A 37-year-old who overcome anxiety, depression and drug use through learning has won a major award.
Jamie Evansâ€™ depression and anxiety saw him isolate himself from others, to a point where he would go weeks without human contact and was using prescribed drugs to medicate himself from the pain.
Now heâ€™s top of his class and planning his next steps at university, after finding that learning helped him cope with his mental health challenges.
Jamie was awarded with the â€˜Health & Wellbeingâ€™ award at this yearâ€™s Inspire! Awards, a recognition of his success and dedication to learning against the odds.
Co-ordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards reward those who have demonstrated the power of learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.
Jamie was awarded one of 12 awards which feature as part of Adult Learnersâ€™ Week, a week full of taster sessions and masterclasses aimed to inspire others to follow in their footsteps, which this year takes place online from 21-27 September.
He said: â€œI started suffering with anxiety when I was a teenager. I had health problems that were affecting me daily, which meant I was missing school, and thatâ€™s where it all began.
â€œI developed crippling anxiety and eventually stopped eating to combat the problem. I ended up losing six stone in less than a year, but this only made it worse.
Jamie was diagnosed with Chronâ€™s disease and his anxiety became a huge barrier, stopping him from working, socialising and seeing anyone outside of his home.
â€œAt my lowest, I wouldnâ€™t get out of bed, I wouldnâ€™t wash, I wouldnâ€™t eat. I wouldnâ€™t answer my phone when my family called, and I would make excuses when friends invited me out, so eventually they stopped asking. I had nothing to look forward to and I had lost all joy in life. I had been out of work for 10 years because of my anxiety, depression and my health problems, and I had no aspirations or plans for the future – I was just surviving day to day. I was miserable.
â€œI had been prescribed painkillers for the pain I was feeling but began relying on them more and more, and I started taking more and more because I was so unhappy.Â Eventually, when they werenâ€™t enough, I turned to stronger drugs and my problems really started to spiral. I was assigned a peer mentor through my substance misuse support worker.â€
There, he was given a leaflet about a 12-week Psychology course with Adult Learning Wales, run in partnership with New Horizons mental health charity, that was starting shortly, and he signed up.
â€œOn the first day, I stood outside the class for about 20 minutes looking at the door, terrified to go in. My anxiety was though the roof, I felt sick and I almost turned around. But something inside of me had clicked and I forced myself into the class.
â€œMy first class was amazing. I immediately felt at home and the classes couldnâ€™t come quick enough â€“ I just wanted to learn more. I couldn’t remember a time when Iâ€™d had something to aim for and I felt motivated to get my life back on track.â€
When the course was coming to an end, Jamie didnâ€™t feel ready to stop, and enrolled on a Criminology class with the same tutor, despite it being a 40-minute drive away, something he had never conquered before. After a few weeks, he was on a third course in confidence building, sitting three courses a week, before eventually enrolling onto an Access course in humanities and social science at Coleg y Cymoedd.
â€œI met so many new people and my anxiety just seemed to melt away. I was enjoying myself and had a constant positive feeling inside of me. l felt like I had a purpose in life.â€
In November 2018, not long into his course, Jamie was involved in a car accident, leaving him with physical injuries that worsened his Chronâ€™s disease symptoms and brought back his anxiety.
He completed the course, coming top of the class, and although his tutor wanted him to apply for university, he decided to take a year off to recover.
Â â€œI used to have the fear of the unknown, but now going into class, I meet new people and know that everyone is going through their own things and dealing with problems of their own, and no one is judging me. Nothing really mattered when I was in that classroom, and I canâ€™t wait to get back to doing what I love.â€
Now Jamie hopes his story will inspire others to believe in a light at the end of the tunnel.
â€œIâ€™ve got so much more out of learning that I ever could have expected. Not just the subject knowledge from the classes, but valuable skills, self-belief, resilience, friendship and better mental healthâ€.
Adult Learnersâ€™ Week celebrates lifelong learning, whether in educational institutions, through work, at home or as a leisure activity and the week will be full of tasters and success stories on why learning a new skill can change your story.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: â€œEven without a ceremony itâ€™s so important that we celebrate the Inspire! Awards winners whose determination has been extraordinary.Â
â€œJamie is a great example of how lifelong learning has turned his life around, both professionally and personally. Gaining qualifications at any age will not only help us build a workforce with the right skills needed for the new normal, but also inspire people to keep learning to explore directions and keep their minds and bodies healthy too.â€
David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: â€œThere has never been a better or more important time to start learning and our Inspire! AwardÂ winners show just what is possible. Whether it is gaining skills to help you find a new job, improving your health, or learning something you have always been passionate about, now is the time to pick up the phone or go online to get the support you need to start your journey.Â
â€œDuring lockdown thousands of adults across Wales started to change their story by learning something new. We hope the incredible stories of all our award winners will inspire thousands more to take that first step back into adult education.â€
Rhondda Cynon Taff
Heol y Coleg
Rhondda Cynon Taff