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‘It robs you of your identity – people only see the illness’

This article originally appeared in the South London Press on 17/10/16.

Lambeth and Southwark Mind have teamed up with local news teams South London Press and London Weekly News to launch the Change Is Possible mental health campaign. In the latest of a series of interviews with Londoners whose lives have been affected by mental health problems, reporter Jack Dixon meets former librarian and massage therapist Anne Preston.
Anne Preston was 50 years old when she suffered a manic breakdown, soon after the end of a long-term relationship. She found her behaviour becoming increasingly erratic, she was on edge and struggling to sleep at night. One day she phoned a garage and purchased a car she could not afford. She spent several months recovering in hospital.
Anne had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which meant she found it difficult to control her mood – swinging from extremely depressive episodes to moments of elation and joy.
But for large parts of her life, despite her mental health problems, she did not appear different to anyone else.
Sometimes Anne would go for years or even decades without experiencing distress. But her difficulties could resurface suddenly and were often triggered by stressful situations.
“It’s like the phoenix rising up from the ashes,” she says. “You have to rebuild your whole life again.”
Anne, now 72, spent much of her life working as a librarian, including an eight-year spell at the Springfield University Hospital in Tooting.
Serving mental health patients on a daily basis, it was here that she began to appreciate the complexities of schizophrenia, bipolar, anxiety, phobias and personality disorders.
“That was a real learning curve,” she adds. “It was old-fashioned then, there were a lot of wards with elderly people on them and anyone could walk in.
“They would come and talk to me. I am a people person, I want to know what made them tick, why they have ended up in this situation.”
Anne later trained as a reflexologist and ran her own practice in Sussex before moving back to Streatham, where she now lives.
When she reprised the business in south London she found that people with mental health problems enjoyed coming to her for massage and other forms of complementary therapy.
For Anne, it was rewarding to allow other people to emotionally unload during these sessions.
“People often wanted to talk because they felt relaxed when they were having their feet massaged. They would open up and tell you quite deep stuff and get quite emotional.
“I thought the most important thing was for people to have the opportunities to have that treatment.”
Having gone through her own mental health cycle of treatment-recovery-normality several times, Anne has mastered a series of brain training techniques that have worked for her over many years.
In an effort to help others afflicted by mental health problems, she has now committed them to text in a new book, Butterflying.
Everything from painting and music to yoga and the benefits of regular exercise are explained in the book, which Anne says can serve as a self-help guide for others in crisis.
“The most awful aspect [of mental illness] is that it robs people of their identity,” she says.
“People only see the illness, they do not see the real person behind it. What is the personality and what is the illness?
“I have strong Christian beliefs and that has carried me through a lot of my difficult times. The book is really a list of things that have helped me get on the road to recovery over many years. I want to offer my help to sufferers from any type of mental illness to give them hope that it is possible to recover.”
Butterflying: A Pocket Book for Mental Health, is available now priced £5. For more information and to obtain a copy, contact Anne Preston on 0203 609 7825 or email her.

Posted on: 17th October 2016

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