Meg Lewis, an ambassador for Shared Lives Plus, experienced a traumatic childhood and spent many years in and out of hospital. Now living independently for the first time in her life with her dog Flower, she talks about the empowerment of finding her voice, and encourages others to use it.
I remember a time when I barely spoke more than a few words. I didn’t trust the ears they were falling upon. I remember days when I talked for pretty much 12 hours straight. Utter nonsense. High on adrenaline and anxiety. For a time my words were angry. My mentality: the best form of defence is attack.
Today my words come from my heart and I have never been so grateful and so proud to have a voice and to share it. I’ve learnt over the years that your voice doesn’t have to be the loudest – it just has to be kind and truthful.
For many years I felt unheard. Commissioners, managers and doctors determined my life. Where I lived, when I could go outside, what time I ate.
My voice felt insignificant.
I do remember the day I announced that I wanted to get better. It felt…good and when I was getting better I found Shared Lives after a lengthy online search one day. I took the information to my consultant, used my voice and told her, “This is what I want”.
And that is what I got. An amazing Shared Lives home with a brilliant carer, Hayley, who encouraged me to speak up, express myself and to stand up for what I believe in. Confidence came hand-in-hand with that.
I’ve been speaking to audiences about my mental health and my Shared Lives experience for a while now. I choose to speak up for several reasons, one of them being so that I don’t have to pretend that a large chunk of my life doesn’t exist. Yes, it wasn’t exactly pleasant but trying to pretend that it didn’t even happen created heavy dysphoria and dissociation.
Those years are a bit of a taboo subject in social settings and wouldn’t go down well with either beer or tea and cake, so speaking about my experiences at events gives me that platform to acknowledge those chapters in my life whilst at the same time helping the audience to understand things from different perspectives.
I want people with any sort of authority or means to influence decisions about people’s care to really HEAR my story and SEE how much Shared Lives has helped me to grow and FEEL how passionate I am about wanting others to be stood right here next to me because they found their voice.
I want people to find their voice because in finding mine I found my power and that’s a feeling that I want everyone to experience. I believe that when you reach a goal or milestone you should turn back around and help the next one in line.
To those of you out there with whispered voices, who blush when you try to speak, and those of you who use sign language and communication boards, what you have to say is important and valid and deserves to be heard: let’s speak up and help others to find their voice too 🙂