Lucy was training to be a nurse when she was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. At 26 she brushed it off, but the impact soon caught up with her.

“I felt like I was standing on a cliff edge that was crumbling. I had an old boiler which exploded and flooded the house and that tipped me over the edge. I suffered in silence for a long time, but eventually I went to the doctor and said I couldn’t cope.”

As Lucy’s plans fell apart, her mum’s health began to deteriorate. Lucy’s mum had suffered a stroke at the age of 40, and Lucy became her carer.

Arranging the right benefits for Lucy’s mum was a long, hard fight, so even though Lucy would have been eligible for support as a carer, she decided to stay on Universal Credit rather than risk her mum losing out.

Between looking after her mum, meeting the job search requirements for Universal Credit, and managing her own mental health, Lucy’s life was isolated and relentless.

A year ago, Lucy began to work with our Wise Steps coach, Jo. Wise Steps is a partnership of local organisations led by the Wise Group, which aims to improve wellbeing and life chances.

Lucy, who is now 40, said: “When I first met Jo, I thought ‘another young un – that’s all I need!’
“But she talked to me, not at me, and by the end I thought ‘she’s quite canny.’

Lucy had ambitions to write, but when she’d mentioned her interest to other employment services, it was dismissed. With Jo, something different happened.

“It was good to talk to someone who thought my dreams were possible, and who didn’t disapprove. I’ve always liked writing, and wanted to do more, but others had told me I was being unrealistic. Jo was like ‘Ok, let’s do that’ and arranged for me to join a creative writing course.

“Jo encouraged me to be hopeful. She didn’t just stick a pin in my dream and let it sink. Hope floats.”

Lucy went on to complete three terms of a creative writing course at Norham Adult Learning Centre, in Percy Main, giving her some much-needed ‘me’ time away from the responsibilities of caring for her mum.

The course, and her ongoing work with Jo, boosted Lucy’s confidence and happiness.

“I’ve got more confidence, more self-esteem, and more awareness of what’s out there. You don’t always get the information you need, and when you don’t know where to look you can feel like you’re sinking.

“Because I’m not a loud person, people think I’m dopey, or that I don’t have any interests.

“On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I do everything for my mam. But I’ve started to have Thursday and Sunday for myself. It’s my ‘selfish’ time, nobody else’s. I don’t feel guilty. If I didn’t take that time my head would explode.”

As well as the creative writing course, Jo and Lucy also sought advice at Gateshead Citizen’s Advice Bureau, so that Lucy could make an informed decision about her benefits. Jo then set up a Women’s Wellbeing group, which Lucy attended. The group met to do activities together, to socialise and to build confidence.
On one trip they went to a pottery workshop.

Lucy said: “We were all there and quite focused. It was just nice to have people in the room just concentrating on what we were doing, then laughing and carrying on.
“Another time we went to a healthy eating café and that was quite funny. Two of the girls ordered fish and chips, but it didn’t look like what they were expecting at all!

“I’ve now met new people, and people in the same situation as me. Dealing with the DWP feels quite one-sided, you just do as you’re told, but with Jo it wasn’t so one-sided. She was flexible and she listened to me.
“She [Jo] opened my eyes to how much I was doing. I didn’t see I was putting so much onto myself. I began to see that I was a person, with needs, but I’d become a robot.”

Today, Lucy is far from being a ‘robot’. She cares for her mum, enjoys walking her dog, and hopes to continue with her creative writing this September.
Lucy said: “I’m just me. I look in the mirror now, and I’m happy with who I am.”

*Name has been changed