Mental Health Awareness Week: Sandy shares her self-care recovery story

We all struggle with body-confidence at times, and within a secure mental health hospital it can be difficult to focus on your physical self. Here at St Andrew’s we are proud of the expertise that our self-care body therapists bring to our patients. They promote positive body image, self-care and self-esteem, which is of vital importance to people’s recovery. Many of our patients’ mental health issues have been compounded by multiple factors including lifestyle, disability, history of abuse, obesity and self-neglect, all of which can be addressed with self-care therapy.

Here Sandy*, a female in our care, shares her story.

“When I was first offered a ‘beauty therapy’ session, I turned my nose up, thinking ‘I need to be more ugly, why would I want to see a beautician?’ I hated myself. For months I would turn down any offers of treatment, adamantly saying that I didn’t want to be ‘made pretty’. I didn’t want my nails painted or my eyebrows waxed and tinted. ‘Beauty therapy was for girly girls, not someone like me. I hated the way I looked, but also being so unwell I felt like I needed to look ugly.

For many months I avoided the fortnightly session and but got to a point that I desperately needed my toenails cutting. I asked nursing staff for help but they were not allowed to do it and a referral to podiatry would take months. I asked my mum to do them when she came to visit, but she wasn’t allowed to bring any sharps in, so I was left with one more option: the ‘beauty therapist’.

I went in the next time she was on the ward, timidly I asked her to cut my toenails. I have extensive scarring on my legs following an accident so when she rolled my trousers up away from my foot I panicked. I didn’t want anyone to see. However, Vicky just smiled at me, carried on as if there was nothing wrong, and continued to cut my nails. When she was done with the first foot she stopped and then she asked ‘would you like a foot massage?’ Ashamed of my scarring I politely refused.

The fortnight after, when asked if I wanted to see the therapist I said ‘yes please’. The idea of a foot massage actually really appealed to me. The treatment was better than I had imagined, my foot massage became a regular thing.

A few weeks down the line, Vicky gently touched my scarring and said ‘I can help you with this’. She spoke to me in depth about something called camouflage make-up and offered me an extra and extended session for her to show me what it was like. I was curious; if she could make the scaring invisible then sure I’d give it ago.

The camouflage make up was weird, it felt sticky on my skin and despite the make up making the colour of the scars all blend into one, the scarring was still visible to me as lumps and bumps and to me the makeup made my legs look unnatural and I didn’t like it. I was grateful for the chance to try the camouflaging but decided it wasn’t for me.

I continued to attend self-care therapy sessions and having foot and lower leg massages, becoming comfortable with the therapist seeing my scarring, and enjoyed how relaxed I would feel after treatment. It made a change to how stressed I normally felt.

As part of my illness and in states of stress and despair I had pulled out a significant chunk of my hair. In fact more than half of my head was bald with just a few tufty sticky up bits, so I would cover my head with a bandana. One day Vicky said to me that she thought that perhaps I would like to try a different type of massage. I was willing to give it a try. This was the first time she offered me an Indian Head Massage. ‘This will stimulate your hair to grow back as well as help you to relax’ she said. I was hooked from day one! The feeling of someone’s hands running through my hair, of someone deeply massaging my shoulders, tapping her fingers on my scalp, patting my back with cupped hands, massaging my hair and head. It feels so nice. My only problem was I never wanted it to end!

I now have an Indian Head Massage whenever Vicky comes to the ward. My hair has now grown back, it is thicker than before, the longest it has ever been. It looks pretty!

This is a huge deal for me. Being so unwell for such a long time I didn’t want to ever look pretty, I wanted to be invisible. Now however, I am so much more confident. I enjoy people complimenting me on my appearance and I no longer hide behind a bandana. If it wasn’t for Vicky being persistent in offering me treatments then I may still be sat with a bald head. Her massages relax me so much and just coming away from the ward for 15 minutes once a fortnight has helped me massively, too. I really value the time Vicky has given me to help me learn to respect and appreciate myself and can’t wait for my next massage.”

*Sandy is a pseudonym.