Being a mental health professional, or social work professional, who also experiences mental health problems. It’s tricky. People outside of services judge, and so do people within services. It raises all kinds of questions about shame.
I think this is something that has partially shifted for me within the last year. I’ve written before about not being able to sit in the waiting room at the eating disorder service because of the fear of bumping into my colleagues. Being in day service has forced me to face this fear, and now, I care a lot less if I do see someone from work in the building. I do see people, and it’s still uncomfortable, but I don’t actively hide anymore. Maybe it’s just exposure over time, or maybe it’s because I’m a little more accepting of my own difficulties, or perhaps it’s the ongoing acceptance of (and openness with) those who do know, love and respect me, that makes the possible judgement of others a bit easier to bear. Continue reading
I’ve been having a bit more support for my eating disorder recently. This means more time away from work, absence which will definitely impact on my colleagues. I feel I owe the people I work closely with an explanation about where I am disappearing to and why. I also won’t see many members of my team for a while, and (if all goes to plan) I’ll look noticeably different when they do next see me. I am still fairly private at work (and in general) about my ‘issues’, but during the last year conversations about food and weight have gradually become part the normal fabric of life with my partner and close friends. Not so long ago I couldn’t say the words ‘eating disorder’ or ‘anorexia’ without becoming overwhelmed, so the talking is definite progress, even if I do feel ashamed and guilty, hate that it is necessary and feel horribly embarrassed that I find certain things so difficult the stage of life I’m at. I don’t know if anyone actually gets how embarrassed I feel every time I try to ask for help, help I don’t think I should need, can’t judge how or when to ask for, and can’t always say what I think I actually might need.
Because people do, don’t they. Even those who know us well and would call themselves friends or colleagues. Or maybe it’s just me.
Part of the challenge is that I have been MUCH more open about my eating disorder recently. For years, no one in my wider life, including work, had any idea. If I weren’t trying to change things, I could have continued this indefinitely. But keeping things private at work wasn’t an option if I wanted time off for therapy. So far, my manager has been supportive. The work friends I’ve been open with continue to express confidence in my ability. I suspect I’m fortunate. It’s no secret that mental health services haven’t always been great at looking after their own. Continue reading
Opening up, reducing the amount of compartmentalising we do, it’s massive in eating disorder recovery.
My husband came to my therapy session this week. This is HUGE. A friend commented that the degree of anxiety it caused me is quite telling. What is so difficult about having my husband, who I share the entirety of my life with, sitting in the same room as my therapist and talking about my eating disorder. I don’t know. It is just not something I have EVER done. I have always tried to manage things myself. It’s my issue, after all.
For a long time I’ve had a habit of keeping things separate, without even really realising it. Especially, but not solely, when it comes to eating and weight. I recognise this is about protecting myself, but it is also about protecting others from things I feel they are either unable to, or shouldn’t have to, cope with. Sometimes, sharing seems unnecessary, not because I want to hold things back (though sometimes I do) but because it feels like the most responsible option. I have also worked very hard over the years to function and keep going, and I definitely do not see myself as a ‘patient’ or someone who is very ‘unwell’. I don’t want other people to view me as that – or certainly not as only that either. Continue reading
I recently bumped into a colleague in the waiting room. She was there for ‘work stuff’. Naturally she assumed I was also there for ‘work stuff’. But in fact I was there for my own therapy appointment. You’d think in a huge mental health trust, these encounters would be rare, but so far I’ve bumped into someone I work with nearly every week. And when I bump into people, I go into therapy feeling vulnerable and ashamed. Not the best starting point.
In February, the Time to Change campaign are having a ‘Time to Talk’ day. It’s a day to ‘have a conversation about mental health’. But sometimes, it isn’t that easy, is it. I’ll challenge myths about psychosis, or argue for a less medicalised view of mental distress. Ask me about my own mental health, and it feels quite different. Continue reading