My story isn’t unusual.
Having suffered with mental illness and fought my way to recovery, I now work in the mental health sector, using my experience to support others.
Yes, I’m in recovery but that doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle. I recently wrote about needing to go back on medication and I have to work hard to keep symptoms at bay.
I know what I need to do to stay well but when you add in the emotional stresses and strains of working with people with mental illness it makes looking after yourself a lot harder.
As a healthcare assistant in a psychiatric unit, I see people struggling with symptoms and behaviours that remind me my own illness every day.
Seeing people who are seriously ill, suffering from severe symptoms or behaving unusually can be distressing, but it does remind me how far I’ve come.
It’s common for people who work in the caring profession to be giving a lot to people who find it difficult to put themselves first, but as I’ve been told on many occasions, if you don’t look after yourself you’ll be no use to anyone else.
It’s important to have a very good work-life balance, but it’s hard to cut off my personal emotions when I’m at work. Here are a few techniques I use to keep myself in check.
I use my commute to and from work to switch on and switch off from work.
If I have things that are worrying me, I use this time to think and come up with some quick solutions, and then move on to distracting myself by listening to the radio or music.
Although I use my personal experience to aid my work, I see myself as a professional, not a friend or peer supporter, and this helps when faced with challenging situations.
I have knowledge and skills gained from training for my job and I feel equipped to manage my work.
I ensure I get regular clinical supervision at work.
This should be available for everyone working directly with service users or patients in this sector, although it may have a different name.
Within supervision you should be able to talk openly and honestly about anything going on at work, whether related to patients or colleagues, the work itself, how it’s impacting you or your continuing professional development.
This should give you the opportunity to resolve any problems with work within work, so that it does not spill over into your personal life.
If anything particularly distressing happens, it’s important to talk it through as soon as possible.
Colleagues may be impacted by different things so it’s important to listen to yourself and if something bothered you, make sure you find time to discuss your concerns.
In my workplace it helps that our incident policy requires it to be reported and written up the same day.
In order to be able to function at work, I also need to prioritise my wellbeing at home.
I’m very fortunate to have a very supportive husband who understands the things I need.
As an introvert I need time on my own, but it’s important to balance this by ensuring I don’t isolate myself.
I fill my personal life with activities that contribute to my wellness, including regular exercise, knitting and healthy food.
Work-life balance checklist
1. How is my time management? Am I getting to work on time, not early or late? Am I leaving work on time?
2. Am I getting stress symptoms, such as more headaches or feeling extra tired?
3. Am I thinking about work at home?
4. Do I feel confident that I’m managing my work or do I feel overwhelmed?
5. Do I feel supported both at home and at work?
6. Am I enjoying the things I expect to enjoy?
7. How’s my mental health? How’s my eating, sleeping and general mood?
I can only address these things if I’m aware of them so I check in with myself and then I can start to think about how to re-balance my life if necessary.
Working within the mental health sector is hard work but it can also be so rewarding.
I feel like I’m turning around the terrible experience of personal mental illness to give back positively to those who need it, and as long as I can stay healthy, that makes it worth it.