Five members of #TeamCWP have spoken out about their own personal mental health challenges and the support they have received from CWP.
The staff members including a mental health nurse, transformation manager, trainer and occupational therapy assistant have each shared their stories in a one-off wellbeing magazine written for CWP staff.
Read their stories below:
Safieh Fraser - Transformation Manager
Safieh accessed CWP’s staff Psychological Wellbeing Pathway for anxiety and stress whilst going through IVF and sadly losing a baby.
She explained: “I actually started IVF in January 2017 and found the process extremely challenging after four years of putting my life on hold trying to conceive. I made a decision early on that I was going to be open with people about what I was going through.
“This really helped because friends and colleagues then opened up about their experiences and I remember thinking, wow, I am not alone and there is hope.
“Despite being open about the process, I still had to listen to some unhelpful comments that demonstrated sometimes people don’t understand what you are going through. I tried so hard to ignore the “when are you going to have a baby?”, “if you don’t hurry up you’ll be too old”, “what if IVF doesn’t work?”, “would you consider adoption.” I felt like screaming at them ‘give me a chance to go through this process first.
Safieh said that she finally hit a wall, after ignoring how she felt: “I was ok when I could address the things that I could control, but dealing with the things that I couldn’t and constant references to my age was a massive struggle. This led to a lot of anxiety, stress and eventually time off work. Everything just became too much and I couldn’t think or focus on simple things, let alone sleep. I was so lucky to have a supportive line manager and work colleagues.”
Sadly, Safieh’s first IVF embryo transfer failed. Then in November 2018, Safieh found out she was pregnant naturally. Sadly she lost the baby.
Safieh explains: “I went in and my heart sank, I heard the words, “I am sorry but there is no heartbeat”. There was just silence, complete and utter silence, my eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t move and I just didn’t know what to do.”
Later, Safieh and her partner decided to try again with IVF.
“We had one last embryo transfer left ‘our last chance’ and to everyone’s surprise it worked. This was not without its anxieties but fast forward nine months and one day - and a lot of references to my age - and our perfect rainbow baby boy Isaac William came into our lives, nearly five years late but we will never stop feeling grateful for our handsome little man.”
Safieh has highly praised CWP’S Psychological Wellbeing Team for their support: “Every single person in the team that I had contact with, demonstrated nothing but dedication and compassion, really showing that they cared about the outcome of my journey.
“They listened non-judgementally helping me look at things in a different way. I was able to talk it out and process things differently, probably more effectively due to the protected time and space to try and make sense of the feelings I was experiencing.”
Emma Naden - Trainer for the Involvement, Recovery and Wellness Centre
Emma accessed the CWP staff Occupational Health service for stress, anxiety and low mood.
Emma, who has been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, explains: “It came about as a very thoughtful kind manager’s referral as a result of struggling with COVID-19 long-tail symptoms which affected my physical and mental health and concurrent struggle with loss.
“I was extremely grateful to receive the help as I was getting early warning signs of increased stress, anxiety and more worryingly for me many weeks of feeling very low, not wanting to get out of bed and dreading work. I started being quite fearful and stressed at work, frightened of doing anything wrong and needing lots of reassurance. This was unusual for me as I normally really enjoy my job, love challenges and feel quite competent, confident and able to work autonomously.”
Emma describes the Occupational Health nurse as “excellent”. She said: “She reassured me saying how common long-tail post viral symptoms were. This reassurance helped me enormously especially my anxiety and low mood.”
Emma explains that the Occupational Health nurse helped her to identify the sources of her stress and how to address some of the stress including workload, work location, work time and annual leave.
She said: “As a result, I was able to work with my manager to discuss what changes could be made, which would enable to stay at work despite the symptoms and not go off sick, which I did.”
Emma has also been going wild swimming for five years to help regulate her anxiety, stress and nervous system.
She said: “I’ve lived with panic attacks for five years and when I persistently worked on self-help and getting help I managed to get rid of panic attacks myself and beat them.
“I am now a complete self-help, self–improvement advocate as my doctor said I had Post Traumatic Growth Syndrome. I managed to test my anxiety management to the limits and managed to do a ten thousand foot tandem skydive without a panic attack.”
Rachael Pears - Occupational Therapy Assistant, Eastway Ward
Rachael says she has always had depression and social anxiety.
She said: “I can generally function well at work and feel motivated but sometimes I struggle to motivate myself at home. I can feel very frustrated with myself and I get into a downward spiral.”
Rachael explained that a recent death in the family and her husband’s serious heart condition has contributed to the stress she has endured over the last few years.
She said: “Over the last few years my husband developed a serious heart condition and spent many months in hospital. So the stresses over the last few years have been great. I often feel like I have no energy at all and I feel stressed and annoyed with myself for not being a ‘normal’ functional adult.”
Rachael has joined an outdoor swim group, the ‘Happy Chilly Dippers’ to help with her depression and social anxiety.
She explained: “Being outdoors always makes me feel a million times better. Yesterday morning I was down there at 7.30am, watching the sun rise while the ice cold waves crashed over my head. It made me feel so happy and alive, and for the whole day yesterday I felt happy and full of energy.”
Rachael also finds crafts and gardening is a great way to better her mood.
She said: “I have taught myself to knit, crochet and I love needle felting. These things really help me when I am feeling low. I also love my garden and have become a very keen gardener during lockdown, turning my garden into a wildlife garden. I volunteer in a wildlife sanctuary as well which is hard work but so rewarding.”
Julie Sheen - Mental Health Nurse, Gateway Team
Julie was once an inpatient on CWP’s mental health wards following significant life events which affected her mental wellbeing.
She explains: “Things eventually came to a head when I took a significant overdose of medication I was prescribed for a coexisting serious physical health condition. I was admitted as an inpatient, initially on the Wirral and then transferred nearer to home in Chester.
“I was originally diagnosed as having a depressive and anxiety disorder when I was admitted to hospital.
“I have learnt that I need to keep an even balance, as over loading myself makes things worse but also inactivity also exacerbates things.”
Julie explains that post discharge she found a spark reignited in her to become a mental health nurse, something she had wanted to do since being aged 16.
“Following my patient experience I realised exactly what a difference I could make to supporting people with managing their mental wellbeing and their recovery. This time I had a broader perspective and understanding of the difference you can make. Also that sometimes it is not a quick fix but requires commitment and an individualised approach.
“After gaining more experience through volunteering and working for a mental health charity, I started my training in 2011 and after qualifying I was proud to gain my first nursing post with CWP.”
Julie explains what CWP has been able to do for her - both as a patient and a staff member: “CWP has done so many things for me it is hard to list them all. They have given me hope in my darkest days; encouraged and nurtured me; taught me about the power of belief in people and person-centred care; been a critical friend; given me time and the skills to maintain my recovery; supported me when I have slipped backwards in my recovery and put me back on the pathway; have given me a career I am proud of and get enormous enjoyment from; have helped me reach my life-long dream of being a mental health nurse.”
Julie explains that she had a lot of support from staff wellbeing services including staff support, occupational health and counselling sessions.
“These have helped me focus on what support I need in the workplace and what reasonable adjustments I can request.
“I am a member of the staff Disability Network and find by sharing my experiences I can make a real change to staff experience alongside having a say in policy which boosts my confidence.”
Rachel Symons - Staff Nurse, Lakefield Ward
Rachel has struggled with her mental health since she was 13. She has been diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and is a keen advocate for mental health having delivered a TED talk on the subject, written an online book and a series of lessons for schools.
Rachel explains that her CPTSD was the result of experiencing childhood abuse and trauma.
She said: “I have struggled with my mental health since I was about 13. I’ve had anorexia, bulimia, have self-harmed and still live with a vitriolic inner critic who likes to pour scorn on everything I say and do. I’ve taken an array of medication over the years and still need anti-depressants to help manage my mood and anxiety not to mention keeping that inner critic in check.
“If looking at the classic symptoms of CPTSD, I am text book, although unless you really know me, you probably wouldn’t realise. I struggle with anxiety, especially in crowds. I have difficulty trusting people and forming deep relationships as I tend to keep my guard up, I purposefully stay on the side lines, preferring isolation over abandonment. Like many with such a background I am very independent and have had to learn to ask for help.”
Rachel says she has always been honest with employers with regards to her mental health difficulties.
She explains: “I absolutely refuse to be ashamed. I have accessed services within CWP as a service user.
Rachel believes there is still a stigma surrounding mental health and is extremely driven and determined to make an impact on how we address the mental health of young people.
She explained: “There is still a definite stigma about mental illness. Despite recent awareness and campaigns, there is still hierarchy of what mental illnesses are allowed (depression is okay, people can relate to that, but personality disorder is perceived as manipulative/ behavioural and psychosis as dangerous) and who is allowed to have them.”
She continued: “I am on a bit of a mission to challenge stigma by improving education and understanding about mental health, especially in schools, as my previous job was a teacher. If people don’t understand the causes of poor mental health, then how can we expect them to know how to look after it?
“Consequently, I have written a series of lessons for schools, that aim to spark discussion and increase understanding. I find the research and work I have undertaken with regards to this is a huge coping strategy – research is ‘me-search’ as they say and by reading about the impact of childhood trauma, I am better able to understand, hence challenge, my own maladjusted thinking.”
Rachel says her other coping strategy is her dogs: “I adopted two rescue dogs six years ago when I was going through a real difficult phase with my mental health and have never looked back.”