It was a beautiful sunny day when we sat down with Mylène (right) for coffee in the garden of her South Norwood flat.
“I said to the council, all I need from a flat is to be less than two-stories up and some fresh air. This is perfect!”
She moved there in December 2021, after five years at Crocus House, an Evolve service in Croydon. Before that, she had been in hospital.
“I had been working as an accountant but was made redundant. I did some temping which was horrible, and it was difficult to find a good-fitting, respectable job. I found it difficult to find work, and eventually ended up with 25p in my purse. I remember one day thinking ‘this is it, I can’t go on like this, I’m finished’.
I didn’t realise I was depressed. It’s a horrible experience: you hate yourself and you wonder why, and then your mind makes up reasons. I had suicidal thoughts, which turned into actions which left me in hospital. My children were beside themselves when they heard and came to visit, but it still took me time to realise that there was an issue.”
Mylène was in hospital for two weeks, half of which was spent in Bethlem psychiatric hospital. For three months, she then lived in a women-only service which was part of the hospital, before she was connected to us and took a room at Emily House.
“The first few months were difficult. I shared a flat with someone and we had very different ways of living. I had lost a lot of my social skills and many people there were much younger, so I didn’t bond with many people. After a while I got a studio at Crocus House, which was much better.
The staff were great – always hands-on. I had two key workers, the first of whom in particular was unbelievable. I remember they came to my flat once and saw that I hadn’t done any washing. They knew that was unlike me, and gently connected me to someone who I could speak to for further help. I was down, and they took it on themselves to contact people for me.”
Mylène stayed at Crocus for five years, in which time she worked on understanding her depression, its effects and it’s causes, all the way back to her childhood in Lebanon.
“Early on I asked someone to explain my depression. They said that it’s personal and that no-one can define it or give it a title for you. It’s up to you to find out. They asked me to keep a diary; not of current things, but as far back as I could remember. I lived through the war in Lebanon and found myself writing about things from years ago. It was a real eye opener.
I realised how the war affected me, but also things with my family and my wider life. This helped me to start making sense of my depression, and begin to accept it. That diary made me see things differently. I realised depression wasn’t something new, and it had even been there when I thought I was happy. I realised Mylène can be several different people.”
She also discovered a new talent, which has made a big difference in her life.
“Painting is like therapy. When I do it I manage to put everything else aside, and forget. It’s like painting and depression just don’t go together.”
Ultimately, she left Evolve and moved into her current flat, which was arranged through Croydon Council. She is painting regularly, and even lends her art to lots of the publications we produce at Evolve, which means she stays in touch with us.
“The team were very helpful with the practical side of things when I moved, and during covid they spoke to me and checked in a lot. I’m very grateful and I owe them a lot.
I’ve basically transformed the flat into an impromptu art gallery, and even managed to create a little studio in it as well.
Everyone’s path is different. I don’t know how long depression will be with me for and I still have very difficult times, but there are things to look forward to, and I am where I need to be.”