There are many options and choices for sharing, from private single conversations to wide public address, from immediate sharing of experience whilst living it, to narratives deeply weaved into the warp and weft of someone's lived years. This is our first 'MyShare' feature, a blog entry from a member of the in2gr8mentalhealth web forum who shares their experience of breaking down whilst working in mental health services and how they are doing in their recovery at the moment. Members of the in2gr8mentalhealth forum are all mental health professionals with lived experience of mental ill health and this community and web forum exists to provide a space to explore that identity with peers in the same situation. Thank you to this member of our community for taking the time and the heart to write these thoughts for us to witness, listen and learn from.
On Friday the 26th of January I went up to the BPS in London to spend the morning listening to presentations and thinking about the psychological well-being of Clinical Psychologists. I am only just finding my feet and building my confidence in the workplace, having been away for 8 months. Whilst attending this kind of event is something I would have taken in my stride a year or so ago it felt like a big deal for me. Before my breakdown I loved working and had the sense I was progressing year on year. I never thought about or allowed for the idea that there would be dips in my career journey. It is a challenging place to be and I have noticed that I can dip into self-attack quite easily when I compare my current status with where I was a couple of years ago. Linked to this I thought I could write a blog about my experiences of the day quite easily and quickly, but here I am a few weeks later standing up to my critical voice and finally sitting down to write it. It took a morning run and a gentler voice/stance to “just experiment with writing for 10 minutes and see where that leaves you.” I am glad I have made a start.
A bit of context - I am a few months in to a return to the workplace following a breakdown that was precipitated mostly by stressors at work but also from being emotionally depleted and less resourced than I have been at other points in my life (I was returning from my second spell of maternity leave. My sleep was broken and my confidence was low). My return is going well so far, but one of the key things that drew me into working for the NHS was my love of people and team working. My illness was isolating, shame is playing a major role in my breakdown and recovery journey. Also, I am in the process of facing some of the issues that were present in my old team and this has meant that I haven’t been able to return to the team I had been working with for 5 years. Consequently, my return has been missing the buffering and support that colleagues who really know you can provide. Luckily the team that I am temporarily working with are lovely but it is early days. Whilst some of them know I have been through a difficult time, there are limits to how open and honest I can be with them. I am also balancing the need to build relationships and to remind myself and show them that I am a good clinician who can provide useful psychological support. This is why the forum has been brilliant for me. It provides a safe space to let others know what is going on and receive support and understanding from those who might have trodden a similar path; or are still treading it.
One strand of my unravelling was caught up in paranoia around social media. The initial stages of my recovery involved only being able to trust face to face meetings. I am now able to use social media but need regular breaks from it… not such a bad thing, but it does mean I take breaks from the forum too. I saw Natalie was presenting at the BPS event and thought a first step might be to go along and be in the audience. That way I could talk to people if I felt like it, but sit back if I didn’t. When I went to get a ticket the event was sold out. Part of me thought that that was fate – it was too early to be putting myself out there, but another part of me wanted to go along. I messaged Natalie and shared my dilemma with her. She wrote such a lovely response to me. I also started to think about her position in all of this. I realised that, like me, her return to the workplace did not include going back to a team of trusted colleagues – she was having to build her peer support from the ground up and she was taking huge steps (like standing in front of a room of people being honest and open about her difficulties), often without peer support. My desire to be there as a supporter for her took over any wobbles I had, and going to the event became something I was determined to do.
I got up to London ridiculously early. I had agreed to film Natalie’s presentation. It was great to have a role, and as part of this role I wanted to get a decent seating position and not add to any nerves she might have by leaving her wondering where I had got to. I found my old work self easily, and started to enjoy the familiarity of being part of a seminar group. Natalie and I recognised each other from our pictures. It was lovely meeting her. It felt like I was meeting a trusted friend and it filled a bit of the gap that not being able to connect with the colleagues from my previous team had left for me; someone who got what I had been through but also met me as an equal. When Natalie talked it was really powerful. Her presentation is posted on the forum. In addition to sharing her own story she read out some anonymous quotes. I am not sure whether and when I will be in a position to be so publically open and honest, but a couple of the quotes were mine, and I felt moved and grateful that she could be a voice for me and many others who are not yet in a position to express themselves and their challenges as publically as she can. I want to end by saying a big thank you to Natalie for all she is doing to support clinicians who identify as dual status.
A mental health professional with lived experience of mental ill health
Member of the in2gr8mentalhealth forum
Voicing, whether writing or otherwise, is something we can support for all mental health professionals with lived experience of mental ill health who are members. You are welcome to join us by signing up at www.in2gr8mentalhealth.com Existing members, please let us know if you would like support to voice in the feedback category of the forum. Thank you.