Note: Angela works for Time to Change and this is her second post for I'm NOT a Disordered. I'd just like to thank her for writing such an honest and vulnerable post. I feel honoured to be publishing it.
I think I have always been a sensitive person and one who feels things quite deeply. Before I worked in mental health I worked mainly with children and young adults who have multiple profound and complex disabilities in a range of settings, and I would be devastated when they or I were moving on. I was inconsolable when somebody with a life limiting condition became progressively ill or died. On these occasions as well as just feeling it deeply, it would have a huge impact on my existing mental health problems and I could feel very anxious or depressed.
Now that I work in mental health for Time To Change I have to watch for my own mental health too. I believe that everyone should look after their mental health just like they look after their physical health. I regularly work with people who also experience mental health problems, and we do regular events where we talk to the public. Opening conversations about mental health with the public can sometimes mean that people also share back and hearing a lot of very sad stories can have an impact. Around 3 years ago I and a volunteer had a stall in a shopping centre. I will never forget one story that an older woman told me about the loss of her two sons to suicide. I really hurt for her.
I also have the privilege of working closely with Time To Change Champions who have lived experience of mental health problems and sometimes they can become unwell too. Sometimes I feel empathy as I may have felt similarly, sometimes concerned for their wellbeing if they are self-harming or suicidal. Often, however, I feel spurred on to do more as I am reminded just how important this work is.
Sometimes I am not as good as looking after my own mental wellbeing as I could be. I am working on this on an ongoing basis and I am improving. Some things that I do to look after my own mental health (and I'm trying to improve on) are:
1) Setting work/life boundaries and not over-working
2) Have positive things to do after tiring events or difficult situations
3) Saying 'no' when you don't have the capacity even when I want to do it
4) Prioritising sleep, meals and basic care even when busy
5) Reminding myself it's ok to not be perfect
6) Stay connected to friends and loved ones
7) Mindfulness techniques
8) Keeping positive quotes and pictures on my phone to look at and inspire me
9) When I feel overwhelmed keeping everything 'in the day' and trying not to deal with everything at once. Doing one task at a time
Reading this I am reminded how much further my work on looking after my own mental health needs to increase! Interestingly, I just received an email offering us training in Vicarious Trauma. This is because we regularly hear stories of trauma like counsellors do, though we are not counsellors. On the American Association for Counselling website it defines Vicarious Trauma as 'the emotional residue of exposure that counsellors have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witness to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured,' and that is 'a state of tension and preoccupation of the stories/trauma experiences described by clients.' This, I think, will be very useful and I have signed up for it. That may be a whole new blog though...