The sparkling eyes of Lanarkshire grandmother Jean Neilson hide the story of a woman’s long journey to recovery from serious mental ill health.
But for delightful, candid Jean – who is determined to banish the stigma surrounding mental health – it is a story of courage and eventual self-belief that her lips do not conceal.
Jean, who grew up in Perthshire, married in 1966 and had two children – Hazel and Alastair.
In the mid-70s, her marriage ran into trouble and by 1977 she was divorced.
Her sister, Rachael Richardson, rescued an emotional Jean and took her from Perthshire to her home in Motherwell.
Jean took a job in a Clyde Valley hotel. But she lacked concentration and was soon shown the door.
Soon afterwards, to her family’s alarm, a tormented Jean disappeared. She was missing for two days and eventually turned up in Kirkcaldy at the door of her brother, George.
“I ran away,” said Jean, who has no recollection of her fleeing from Lanarkshire to Fife.
“I fell out with my sister and my mother because I was ill. I landed up in Hartwoodhill. My sister, my mother and niece came to see me. I was on a drip and had not been eating. My sister told me: ‘You are in Hartwoodhill, Jean.’
“I had deep depression and I was crying all the time.
“It was horrible to feel like that.”
Jean was resident at the community psychiatric hospital for two years and speaks highly of the care she received there.
“It was very good. The staff were kind and understanding,” remembers Jean, now 72.
“There were plenty of staff back in those days.”
Jean was diagnosed with clinical depression and both her sister and medical staff thought it best that her two children, then aged 10 and seven, – who were being cared for by their father and his new partner in Perthshire – be kept away.
With the shift from institutional care to care in the community, Jean and two other patients were discharged from Hartwoodhill and moved into supported, furnished accommodation in Glasgow Road, Craigneuk.
“They started bringing people into the community and we were the fourth lot to get a house,” said Jean, who says her children appeared at her sister’s door, but – believing that Jean was not well enough to see them – she turned them away.
“Imagine leaving your two children. But if you have a mental illness, what can you do?”
After two years of sharing the community home in Wishaw, Jean was ready to live independently and moved to a bedsit in Leven Street to be near her sister.
“I had to get out of there because my nerves were getting bad again,” explained Jean who, after a two-year wait, was offered a flat in Motherwell’s North Lodge area where she still lives today.
She attended Equals Advocacy Partnership at Park Street, Motherwell, up to three times a week to help her structure her day.
The turning point in Jean’s recovery came when the John Thomson Voluntary Association for Mental Health offered her eight weeks’ work as a domestic.
To Jean’s delight, this led to Ebenezer Evangelical Church offering her a job as a night-shift carer for elderly people.
It gave her a sense of purpose and was a role she loved and held for 18 years.
“My children did come back into my life but they didn’t live with me, they just visited,” she explained.
“I remember Hazel coming down from Perth to see me for the first time. My sister was there and we met her off the bus at Hamilton bus station. We were all crying. I had lost my children through mental ill health and that was terrible. They understand now that I was not well.”
Around five years ago, Jean developed increasingly violent tremors and was diagnosed with incurable degenerative neurological condition Parkinson’s.
Keenly aware that key to Jean’s recovery from mental ill health was finding a sense of worth, Equals Advocacy service manager Brenda Vincent asked Jean what her goals were in life.
“I said to Brenda I’d like to go on a cruise,” declared the grandmother of three.
“So I did. I went with my daughter-in-law. We went to Cairo on the cruise ship and sailed down the Nile on a small boat and had lunch. The girls gave me a lovely dress and handbags and scarves.
“We went to Israel and my daughter-in-law took me in my wheelchair to see where Jesus looked out over Jerusalem,” said Jean, who goes with a friend every Thursday to Carfin Grotto for mass and lunch and has hopes of making the pilgrimage to Lourdes.
For the past seven years, she has attended the Parkinson’s Self Help Group, which meets in Wellwynd, Airdrie, every Thursday.
There, she was introduced to Parkinson’s carer, Rina Doyle, a dear friend who takes her to Motherwell town centre in her wheelchair every Saturday when Jean can indulge in her love of shopping.
Despite her failing health, resolute Jean remains determined to speak up about mental health and help others on the road to recovery and a fulfilling life.
She has shared her experiences, her highs and her lows, with uncompromising honesty, with delegates at seminars and conferences, and has starred in a number of documentary DVDs produced by Equals Advocacy to raise awareness of how it’s possible to recover from mental illness.
“There is nothing more powerful than a personal story to inspire people to get better,” said gentle Jean.
“My message is: you will get better. Push yourself and have a lot of faith in yourself and everything works itself out in the end.
“Look at me. Now, my life is magic.”
This content was originally published here.