was able to stand up for what I felt was best for me and I got the best outcome I could have wished for.
One of the things I will be forever thankful for is the fact that no one ever gave up on me. Even in some of my lowest moments, when things weren’t going well and I felt like I was back at square one again. The staff at Willow Farm would always support me through it, no matter how hard it got. I have never felt so supported and cared about in my whole life, not even from my own family, and I cannot put into words how much that meant to me and helped me through my darkest times. The constant reminders of all the progress I had made, and always putting the focus onto the positives of the situation made such a difference to me as it gave me hope when I needed it the most. I am now a much stronger and resilient person and feel more able to cope with difficult situations as I now have the skills and resources to do so.
Since leaving Willow Farm in 2019, I have been able to independently live a life that I could only dream about a few years ago. I am settled into my own flat, which I have decorated to my own preference. I have sorted out all my own bills and have not missed a payment since being here. I have two beautiful cats who provide hours of entertainment and company. I have an amazing group of friends who I am able to go out and socialise with whenever I want to, without feeling overwhelming anxiety that used to prevent me from doing what I wanted to do. I have a partner who loves and accepts me for who I am, despite feeling for years that I am too much of a burden for anyone and feeling like I am unloveable. I am able to see family as and when I want, and on my own terms, as I have now learned to be able to speak up when family contact becomes detrimental to my mental health. I have continued with my baking business and have been getting requests and carrying out cake orders. I have been on holiday to Barcelona with my sister, which is the first holiday I’ve had abroad in over 7 years. I used to do some volunteering when I first moved out, however I didn’t have a very good experience with some of my colleagues and the way they behaved towards me. This majorly knocked my confidence and begun to turn what should’ve been a positive thing into a negative. However instead of giving up, I stuck at it, despite how hard it got, until I found something else which was more suitable for me. This was because I didn’t want to sit around in my flat all day doing nothing as I knew it would not be good for my mental health. That pure determination to do well and stay on track has stemmed from living at Willow Farm as I was always being encouraged to keep going even when things are difficult. I now have paid work which I found myself, and I absolutely love. I am a carer for the elderly which is incredibly rewarding as I feel like I am making a positive difference to peoples lives in the way that the staff at Willow Farm did for me.
I am genuinely shocked at how much I have achieved over these past 2 years. I have worked through and overcome things which I never thought was possible. I am able to cope on my own the majority of the time, and when I can’t, I now feel able to ask for help. I am able to go out, do the things I want to do, and live the life I want to live without the burden of mental illness pulling me back. I now have the confidence within myself to be able to proudly say that I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I feel able to live life to the full, and I want to live life to the full. The difference in me as a person today, compared to a few years ago is unbelievable and I am so proud of how far I’ve come. I have come to realise that things do get better if you’re determined to make them better and have the right support around you, which luckily I had whilst at Willow. I now enjoy living my life and that something I never thought I’d say. I honestly could not have done it without all of the support and encouragement that I received at Willow Farm. All of the staff that work there deserve so much praise because as I said at the start of this, Willow has genuinely changed my life for the better and I will be forever grateful for that.
* Stock image for illustrative purposes only