I’ve been working in mental health teams for over seventeen years. So that makes me an expert doesn’t it? No! I really only feel like I’ve scratched the surface. I’m always reflecting, always learning. Of all my achievements I’m proudest of the fact that I’m seen as a compassionate practitioner by my colleagues and the people that I work with. Yep, I’ll hold that accolade higher than any tangible reward.
Personal experience has helped my quest for understanding more than anything that I’ve gained from formal study. Since teenage years I’ve had bouts of anxiety and depression. These have provided insights, for instance how my past impacts the present, how easy it is to absorb trauma and how kindness to others can be healing in its own right.
My own journey has taught me about the importance of self care too. There’s the basics such as a good diet, regular meditation, spending times with the people that I love, gratefulness practice and exercise. Thanks to cognitive behavioural therapy I’m able to challenge my thinking when it’s a bit dodgy. I’ve also defined boundaries of what is acceptable in my relationships with others. That’s been really helpful. My latest addition to the tool box has been some private counselling. A bit of navel gazing has done wonders. It comes highly recommended even if you don’t think that there’s much wrong with the old noggin.
But I know that there is a limit to what is within my control. Sometimes external influences still become too weighty to bear: Death, illness, the troubles of family and friends, exposure in my work life to relentless suffering. ‘My life seems like a train crash.’ I told a friend once. ‘But I’m not the one doing the crashing.’ I’ve learnt lessons from past dips. I’m much more resilient in the face of adversity. But things have been tricky lately. My job is in the boot camp of mental health practice. I have a partner who’s been really physically poorly. While there is hope he still doesn’t seem to be completely out of the woods. Top this with a recent house sale and you’ll start to get the picture. My sleep got really poor a few months back. It’s always a sign.
Guided by my inner voice I’m off work to recuperate and also to increase my focus around supporting my partner during his own bout of ill health. I chose to step back at an earlier stage this time so maybe complete meltdowns are becoming a thing of the distant past. I see my current bouts of sadness, fatigue and irritability as a natural reaction to circumstances. There’d be something wrong if I was completely perky at the moment. I know the ‘negative’ emotions can be a driver for change. They’ve spur me on in the past and will be transformative this time too.
I’m writing this to bring hope to others. Eventually you can reach the light at the end of the tunnel and that inner glow can sustain you through the hardest of times. I’m not the only one to have discovered this. For example, the late great l Leonard Cohen is one of my wise teachers As he said when I saw him in 2008 at the O2.
“I’ve taken a lot of Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Ritalin, Focalin. I’ve also studied deeply in the philosophies of the religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.”
Yes, in spite of everything I still have daily moments of joy and wonder.