‘I love life and am excited for my future’: how Riley struggled with mental illness – and found hope and healing
For the past three years, Riley, who we support at SIL’s Croft House supported living service in Preston, Lancashire, has been on a journey that’s seen him turn from despair to hope for the future.
Riley’s in his twenties. He moved to Croft House in October 2020, after a lengthy, nine-month stay sectioned in hospital, during the height of the pandemic – the fourth time he’d been sectioned.
Before that, Riley had lived with his family, and then a hostel for the homeless.
Caption: Riley when he was sectioned in hospital in 2020. "I wasn’t sure how well I’d cope readjusting to the ‘real world’ after being in hospital so long," he says.
Recalling the words a hospital psychiatrist had said, Riley recalls: “He [the psychiatrist] told me I just need to accept I’ll never be stable and will be in and out of hospital for the rest of my life.
“Up to that point, I didn’t really have evidence he was wrong.”
“When I got to Croft House I still wasn’t sure I wanted to even be alive,” says Riley.
Riley had further concerns. He was worried, among other things, that staff at Croft House would treat him differently, as he is transgender. However, to his surprise, the team at Croft House were “amazing.”
To support Riley further, his Croft House support team advocated for him to get help from his Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), run by the local Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust.
However, despite the support from both Croft House’s support team and the local CMHT, Riley’s mental health would take a turn for the worse.
“I was trapped in a cycle of mania and depression,” he recalls.
“I was so anxious and had zero confidence in myself and lacked very little hope for my future… I was drained of life.”
With the psychiatrist’s discouraging words ringing in his mind, one night Riley decided to end his life. He decided to find a quiet, cordoned-off area near Croft House.
“As I’d walked out the gates, one of the staff noticed me leaving and knew something wasn’t right.”
After the support team member asked Riley if he was ok, Riley replied that he was fine and carried on walking.
By chance, the area Riley had planned to end his life was closed off that night. Riley decided to call the concerned member of staff back.
“I sat and talked with him for a bit. That night I cried and cried whilst he sat and listened to me.
“He then told me how there was hope and it could get better, how I can find more stability in my life, how I had all the staff in my corner and they would help me get through this. He persuaded me to give life one more go.”
Riley’s CMHT put him on a new medication. Whilst the medication built up to an effective level in his system, Croft House’s mental health team spent extra time with him, going on short walks together and encouraging him to clean and cook at his flat.
‘Hope for a better future’
Like many individuals who live with mental illness, Riley knows first-hand how self-care, patience, and growing step-by-step helps.
“A few months later I was doing much better in my mood,” he says. “I was feeling happy and for the first time in years I was starting to have a bit of hope for a better future. I felt fully supported and that I had a group of people in my corner who believed in me and my recovery.”
As he now felt better, Riley began to want to grow. “I started doing cooking lessons with staff, which I found really helpful and really enjoyed.”
While cooking with his support team, Riley enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship that comes with doing things together.
Due to Riley’s past experiences in non-independent settings, he didn’t know how to complete household tasks – which he’s since learned. His support team have taught him skills like cleaning, constructing flat-pack furniture, and basic home maintenance, such as changing a lightbulb.
“Before Croft House I had only ever lived with family, and then in a homeless hostel,” says Riley.
“So one of the great things about Croft House is we are supported to have our own tenancy which will help when I go on to live independently.”
As Riley began to grow in independence, he started to feel like he could take on an extra responsibility – Lyra, a white, black, and brown King Charles spaniel.
Riley’s dog “is my absolute world and has been extremely beneficial to my mental health.”
Caption: Riley's has built up a strong bond with his dog, Lyra, who can also be seen in this story's main image, at the top.
At one point at Croft House, Riley faced another relapse in his bipolar symptoms, followed by a depressive episode.
“For the first time, I managed to get through this with the support of the staff without ending up sectioned and in hospital. This was a massive achievement for me but I couldn’t have done it without that support.”
Riley’s proud of the fact that he has not been admitted to a mental health hospital at all since he was discharged in 2020.
“I can honestly say that’s because of the support I’ve had here,” says Riley. “I’ve learnt how to control my impulsive thoughts to harm myself better when I’ve been depressed and learnt much more healthy coping strategies and when I am having those thoughts I now ask for help.”
More than mental health
Riley doesn’t just battle with his mental health. He lives with Epilepsy, as well as Postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), which is when your heart rate increases very quickly after getting up from sitting or lying down.
Once his PoTS was controlled with medication, Riley was supported by his team to build up his fitness. However, due to his fear of fainting while working out, Riley has a staff member come running with him once a week – and he’s been building up his stamina.
Caption: Riley working out in the gym. "I started to build up a good amount of ﬁtness which in turn helped my physical health conditions," he says.
“I am now able to go to the gym multiple times a week during good periods with my health, which is really benefiting my mental health,” says Riley.
“I have also been supported and encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes and build healthy habits so I have now been able to quit smoking, eat less takeaways and junk food - the cooking lessons helped this as well - and start journaling and meditating and create a good routine for each day.”
Riley’s found that regular weekly sessions with his key support worker at Croft House have helped him set manageable, attainable goals.
“For example, I’ve had support to sign up to college, go to Pride and look into LGBTQ+ support groups, support to prepare for my uni interview, support to make calls and go to appointments for my physical or mental health and so much more,” Riley says.
“In the past when I would be physically or mentally unwell I wouldn’t get support from the GP or mental health services, as I would be too anxious and would just let myself become very unwell and would end up in hospital. However now I am supported to access that help early on and prevent myself from reaching a crisis.”
While in the past, Riley had to drop out of college twice due to his mental health, he’s now proudly completed his Level 3 extended diploma in Music Production & Technology.
Caption: Riley poses on the day of his university interview, 2023. "I’ve achieved so many goals and dreams that I never thought was possible," Riley says.
He also volunteers with Diversity Role Models - a charity that works to prevent bullying for young LGBTQ+ people, and plans to set up his own psycho-education & prevention mental health charity for young people.
“Most importantly I am finally happy,” says Riley. “I have so much more confidence and have learnt to love myself, I know how to cope in much healthier ways and have built healthy habits.”
“I have hope and excitement for my life and I’m so so grateful to be alive. Before Croft House and SIL, I believed all these things were impossible but luckily I was proven wrong. Even though I have had some relapses, I still have so much more stability in my mental health than I ever thought was possible.”
Riley sometimes thinks back to that night when a Croft House support team member persuaded him to give life another try. “He was right,” Riley says.
“When the day comes to leave and move on to total independence, I will use everything I’ve learnt here to continue to live a successful and happy life regardless of my diagnosis.”
It’s been so inspiring to support you to live a happier, more independent life, Riley!More news and events