@thepsychologymum burst onto our Instagram squares of awareness two months ago, and has made a huge impact in a short time with her recent campaign with @mumologist – howcanIhelp? I for one identify so strongly with everything that she has to say about juggling work, children, emotions, while trying to keep afloat within the general swell of life mayhem. She is funny, and wise, and I just have an inkling that she would be a LOT of fun to have a beer with. I wanted to find out more about what makes her tick. Reading her responses made my head nod repetitively like the Churchill Insurance dog. Enjoy!
Tell me about yourself!
I’m a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, working in the NHS. Currently I run a service for people who are experiencing psychological difficulties after a neurological condition, such as stroke, MS etc. I worked until recently in child and family services for over ten years, but found that balancing a split post was difficult after having children. I’m still passionate about early intervention and promoting positive mental health in young people, from pregnancy and birth onwards.
How/why did you start thepsychologymum on Instagram?
I wanted to make the psychology I use in a clinic room accessible to a greater number of people, and use social media as a tool to promote positive mental health, and destigmatise mental health. I was initially very wary about the pros and cons of social media, but found a few other psychologist also using instagram which increased my confidence about using it as a professional tool. I felt that, used effectively, social media could be seen as a widely available early intervention. I also love photography, so used it as an excuse to get a new camera and really get going again with a hobby I love, but have not done much of since having children.
The campaign for starting the conversation about mental health, hashtag-how can i help? has been a really powerful one, getting people really involved and chatting about these important issues. How did it come about?
I was listening to Radio 4 (Woman’s Hour helps me stay mentally healthy!) and I heard the interview by Bryony Gordon with Prince Harry. I’ve been talking for years about reducing the shame and stigma around mental health, and it made me so happy that someone so famous was speaking about it so openly. However it was the comments from the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Simon Wesley that really got me thinking. He said that Prince Harry had achieved more in 25 minutes than he had achieved in 25 years.
I really felt we were on the brink of a potential seismic change of attitudes to mental health and wanted to harness this in someway, which resulted in the idea for the howcanihelp campaign as I wanted to keep this conversation going with ordinary folk.
Emma (@mumologist) had contacted me on instagram a few days before. The last time I met her was at her sister’s party in Glasgow, and my street cred was at rock bottom as I had just been to a MeatLoaf concert (I didn’t admit it that night, but I actually really enjoyed it!). I thought it would be more powerful to have more than me involved, and I wanted to bounce the idea off someone. We got in touch and the howcanigelp campaign took shape. We had no idea if it would have any effect, or if there would be any interest. I had a couple of local bloggers interested as our first respondees, but one told me at the last minute she was too busy, which made me doubt it. I then asked @the_Positive_Planner, and her response was so enthusiastic I thought, let’s just go for it.
The response so far has been overwhelming, with people opening up on their pages so insightfully, and sometimes for the first time. One mum wrote that she had never told anybody before how anxious she got, and the comments back were so supportive that she told me it felt therapeutic to open up about it. This made me think that the howcanihelp conversation taps into not just attitudes about mental health, which we were aiming to do, but was actually having a positive effect at an individual level too, which I hadn’t really expected but was so pleased about.
What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?
I have two very bad sleepers and I like my sleep, so this has been difficult for me. Getting a (mother’s) lie in (i.e. what would have been an early wake up before!) really helps me, and my husband is brilliant at helping with this.
Noticing and recognising when my thoughts become unkind, and remembering what I tell other people in sessions also helps, as well as a hot bath and a good magazine.
For me, finding the balance between being sociable and having time to myself is also key. It’s taken me a few years with kids to realise I like to have a (kind of) blank day, where we have no obligations to be somewhere or do something. Having time to myself is also important… I just need to keep an eye on that ugly mother’s guilt troll that can creep up when I do, and also make sure I don’t put too much pressure on myself to do the unrealistic mother of all lists, thereby spoiling the time I have!
How do you balance kids and work?
To be honest Im not sure I do! I find it a constant struggle and there are days that I think I’m doing okay and other days that I feel that I’m getting the balance totally wrong – those are the days that I don’t even have fishfingers in the freezer so rake around to put together a ridiculous mash up of food, exhausted after a day of work, trying to convince the kids it is a culinary delight (they see through me completely. “Mummy why have we got fruit, peas, noodles and tomato sauce?”).
You have to keep guilt at bay, and the morning struggle to get ready and everyone to four different places stresses me out more than work. Sometimes I wonder if that, and the evening meltdowns after nursery are worth it, but I get so much out of my work and I like having a role other than being a mum. But when it’s a struggle I really have to remind myself why I am doing this often seemingly impossible balancing act.
What would be your top tip for keeping your mental health on track throughout pregnancy and early motherhood?
Watch out for guilt! The nasty little guilt troll appears as soon as we have a baby, often he even creeps up in pregnancy. He needs a good kick where it hurts as nobody can be the perfect mother, often its about surviving! Find those other mums who think similarly to you… you know the ones when you catch their eye and you know you are thinking the same silly thought.
They will tell you that you are doing okay, but often just by telling you how crap they think they are doing, with stories of letting their prams roll down hills (that was me – Anya. You’re welcome), eating play dough accidentally, shouting when stressed and finding this motherhood malarky pretty dam tough, when you think they are doing marvellously; making us realise we all feel the same and its perfectly normal to not feel okay. None of us are perfect and none of us are immune to emotions!
Also realising that looking after yourself is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It is important for you and your children, so remembering to remember yourself and your own needs in the midst of the chaos of having children.