It’s been such a long time since I’ve blogged, that I feel a little unsure of where to start. 2019 has been a year of huge change both professionally and personally, leaving little to no time to nurture my little corner of the internet. Start-up life is inevitably a rollercoaster of emotions and a huge pull on your time (more than I ever anticipated). But I am so glad we took the plunge despite the long days and late nights. It has always been about trying to make work workfor us as a family, and whilst at times the balance can feel a little off kilter, I think this is all part of building your own enterprise.
For the first time since we lost Orla, I am also well and truly back in the therapist’s chair. As a senior psychologist and manager in the NHS, most of my role involved indirect clinical work, so my time providing therapy was limited and precious. You use just as many, if not more, clinical skills in these roles, but therapy is indeed a very unique experience. And right now, I am doing lots of, which feels really good.
Throughout recent months though, I have been experiencing a growing sense of internal unease about my life online and that in the real world. When Orla died, setting up the blog was in some ways an act of ‘screw you universe!’ – the rules of extreme privacy within the profession that had occupied all of my twenties and half of my thirties suddenly became meaningless. I needed people to know what had happened, to validate my experience and to desperately find a community of support that I didn’t have in real life. I couldn’t really reconcile with what this meant for my career because in those early weeks and months, I honestly didn’t see how I would ever be able to return to work. Continue Reading
‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.’
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Loss and mental health is something that people often ask me about: how does it impact? What help is available? Does it get better? I’ve researched academic articles and reflected on my own work and personal experiences and all I can say reliably is yes it does. But as with everything in life after loss, it is complex and completely individual.
Grief in itself is not a mental health problem (i.e. a diagnosable one) yet it impacts on our mental wellbeing considerably. It is a normal reaction to a painful, sometimes traumatic, event. A response that reflects the loss of someone or something meaningful. Someone we loved. Someone we will miss infinitely. We wouldn’t want to pathologise what is part of the human condition; to label it and to find ways in which to eradicate it. Grief is part of life and living as much as it is a response to death and dying.
“I think you’re depressed”
The words that still ring through my ears when I think about the day that the perinatal mental health nurse turned up at my door. It had been a difficult morning; baby refusing to sleep, pacing the house wearing the sling. Much like many of the days that had preceded really. I was tired. Emotionally more than physically, although my body had certainly been through the mill too.
It’s something that I still struggle to accept sometimes, and something that I have fought hard to overcome. But I think that this term – depression – has gradually become more of a friend than a foe. Although deep in my heart, I knew that this was what was going on, hearing the word spoken out loud and directed at mestung. A verbal slap in the face. I denied it could be true. I tried to argue that I was just stressed. But when I struggled to answer one of her questions, I realised that this was why I felt so heavy and why each day had become like I was wading through treacle.
I felt stupid: ‘How could I not have known?’ I felt ashamed: ‘Why couldn’t I prevent this?’ I felt guilty: ‘What kind of mother – what kind of person – are you to become depressed now, when your arms are full?’
And just like that, she was one.
Except, when I really think about it, it wasn’t ‘just like that’ at all. The first year of parenting after loss has been a complete rollercoaster; a Big Dipper, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and one that I have desperately wanted to escape at times. Because, despite what I had hoped, having a take home baby did not fix everything. It did not take away my pain. It just made the hardest job in the world that much more complicated.
Parenting a live baby has changed me. I am not the person I once was, and at the same time, I have come to accept that I am not parent I thought I would be. It has shattered my sense of self and I am slowly piecing the shards back together and getting to know the cracks that exist in between them. Some of those crevices have been deep, dark and quite unnerving to expose myself to, whilst others have acted as a prism and shone the full spectrum of colours.
I thought that when Orla died that I was well and truly broken, but looking back, I had just built up an even stronger wall than I had before. My own emotions have always scared me and I have run from them; finding solutions or ways in which to numb the pain. Working harder. Finding another project. I would bounce from one thing to another as a way of blocking out what was really troubling me, because I feared that my emotions would destroy me. I couldn’t trust that anyone else could hold them; the terror that they would either become overwhelmed by them or would reject me was paralysing. So, I denied that they existed and continued to build my armour of strategies, that enabled me to run away from pain. Continue Reading
Over the past week or so, I have seen a few worrying examples online of people asking for help for their mental health and having some really difficult and invalidating experiences. And whilst psychologists do not take a hippocratic oath, I felt that I couldn’t sit back and say nothing, in case I could share something that might possibly help someone.
My current job involves helping people to find the right mental health support for them as well as training and providing consultation to other non-mental health professionals (e.g. GPs, social workers, housing officers) about how best to support and work with their own clients. After fifteen years NHS service, working with many clients with a vast range of mental health difficulties in the community as well as in-patient hospitals and prison, I feel I have a good understanding of the help available.
Many of the stories I have read online have reflected what can only be described as poor practice and a clear lack of compassion and understanding. However I do want to just take this opportunity to say that GPs have an extremely challenging role; many have limited specific training in mental health, despite so many people presenting to them with these difficulties, and mental health services are often over-subscribed with long waiting lists. This can result in them feeling unsupported and overwhelmed and very unsure as to where to refer their patients. And although this can never excuse bad practice, I always try and hold this in mind. So many people present to them with mental health difficulties, and with nowhere to refer these people, it can become a very difficult situation for everyone. Continue Reading