I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting this month on what has happened in the past year and what can help me going forwards. I will begin by starting at the end of this thought process and will work backwards. Last weekend I had something I really needed to talk about and work through with my partner. I was too exhausted and broken on the Friday evening to find the words to discuss, on the Saturday I was busy all day volunteering and even by the Sunday it felt impossibly difficult. I was paralysed with anxiety. My words felt trapped. I couldn’t wind down from everything that had happened the previous week or even the previous day. I couldn’t speak my fear and felt afraid.
We finally left the house after lunch on Sunday and went to visit Westonbirt Arboretum, I joined as a member last year and it’s felt like a safe haven to go and watch the seasons change and pass. To begin with I couldn’t relax, it was too hot, I couldn’t take the right photographs, I was stuck in a loop of self criticism. When the sun lessoned it’s heat and we found a shadier part of the woods I finally started to relax a little, I became less critical of my photographs and more appreciative of what was around me. After a few hours of this I was finally able to sit down on a bench and open up about everything. The anxiety was still there afterwards, but the weight of it had lessened. It had taken a lot of shifting environments and thoughts to be able to get to that place where I felt ready to open up.
This experience led me to reflect on the care I have received when I have been mentally unwell over the last year. I remembered how I would always attend a medical or community based setting to see my care coordinator or eating disorder nurse. Even when I was at a critically low weight no-one suggested that it might be best to see me at home. I can see it from both sides, on one had mental health teams wish to foster independence, but at the same time the care must be person centred. If I worked within that role I think I’d need to run the question past myself as to whether a decision about where to see someone is for the convenience of no travel time for me or in the best interests of the patient.
Prior to my last hospital admission I watched this video which in a sense empowered me to be able to ask for my own needs to be met and to feel okay with that. When I was discharged from hospital I asked if my appointment with my care coordinator could be in a cafe so I knew at least once a week I’d have support with eating in a community setting. The eating disorder service have visited me at home when I’ve been at risk of over exercise. At times I’ve also asked to meet outside as I feel more comfortable in a natural environment with sounds of bird song around me. I’ve recently undertaken a Peer Support training course which began in a room which was next to a noisy cafe. I found myself feeling very distressed as I was struggling to hear and follow what people were saying. I’m autistic and I find it hard to process information if too much is coming at me at once. We changed rooms further on in the course to a much quieter one and I felt like a different person, the anxiety had dissipated and I could follow what was being said. At the time I didn’t recognise the impact that the noise was having and was blaming myself for being ‘useless around others’.
Before I watched the video which I have shared above, at times I found it really hard to ask for my needs to be met, if I did ask it would be accompanied with feelings of guilt and thoughts of ‘I should be able to cope’ ‘I shouldn’t need to ask for this’. Although I was able to attend appointments in a medical setting looking back I wonder if they could have been more effective in supporting my recovery earlier on if the person had suggested more flexibility around where we would meet.
I understand that due to risk it’s not always possible to vary what setting you are seeing someone in, but if this isn’t a barrier and you work in Mental Health or support work consider thinking creatively around how you support someone and what the barriers might be in them opening up to you or hearing what’s said. I personally feel more on a level with someone if we are doing something I enjoy, which means out interaction is more likely to have a positive outcome.