“I don’t think like other people. I have lived with severe anxiety for nearly 30 years. I don’t know what triggered it but one day I woke up with extreme worry, and despite support from mental health teams and my GP, I haven’t been able to shake it. It’s my way of living now, I have learnt to adapt in some ways but it’s a daily struggle to just do everyday things. I didn’t really leave my flat for ten years, I haven’t been able to work. I’m an ex pub landlady, so love to talk and am really sociable. That’s been one of the hardest things about my anxiety. It can be lonely.
When I had my first anxiety attack, I thought I was having a heart attack or brain haemorrhage, it’s that awful. I have had cancer and have COPD but it’s the anxiety that has affected me the most.
Last year, my GP suggested I talk to Charlie, a community connector (or Link Worker) because I was really struggling. I had bad neighbours and I wasn’t sleeping properly. My GP knows me well – I am often at the surgery – and could see my anxiety levels were high and it was affecting my physical health, I had blurred vision and chest pains because of the adrenaline running through my body. My GP said she couldn’t help me more than she was – I am already taking all the medicines I can, so she thought a ‘social prescription’ might be a good idea.
Charlie listens. And talks to me about my feelings. She also says it like it is, she questions whether what I’m anxious about is fact or in my imagination, this helps me process my thoughts to see if I’m over-reacting. She calms me down. And helps with practical things like my benefits. She’s a real star.
The coronavirus pandemic has really affected me, like it has for millions of other people. It’s been really intense. Having COPD meant I had to shield at the start of lockdown and because the virus symptoms are similar to COPD, I am constantly checking my pulse, oxygen levels and temperature. Charlie has been there for me, at the end of the phone throughout. I probably speak to her a couple of times a week.
Part of Charlie’s role is to connect people into the community, through different activities. I love painting and Charlie has suggested I join an art group. Obviously, we can’t meet face to face at the moment but a lady is going to drop some art things round for me to do at home. I’m best when I’m busy and I have something else to think about and do, so I’m really looking forward to that.
I’ve been volunteering at the charity shop two afternoons a week. I hadn’t been able to go for 5 months but have been back for a couple of weeks now. I’ve missed it. I love talking to people and I forget about my worries when I see the customers. I can’t wait until I can meet up with Charlie face to face for a coffee. But in the meantime, she’s helping me get a laptop, so I can join groups online too.
I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at living. I told Charlie I felt good yesterday. I haven’t said that in years.”
Charlie is a Community Connector (Link Worker), working as part of the Salford’s Social Prescribing offer, Wellbeing Matters. Wellbeing Matters is a Social Prescribing scheme where link workers work closely with volunteer development workers to meet the needs of a diverse population and address any gaps in provision in deprived communities.
Charlie said: “It’s been a real privilege to work with Janice and support her with trying to improve her mental wellbeing. Her bravery to deal with heightened anxiety every day astounds me. Despite everything she faces she always remains optimistic and open to trying new ways to improve her wellbeing.”
Social prescribing is available across Greater Manchester, helping people to connect with local support, community groups and activities that provide non-medical support for mental and physical health and wellbeing.