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Building bridges to a new life: Jon’s Big Life journey

Four years ago I stepped off a stool with a rope around my neck.

Before he called Living Well in Rochdale, Jon Henderson was battling depression, anxiety and low confidence. As a client, volunteer and  community builder with them he’s built himself a new life.

When I stepped off the stool, I felt I was a burden to everybody, I didn’t have a use, I didn’t have a place. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, I thought everyone would be better off without me and it was a bit of freedom from my own mind.

Fortunately the rope snapped.

I was referred into secondary services but there was no improvement, I was getting worse and attempted to take my own life another two or three times.

I went back to the doctor and as a last resort I was told to contact Living Well – they said it was a new service and I why don’t I give it a try. I was very sceptical but when you are at that point you are prepared to try anything.

At my first appointment with Ash a Living Well Coach, I wasn’t expecting much if I’m honest. I was suffering from anxiety and wasn’t even leaving the house. I’d go to my appointments but that was about it.

The first few sessions it was just me having a rant. It was only when I went to the third session that I realised, the first two sessions Ash had not tried to interrupt me, he just sat there and listened to me. It wasn’t 45 minutes of pencil pushing and typing up. He actually spent the full hour listening to me. I’d never had 100% attention off anybody before, before it was always 85% doing what they had to do and 15% how are you doing?

For the four or five weeks I was testing Ash and only opened up a little. What Ash would do at the end of every session was that he’d summarise the session so I knew he had been listening. Sometimes I may only have talked about rubbish, match of the day, this that and the other. But two weeks later he’d be saying ‘oh, did you watch match of the day’. So I knew that he had listened to what was interesting to me. It made me feel important. So after about five or six weeks I’d built a trust in him and felt ready to open up and see if I could get a bit of help with some of the stuff I needed help with. So I told him about all my problems, and I was very negative, everything he suggested I was saying no, no…and I don’t even know why.

After about 10 weeks, it got to the stage where he set me a goal. Because I lived across the road from a park, he said, ‘just walk to the park and back every day’. And I did. It’d take me 10 minutes.  And I started to enjoy it and then it got to the stage where if I didn’t, I needed that fresh air and it was something to look forward to every day.

What was different about the way Ash worked was everything that I seemed to be saying he could put a positive spin on. It was a totally different way of working. Because all your life you go to this service, you got to that service and they are all time limited and they are rushing you through. But the important thing is to have someone who will actually sit back and listen to you, then when they tell you what you have said you know they are actually listening.

He saw me a lot longer that perhaps he should have – but he saved my life.

Then Ash left and I was gutted and thought I’d regress. But after Ash I saw Sharon who is also a coach at Living Well and she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She saw that perhaps I was ready to get back into the community and being out and about people. So she introduced me to Danny, the volunteer coordinator, to talk about becoming a volunteer with Living Well. When I met Danny I was really nervous, I really didn’t know whether I could do it, whether I was ready for it, being out in the public. But I went out – with Ryan a health trainer and it was absolutely fantastic.

Now I was a volunteer.

Then a job came up to be a Living Well Community Builder. And even when I accepted the job wasn’t sure whether I was ready for it. It took me a few months to realise that what Living Well had actually done was that they had listened to me and recognised that I had the ability to do these things for myself.

Working here I’m are not telling people what’s wrong with them, I’m not telling people what they need to do, instead I listen to them and help people recognise what they have got inside, what they want to do and enable them to do it. Working in the community it’s got to be about what they want not what you want them to have or what you think they want. You are building bridges with people and then they are building bridges between themselves. That all starts with being listened to. Then seeing that everybody has a strength and allowing them to see this for themselves.