Stuart's story

190219 Cambs StuartCoolingcompanionart

"I had a difficult childhood which still affects me now and has led to a life-long battle with social anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At 18, I became homeless after being evicted and lived on the streets of Essex for three years. I was in a bad way and the people I hung around with weren’t good for me. At the time, I thought I needed to belong to a group to get by, but they only caused me more trouble and I regularly used drugs and alcohol to cope with my life on the streets.

I got off the street after a friend offered me a place to stay and worked as a butcher for a number of years and then as a bin collector in Sheffield and Cambridge. During this time, I made a life for myself - I had a stable job for many years, a wife, three children and three grandchildren. But my mental health was still a constant struggle and eventually it all became too much and I began to spiral. My wife and I separated, and I ended up being committed to a psychiatric hospital. Before being discharged, the staff put me in touch with Emmaus Leeds, where I went to after leaving the hospital. I didn’t settle in Leeds as I was away from my family and friends and all I wanted was to be closer to them. Luckily, I was able to move to Emmaus Cambridge and life is looking up now.

My first impressions of Emmaus Cambridge have been brilliant. I love it here – everyone is welcoming, and I felt accepted into the community straight away. I know if I have any concerns or worries, I can speak to any member of staff and know I’ll be listened to. I get to see my children and grandchildren regularly, and my ex-wife too, who I have remained good friends with despite our separation. I like seeing them so often, and when I’m more settled I would like my children to come visit.

I love the way the community is run too, and I’ve been given the opportunity to work in all areas of Emmaus Cambridge. There’s a good variation of work which we all take turns in doing and I like this as it never gets boring. My favourite area to work in is on the vans doing house clearances and collecting furniture donations as we get to be outside and see different parts of Cambridge.

I am well supported here by the staff and other companions and continue to get support for my mental health issues. I am now waiting for treatment for my PTSD, and with the help of Emmaus Cambridge I hope to come to terms with my past and move forward. Once I feel ready, I plan to take up some of the other opportunities Emmaus offers and will have driving lessons funded by the Companion Training Fund, which grants companions money for training and educational courses. Emmaus Cambridge are also helping me apply for a passport, which means I will be able to go to France and visit some family and hopefully some other Emmaus communities too.

I have started to really focus on my art since being at Emmaus Cambridge. I have been drawing since I was a child and it has always been something that has helped me throughout my mental health issues. Unfortunately, an accident which resulted in losing my thumb meant that I had to teach myself how to write and draw again – something that took 10 years to do but was worth it as I’m loving being able to draw again. If I’m feeling anxious or stressed, I will put my headphones in, listen to music, and draw. I never plan what I draw, but usually start with a template and base it on how I am feeling to express my emotions. I try to bring my finished pieces to life too and when they are looked at under a UV light they look like they are moving.

With the help of Emmaus Cambridge, I’m looking into getting my artwork printed on t-shirts and canvases and we will be selling them at our Saturday market stall in Ely. I will be helping with this and hope to see what it would be like to have my own market stall in the future.

Being at Emmaus Cambridge has hugely increased my confidence. I talk to more people now than I’ve ever done in my life and I feel more comfortable and free to do so. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even do this story, but I now feel confident enough to share it and maybe it will help someone else struggling with social anxiety or mental health issues."