“Mustard Tree has given me an environment where I can feel understood in a lot of ways. It’s given me my interest back in my life again…to have that is huge”.
Mark has always lived with bipolar since he was a teenager and when he came to Mustard Tree, he had struggled long-term with unemployment and his confidence was very low. He didn’t feel he had anyone to turn to. But after starting creative classes at Mustard Tree last September, he feels much more able to cope and is being supported in his wellbeing goals to use his mental health experiences to help others.
“As a teenager I was just marked off as being unruly, mental health was looked at completely different then. I remember a few bad episodes when I got older saw psychiatrists and was put on medication – anti-depressants which don’t work they only take you up and make it worse. My family at the time didn’t understand, they just said I was ‘acting out’.”
“In my life, I’ve lost count of how many jobs I’ve had and lost. I used to drive for a living, do manual jobs. As I got older it became more difficult. I lost jobs because I couldn’t turn up and found myself out of work. It’s a self-destructive cycle. I feel I missed out on a lot of stuff in my life, missed opportunities. It knocks onto your self-esteem which I don’t have a lot of and that’s hard to deal with.”
Mark was signed off sick and was no longer working, when his advisor at the Job Centre suggested he try volunteering at Mustard Tree on our Freedom Project. When he first joined, his moods were suffering.
I had an interview with them going through with different things and they came up with the Mustard Tree, as something good for me to get out and get interested in something again. I didn’t really know what to expect, I was nervous about how I’d be treated. At the time I came to MT, I really wasn’t doing very well my moods were moving a lot – I wasn’t functioning.”
The Freedom Project is a way for people to take on meaningful volunteering opportunities alongside classes to teach skills and explore creative expression. Having these experiences helps to build confidence
“At first, Mustard Tree asked me to do four mornings a week. I tried but I couldn’t do it, it spun me out of control. As a new thing in my life it was too much and I had to stop. I thought ‘all I’m doing is standing in a charity shop and I can’t even do that’. It was so demoralising.”
At Mustard Tree, almost half of our volunteers report having a mental health problem. We strive to be as inclusive a space as possible. The Freedom Project is person-centred and focused on supporting the individual towards their goals – we believe in giving as many chances as necessary to give opportunities for progress whether towards work or health and wellbeing.
With bipolar, there’s times when I’m down and I withdraw and isolate myself as a defence mechanism to push away things that I can’t deal with, but that tends to be everything. I end up isolated in a big black box. One day I can sit and work on an art piece, next day I can’t even make a cup of tea. I don’t feel like I have a middle ground it’s like being 3 or 4 people. When I’m having those times, at Mustard Tree I have somewhere to go with likeminded people in a safe environment, otherwise the consequences of isolation can be devastating.”
“I sat down with the team and sorted out something more suitable for me but I really wanted to do something, so I went down to just doing art classes. I did drawing and art has always been a part of my life since I was a child. In the sense of my condition to say its therapeutic to me its true. It keeps me calm and my mind on one thing, which is really hard for me. It’s like being asleep not having a constant speed in my mind. I really love abstract expressionism and doing relief work. It’s a freedom thing – freedom of movement, freedom of my mind. I felt they actually listened and understood didn’t judge or try and make me change. They shaped what I needed to fit me when my whole life I feel I have been trying to fill a shape I didn’t fit. It meant rather than give up, I stayed and I’m so glad I did.”
After a few months at Mustard Tree, Mark has increased in confidence and now feels more ready to share his experiences to reach out and help others. Recently, he was able to exhibit multiple artworks at Nexus Art Café in central Manchester for two weeks alongside other volunteers.
“Mustard Tree has given me an environment where I can feel calm, I can feel understood in a lot of ways away from what ‘real life’ is about. Life is often too much for me and I deal with it on my terms every day. It’s a very calming atmosphere. It’s given me that interest back in life and in art again, it’s a really big thing. Mustard Tree is teaching me that I can cope and I can do more gradually. My goal is to get involved with helping other people. My whole life experience has been selfish – I have to deal with my life on my own terms. I’ve always been like that and has cost me relationships and life opportunities etc.
If I could now use my experiences to help someone else and reach out because I know how difficult it is that would be amazing to me. If you have never experienced it you don’t have a full experience you can’t fully understand what it’s like so you are lacking – so to be somebody that could reach out and use my experience especially if its someone that can’t deal with it doesn’t understand what’s going on it’s a very lonely place. That’s what I would really love to aim to do. I would never have thought that I would be able to even consider that five/six months ago.”