Personal reflections on sharing - Penny Arnold

photo of Penny ArnoldSome reflections of sharing my story

Here are some reflections of the benefits and challenges I found whilst creating and sharing my life story.


  • Liberating - this is MY story
  • Part of my ongoing healing process
  • Therapeutic to explore and reflect on different parts of past experiences
  • Helped to clarify some of my experiences and choices, and have new perspectives
  • Enabled me to see myself and my life in new ways
  • Helped me to think through where I am on my recovery journey
  • Helped me to think through the different strands of my recovery and have information all in one place
  • Part of moving on and putting some of my experiences behind me
  • Postive, life affirming, reminded me of past achievements and skills
  • Helped me to think about things I would like to do in the future
  • Positive to 'reframe', put things in my own words, take things away from medicalised clinical notions.


information pictureBeing overwhelmed
I have found some of my story difficult to condense. I definately had to be in the right frame of mind. I have an enormous collection of artwork, poetry, journals, photos and have got quite lost in it. At times it's felt overwhelming. For some people the opposite may be true, and the lack of records/photos might require other creative ways to represent life events.

Trying to make sense of what's happened
Trying to find meaning from the past can be very helpful but sometimes things don’t fit easly into a straightforward story. Often I find things don’t make sense or follow neat paths, and trying to find meaning from life's experiences and events can be difficult.

Being in the right time and place
Sometimes it wasn’t a good time of day or week to be working on my story. Being in the right place emotionally was important, and if I wasn’t it would have quite a negative affect on my mental health. I find the same is true for the process of sharing my story with others.

Considering the emotional impact of sharing
Sharing my story or narrative can make me feel off balance, perhaps not at the time of sharing but afterwards, when a person is attentive, interested, easy to talk to and asks questions. Occasionally I have shared or revealed far more to a stranger than I have done to anyone before.

This can have quite a negative affect on me. I can feel awkward and regretful, and think, "Oh dear, I've said too much. What must they think ? Did I really feel that way when that happened to me,or is that just how I feel about it now?”

Sharing parts of my story has been known to open up new ways of looking at the past that perhaps I hadn't really thought through, and am not always in the best of places to deal with.

Impact on listener
Hearing for the first time what someone has been through, can have a large impact on the listener. The listener's reaction can have an impact on the person sharing their story, as well as on others in the room.

Reminder of past
The memory of using mental health services and the feelings associated with that can be difficult - the feelings of loss of power, lack of control and options, and the loss of liberties.

For me, it was also a reminder of a more difficult and unhappy time. This can feel positive, when things have moved on or when I was in a good emotional place, but often it's felt too close to a present feeling.

Finding the right words to describe myself has been a challenge since my first admission onto an acute ward, particularly when trying to articulate my narrative. I struggle with terms that gets used such as Service User, Manic Depressive, Mental Health Problem, Mental Illness. When asked to describe myself in terms of my experiences of the mental health system, I tend to opt for 'person who has used mental health services' or say 'I have a diagnosis of....' I try to avoid labels and descriptions wherever possible.

In working through my life's narrative I've found it helpful to think of all the labels I've ever had, ranging from excema sufferer to Aunty and allotment holder. Compiling a very long list has helped me gain some perspective on the 'mental health service user' label as just one of many others I have accumulated.


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