Mental health at work: allowing myself to be kind to myself
A YEAR AFTER MY YOUNG DAUGHTER DIED SUDDENLY, I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH PTSD. THIS POST EXPLAINS MY JOURNEY TO FIND WORK THAT ACCOMMODATED MY NEW REALITY.
May 18, 2020
Coping with grief – a life changed in an instant
I never thought I would be someone who would struggle with my mental health. My experience literally came out of the blue when my seven-year-old daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly at the beginning of summer 2018. My life changed in an instant and so did my ability to be the same person I’d been for the previous four and a bit decades.
Coping with the loss of a child is beyond anything that I can really begin to explain to you – life as you know it implodes and is never the same again. For me, the secondary losses have also been very hard to cope with – most of my relationships with family and friends have changed (and not all for the better – I’ve learnt that people are terrified of grief).
I don’t feel able to face a traditional workplace, the relationship with my wonderful partner has been under more strain than ever before and my ability to parent my son, who was five when his big sister died, feels like it has been compromised. (I panic that he’s going to die too, that he’ll never be happy because of what a cruel hand fate has dealt him, that I’m not a good enough mummy because I couldn’t save her…)
On a bad day, the world can be a very dark place. Thankfully they are not all bad days. I’m lucky to have a natural level of resilience that I never knew I was going to need as much as I do now.
Living with PTSD
In August last year, I was seen by a psychiatrist as part of the ongoing case we have against our local NHS Trust. (I’m devastated to say that Annaliese died as a result of failings with her care.) He diagnosed me with moderate to severe PTSD. I knew I felt different, but seeing that written in black and white on the page felt truly shocking. Wasn’t it only soldiers or victims of horrific crimes that had PTSD? Apparently not.
The diagnosis has been helpful to give me ‘permission’ to accept that some of the things I do and feel now are ok and totally explainable in my new world.
It’s hard for other people to tell how much I’ve changed – I think it’s only other bereaved parents who really ‘get it’. I’ve lost a lot of my confidence, I can be emotionally unpredictable at times – mostly tears rather than anger (although I definitely have my fair share of that too).
I get incredibly stressed and panicked about anything related to hospitals or medical treatments – even driving past the hospital where she died can feel like an ordeal at times. Christmas is something to survive rather than throw myself into. Birthdays just feel wrong without her here to join in. And the Covid-19 pandemic has taken my anxiety to new levels. I don’t really know who I am anymore. I feel lost at times.
I feel lucky that I’m a good communicator, I find it easy to talk, write, share and be honest. I truly believe that is helping me to survive and I know not everyone feels able to do that.
In the right circumstances, I feel the need to tell people what has happened to me – partly because it’s on my mind all day every day and partly because I feel more protected that way.
If people know the worst thing that has ever happened to me, I will be spared the questions – ‘have you got children?’, ‘oh you know how stressful it is having kids’, ‘how come you’re not at work?’ These are all questions that seemed perfectly natural and acceptable – until now. I also want people to know that Annaliese lived, that I’m still her mummy and that she’s still part of our family and always will be.
A way of work that fits the new me
Working at Hoxby has been a revelation to me. I’m able to find a little bit of me again, while feeling secure and safe in my house. I can do something positive, earn some money, feel good at something – without feeling pressure or expectation. If I’m having one of those bad days, I can log off and do whatever is needed to get me through that particular day – usually mindless television or painting, after a big long cry.
I’m so thankful for the warm, caring and respectful community of people Hoxby has introduced me to. I know I can be myself here, whatever version of myself that happens to be now. I know I can be there for our son whenever he needs me. I know I can go on a dog walk in the sunshine with my partner and connect in that way. I know everyone here accepts I’ve got something very big and scary to cope with at home and that’s okay. There is space for both.
I’m very proud to be involved with the work Hoxby are doing to help break down the stigma there is about mental health with the Time to Change programme. For anyone struggling I want to say this to you – have courage, be kind to yourself and maybe, just maybe, having a little chat about how you’re feeling with the right person. It will help you feel a little lighter for that moment. And if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.
Our guest blogger is part of the Hoxby community, where she works in various communications roles as well as being part of the accessibility and inclusion team.
Introducing The Hoxby Foundation
Not everyone can work 9-5 or get to an office every day. And in the digital age, they shouldn’t have to. The Hoxby Foundation aims to make it possible for millions of people to access work they would otherwise have been excluded from. Find out how at The Hoxby Foundation website.