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Mental health and wellbeing

From The Other Chair

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. 

My blog (and the social accounts that come with it) were therefore never originally intended for professional purposes. They have been deeply personal; an outlet for grief, a way to connect with a community of parents, a place to shout out loud about stillbirth. Whilst some people have kindly said that they have found solace in some of my words, and some of these have said that this is more so because of my profession, I’m not sure people follow me for my psychological knowledge specifically. And for this reason, I think I have also shied away from sharing my work head too much, fearing that people will think I am trying to be an expert rather than a peer. 

But herein lies my dilemma: I have felt increasingly less able (or maybe less willing) to share much of myself online in the way I may have done in the past. Thesocialpart of my social media – the bit that most people seem to find the most engaging and interesting – has therefore been somewhat lacking.  This has been a gradual process: less time, wanting to protect E’s privacy, not really having much to share beyond the work / life juggle. But in reality, the biggest issue for me has been how to use social media whilst also maintaining professional integrity.

Every time I go to post, I ask myself is, ‘what impact could this have on my therapeutic relationship if one of my clients were to see this?’,or ‘how would Ifeel if I knew this about my own therapist?’ And it isn’t the bigger stuff I sweat about, it’s the smaller things.  For example, would knowing that my therapist is having a stressful week because of [insert any everyday stressor] compromise me using the space that is mine? Would I unconsciously be trying to protect them, minimising their stress levels by holding back and putting their needs before my own?  What if I knew what their house looked like or details of how they spent their weekend? Would this distract me during sessions, or compromise the integrity of the therapeutic space?

And so often, I just decide that it’s better not to post. 

This may seem like I am overthinking things (unless maybe you are a therapist yourself or have had therapy – or even then you may still be thinking this!).  However, it has always been important to me to remain true to my training, even in the darkest of my ‘screw it’ days. Blogging and Instagram has never been, and never will be my ‘job’.  But it also isn’t my personal life either.  It is something in between – a processed, selective presentation of my life after loss. Part professional and fully human.

Because alongside my concerns of being someone (who happens to be a psychologist) with an open online profile, I also wholeheartedly believe in the power of vulnerability. The need to stop ‘othering’ and creating a divide between those who help and those who are helped (which in reality this is not a model I subscribe to anyway). But finding a way in which to navigate this is tricky. It is very new territory – and if you are still connected with the old way of doing things (e.g. working in the NHS), you can feel judged for what you are doing.  And let’s not forget that anyonewho uses social media is vulnerable to the same trappings as everyone else: the dopamine hit from likes, engagement and growth; the anxiety about posting something that completely tanks; the comparison to others; the feelings of rejection when we are not included in something that we might have hoped to be. These things can trigger our threat system, which if not approached with mindful awareness can lead us to post and engage in unhelpful ways.  Something I am really keen to avoid.

In the grand scheme of things, I am acutely aware of how I am such a tiny, tinyfish in a terrifyingly big ocean. But in life online it isn’t the size that matters, it is the potential impact of what you share. At present, there feels like a wave of social media fatigue amongst the people I follow: questions of ‘what am I doing here?’ and ‘what is my purpose?’ seem to appear regularly, which makes me wonder if what I am feeling is also influenced by this. But I also believe that this is about growth and change; nothing in life is static and the way in which we need and use online platforms will constantly be changing because of where we are in our lives. And maybe I need (or want) to use mine in a slightly different way. 

Where I can (or more importantly, where I feel comfortable), I do still want to share my personal experiences of baby loss and parenting after loss. I don’t want to turn my back on this little corner that I do hope has some more to give (and in fact I will be sharing Orla’s birth story on a podcast soon to continue to share the reality of the experiences of stillbirth, because it is Still Birth and it deserves to be heard). I continue to believe that we have a long way to go in raising awareness of loss, particularly years down the line where trauma and grief shifts and morphs in ways that can constantly take you by surprise. Conversations have to continue, and more voices need to be heard if we have any hope of helping families feel less alone. 

But I guess I also want to share a bit more of my work brain and less of my day to day life (which, let’s be honest, is already pretty lacking anyway?!). My musings and reflections of the evidence based clinical work I undertake day to day. I don’t ever hold myself as an expert, but I do have expertise.And more and more, this is in helping people who have experienced baby loss, as well as all the other myriad of human experiences I work with.  In person, in real life, from the therapist’s chair.

So, I guess (in true longwinded fashion), this is a heads up to say that I’m still here – still wanting to blog, still wanting to share some things on social media.  I’m just reflecting on what that could be now and what that may become in time. And I hope you will find something of interest somewhere along the way.  

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And if you are interested in a really reflective piece regarding therapists online, head to the Mumologist’s page here.

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