Real Hero: I am fundraising for the charity which saved my life
Nikki Byrne (29) from Fife says she wouldn't be here today without the mental health support Penumbra has given her
This summer I’m walking the last 300km of the Santiago Pilgrimage walk in Spain for the charity that saved my life.
When I was 16 I started self-harming at school. I was a typical 16-year-old struggling with learning about myself, my sexual identity, just typical stresses. I was never one to let out if I was angry or annoyed and self-harming was a way with dealing with it. It stopped for about a year but then my mental health rapidly deteriorated at the end of 2006 and depression hit. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours started creeping in to the point where I took an overdose at my work and was hospitalised for a few days. After that I was signed off work for a few months because I was so unwell.
I put me still being here today down to the support I received from the Penumbra Self Harm Project in Fife. In the early days of being unwell it was mainly Penumbra and my GP who were the core people who got me to a point where I could actually get support and use the support that was offered to me from others. I credit the charity being there and saving my life – and basically I just want to give back something so that other people can get the benefit of it as well.
I was never one to let out if I was angry or annoyed and self-harming was a way with dealing with it.
I’ve abseiled from the Forth Rail Bridge for Penumbra about three times but this time I wanted to do something different. I think the walk represents my recovery journey as no matter what support I’ve had around me, I’ve always had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and plodding on no matter whether I wanted to or not. It’s very symbolic.
The one-to-one support Penumbra gave me made the difference as did the coffee mornings they run for people who self-harm. I could really open up to the one-to-one support. They helped a lot with hope when I felt quite hopeless – they believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
In 2011 my psychiatrist suggested dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). It’s a talking therapy and it helps you learn more about yourself. I was lucky enough to go down to York for treatment at an inpatient facility and I was down there for a year. I came back up in 2013, eventually got my own place and I started being quite active promoting mental health awareness, mental wellbeing and telling my story to help others not feel alone and let them know that there is some sort of hope out there.
I now work for the Fife Self Harm Project as a peer support worker one day a week. I don’t do one to ones – there are two support workers who cover the whole of Fife doing them – but I organise a lot of the social activities we do, I also help promote self-harm and mental awareness and I help with training that they deliver.
It is such a needed service and I don’t think people value it enough so by doing the walk I just want to promote it as well.
I also want to get the conversation going about self-harming, suicide and mental health in general.
There needs to be more money for services. Because money is so tight quite often mental health is getting cut first. For example Penumbra’s Youth Project in Fife is ending. I know that the amount of support they give to pupils, staff and parents is huge. It gets people at a really early age so they don’t have to go through everything I went through. My fear is that with the cuts things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get better.
For those wishing to support Nikki's fundraising efforts donations can be made via JustGiving.