Over the years, I’ve realised I’ve become, in some ways a role model for some young people struggling with mental health issues. However I’ve often told people to do as I say and not as I do.
Of course I’m not perfect (newsflash: no one is) and I’m often guilty of neglecting my own mental health while campaigning on behalf of others. My overexertion and incidents of burnout are well known and I’m often
asked told to slow down and put myself first for once.
I’ve been inspired to write this blog, and to actually practice what I preach, by two things recently.
I recently heard the brilliant Clare Gerada speak about the need for those on the NHS front line to “pull their oxygen mask down first”. She argues that it’s very hard for a doctor to look after others when their own health and wellbeing are suffering. Clare set up a groundbreaking service in London for NHS doctors and dentists with mental health or substance misuse concerns called the Practitioner Health Programme. There is, as you can imagine a real need for this type of service and in the last 5 years it has seen over 1,500 people.
One of my wonderful friends Vanessa, a great mental health activist, wrote here on Time To Change Leeds blog about being in hospital and feeling, in her words, “muted” by the experience.
what I can’t quite cope with is how that has spread to me being unable to stand up for other people and be an advocate for them or Mental Health in general. I am questioning my validity or role as a volunteer and not pushing as hard as I should be in standing up to the stigma and discrimination that exists for people experiencing a Mental Health Problem. There is this sense of disconnection at the moment and instead of being out there campaigning, I am in a unit not being very aware of anything that is going on or if I am aware letting them slip by me.
What struck me at that point, and I told her too, is that for me at least, the fact she is even accessing treatment, being brave enough to go through gruelling inpatient treatment in particular, is massively inspiring and a very powerful thing for the mental health activist community to witness.
We can speak at conferences and shout on picket lines until we lose our voices but often the most powerful things are the actions we take. By accepting treatment and sticking with it Vanessa has put herself first and has actually inspired me to bite the bullet and accept a referral back to mental health services.
It’s all well and good us shouting from the rooftops about mental health but it doesn’t reflect well on us when we ignore our own advice and let our health slip down our list of priorities.
I was recently asked to get involved in an organisation that promotes body confidence, I turned it down because I know I am a horrendous role model in that regards. But I don’t want that to be true forever.
So today I bit the bullet and asked to be referred to the local mental health team. I also have a new GP who is lovely and am willing to engage in whatever treatment they offer me. I’m doing my best to carve out time every day just for me, to practice self care and allow my brain to wind down and it’s already helping a huge amount.
Sometimes I feel guilty for not replying to all the messages I get from others needing advice straight away but then I remember; I can’t help people properly if my brain is fried through over work or neglect.
It’s all well and good me helping other people but I can’t forget to look after myself too.
I encourage others to seek help if they are unwell, I am no exception, I must practice what I preach.