Spreading The Cheer

I’ve once again been rather lax about blogging, but I’ve now got a bit of time off for Xmas, so hope to do a bit of catching up. I thought I’d just post something to everyone who reads my blog wishing you the best at this time of year, and thanking you all for your support!

I’m not a Christian and tend to celebrate Xmas in a pretty typical, secular fashion – spoiling my relatives, eating far too much and curling up on the sofa to watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special (can’t wait!). I’ve taken a bit of time off work for the holidays, which seemed convenient given the bank holidays, and often people don’t want appointments at this time of year. I go off with a little guilt, knowing that this is often a really tough time for people with mental health problems (Christmas can be stressful enough for those who don’t!) and feeling that I’ve just buggered off and left them to it. But I also know I need a break so I can be at my best at work, and it isn’t possible for me to be continually available (I don’t think anyone ever can be!).

There are some really great organisations that have put out some advice for managing with Xmas, so I’ll link rather than re-hashing what they’ve already said. There are a few good posts on Mind here and here

With such a focus on food, eating and indulgence, Xmas can be particularly challenging for people with eating disorders. Charity B-eat has some good advice and resources for individuals and families here.

Most of the helplines will be running over the Xmas period, though they are often busier than normal. Don’t give up if it takes a while to get through! A list of numbers is on the Re-Think website here.

My own advice would be (if possible) not to get too preoccupied with how Christmas ‘should’ be, and what other people are doing. Everyone celebrates in their own way, and it’s no personal failing if you don’t have masses of people to go out to celebrate with, if you can’t afford to buy a lot of presents, if you burn the turkey or if your family bicker all the way through the meal (and most do). I think all families have their problems and coming together for occasions like Christmas seems to push things to a quick boiling point. It’s good to know when to take a bit of time out for yourself, even if that means just going for a little walk to clear your head and get a bit of space from everything. And it’ll all be over for another year in a couple of days!

So much love and festive cheer to everyone! xx

25 Years Later: A psychologist in the end of days

The Road.
What does it take for the human spirit to survive?

Recently I was asked to contribute to an article on where I saw myself and my profession in 25 years. This seemed a very daunting prospect. Though I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to train as a psychologist, for much of my educational and working life I’ve been very focused on my next steps, the next couple of years, just finishing this qualification, getting the next job. 25 years on feels almost unimaginable.

And there’s another issue. Some people say that in the coming years the NHS might not exist. I’ve got greater concerns. I can’t say I’m overly convinced that in 25 years the world, as we know it today, will really exist. Maybe I’ve watched too many zombie films and read a bit too much post-apocalyptic fiction, but you only have to turn on the news to hear daily about nuclear weapons, natural disasters and outbreaks of disease – things aren’t going well. And in 25 years… I fully expect that those of us that are left will be living in bunkers underground, following some kind of large-scale disaster that will wipe out the world’s cities and most of the population.

So our modern world is probably coming to an end. But I think I’ll be ok. I may be rather lacking in survival and combat skills, I’m not sure I could decapitate a Triffid or shoot a zombie, but I think as a psychologist (I’ll be qualified by then, not that it’ll matter a lot when universities, the BPS and the Healthcare Professionals Council cease to be) I’ll have some essential skills to help in rebuilding a shell-shocked world.

Professional Identity

Given everything that’s gone down, some of the niceties of the professional will probably be going out the window. I’ll be taking psychology out to the people as and when it’s needed, so I’ll be out of the clinic and getting a bit grubby. Smart trousers and sensible shoes will be out; I see myself as dressing somewhere between Tank Girl and a character from Fallout. Probably carrying some kind of weapon. There’ll be a bit of scrambling around. As a psychologist, I’m used to working in a team and taking on a variety of roles and being a spokesperson for mental health, personal development and identity. Now I’ll also be taking on roles as something of an educator, communicator, mediator and support worker.

Trauma, adaptation and survival

Living in a post-apocalyptic society, loss and death will be even more a part of our lives than they are now. I think I’ll be taking a key role in helping people in the community to come to terms with thing, accepting what has happened and adapting to a new way of life. There are likely to have been a lot of individuals who have had traumatic experiences and complicated bereavement and there will be a place for education and individual and group-based targeted interventions. People may have to live with some longer-term medical conditions (inc neurological conditions) and difficulties that there won’t be the resources to support, as there once was. We’ll all need to adapt to survive. This might sound like a lot of misery, but I think there’ll actually be a lot of room for post-traumatic growth and developing resilience. Many people will have shared difficult experiences and I think this could bring people closer together in supporting each other and overcoming adversity. Sometimes these kind of experiences can really shake people up, but also make you appreciate what you have and give you a refreshed perspective on life. In a world where money and material possessions hold less weight, I think people might actually find themselves happier living a simpler kind of life and taking up meaningful occupation in supporting the community. It might be useful to think about the level of depression (and PTSD-type symptoms) in communities around the world where death, disaster and poverty are common-place; people find a way to live through and grow despite extreme adversity. Viktor Frankl will be essential reading for everyone.

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