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
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:
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?
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
I’m not sure where you even start with a post such as this; it’s hard to know whether there even is a beginning, and I certainly haven’t reached the end yet, so I guess it’s a case of starting from where I am now.
I have been experiencing postnatal depression.
If I’m honest, these are the most challenging, the most shaming and gut wrenching words I have written since Orla died. They are possibly more riddled with shame because I feel terrified of being judged, blamed and seen as selfish, weak and inferior. When your baby dies, you know that many people will feel sad for you. Of course, you fear that there will be a multitude of other thoughts and emotions, but overall, you know that people will feel sadness and regret. When it comes to mental health however, you can never be so sure.
And when this occurs in the context of parenting a rainbow, the fear of being viewed as ungrateful and unworthy is paralysing. Which in itself becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of self-loathing and inadequacy.
After Orla died, I became a ‘doer’. I got up every day, I showered, I cleaned the house – I even cooked (damn you Gusto for signing up a vulnerable heavily pregnant woman who thought she’d spend the first weeks of maternity leave cooking nutritious meals!). I made keepsakes to treasure memories of Orla, I wrote and set up a blog and we planned our fundraising trip to America. Three months after Orla died, we flew to Canada. Two weeks later I feel pregnant. We spent the first trimester of my pregnancy travelling down the East Coast of the US and then Canada, and when we returned to the UK three months later, I went back to work for five months. I did yoga, I completed a mindfulness course, I saw friends. I was coping so well. Continue Reading