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Mental Health

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. 

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Letters To The Other Chair

Dear anxiety,

We will all have experienced anxiety to some extent or another during our lives; it is very often a normal and expected reaction to a situation where the outcome is uncertain.  Anxiety is a physiological, emotional and cognitive experience.  It is evolutionary and has helped us as a species to survive – if we didn’t feel anxiety, we wouldn’t be aware of our surroundings and therefore wouldn’t respond to potential threats.  Yet, whilst our brains are wonderful things, they have developed in ways that can cause us problems: we have evolved with the capacity to imagine, to remember back into the past and also to wonder about the future – and this means that we can ruminate, worry and predict, which can cause and perpetuate feelings of anxiety.

 

As a result, sometimes anxiety can become an unwelcome guest in our everyday lives.  It can stop us from doing the things we want to, impact negatively on our wellbeing, relationships and overall quality of life.  For some or us, it can start to feel as though it is a part of who we are.  Yet it doesn’t have to be this way…..

 

Dawn Stone (@dawni3 on Instagram) works as a patient support officer at a blood cancer charity, having previously worked in the NHS as a maternity support worker and then as a midwife. Dawn decided to write this letter to talk more openly about anxiety, and hopefully help others to know there is nothing shameful about it or needing help to manage it.  Dawn says:
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Letters To The Other Chair

Dear psychologist,

Dear psychologist,

 

I see you sat in the other chair and I feel your pain.  I know how much it took for you to come here today and how difficult it was to get to the point of asking for help.  This therapy is not for your professional development; it does not form part of your training.  This moment feels like make or break.  But the thing that could break is you.

 

I wonder if there was a time that you had thought about trying to find a private therapist.  Someone away from the day job, where it could remain a secret.  But then everything became too much and you knew you needed more.  A whole team.  The safety net of many heads to think about you and your needs.

 

Whilst you have always said that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ when it comes to mental health, maybe you always hoped that you were strong enough to survive most things. You have the knowledge and the skills. You know the theory and the practice. So why would you need the help when you really should be able to help yourself?  

 

Yet life doesn’t work this way. 

 

Sitting in the waiting room was probably confusing.  Being the one sat patiently awaiting the psychologist, knowing, whilst also not knowing, what to expect.  The fear that someone there might ask who you are waiting to see, or even worse, who you are.  Because in that moment, do you even know?
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Loss

Competitive grief

Significant dates have a way of making you stop and reflect.  To think about what has been and what may be to come. Setting intentions and hopes and remembering what you are grateful for, as well as acknowledging what causes pain and suffering.

It was unfortunate that the flow of reflection that May brings from me was well and truly intercepted by my first real experience of what I have come to know as trolling.  For it to happen on that date of Orla’s death, on a post that described my feelings about that, was not ideal to say the least.  At first it didn’t bother me, but as the interactions continued and became more personal, I felt that I had no option but to block and delete.  I was never going to be able to have a fair and balanced conversations with someone who saw fit to minimise and criticise my grief and my parenting.

Yet some of the messages underpinning the actual words were important and I feel they are unspoken within social media communities.  I sometimes wonder if I am protected from receiving more criticism because my baby died; because people are potentially more likely to jump to my defence and say that it is unfair to say things to a bereaved mother that could potentially cause pain. But does this leave me in a particularly dangerous position?  One where I think I can get away with saying and posting what I want without fear of being called out?
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Mental health and wellbeing

Maternal Mental Health Matters…..even when your baby died

‘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.
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