Mental health diary: what it’s really like to be a therapist during the pandemic

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This Mental Health Awareness Week, Stylist is sharing mental health diaries from key workers on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus. Here, therapist Muge shares a glimpse into a day in her life.

My name is Muge and I am a 30-year-old therapist living in south east London with my partner, Tanju. I specialise in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation reprocessing therapy (EDMR). EDMR is where a therapist supports you to relive traumatic or triggering experiences in brief doses while directing your eye movements and distracting you, so that recounting the experience is less painful. CBT helps you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

I am currently working solely from home, for IESO Digital Health, providing NHS patients with one-to-one therapy. 

7am: I’m trying to keep to a routine and structure, so that whenever ‘this’ is over, it’s not too much of a shock to the system. I grab a banana and jump on my cross-trainer for 40 minutes. I’m doing this every day at the moment, to keep my fitness levels up and maintain my mental health.

I feel energised this morning – more than usual. I slept far better than I have the last few weeks and I can tell. My sleep has been broken since we went into lockdown. I try not to dwell on it, but the change of routine has affected me.

I shower, get dressed, do my hair and make-up, grab a coffee and start panicking that I’ll be late for my first patient, even though in reality I know I won’t be. I open my laptop and start prepping. 

10am: I start work at 10am every day. The first thing I do is check my emails then my diary, and remind myself of the patients I’m seeing today. I re-familiarise myself with my cases and where we are in each treatment plan to make sure we get the most from each session.

I generally book in around six to eight patients a day; each session takes around 50 minutes. I take breaks in between everyone, to prep and refocus. 

12pm: I take a complete break at lunchtime. I’ve learned the hard way that not giving myself the time away from my laptop isn’t good for my own mental health. My lunchbreak gives me a chance to refuel and re-energise for my next patient. I’m really good at getting my five a day, and I have a sandwich with vegetables, or sometimes scrambled eggs or baked beans on toast.

1pm: I see three to four clients over the course of the afternoon. Although my patients won’t notice, my own mood can be affected by the clients I see. If some are progressing well, I often feel that mirrored in my own energy. I try to schedule my patients so I don’t treat multiple individuals who have severe trauma or PTSD back to back, but practicalities get in the way, which can be tough.

It’s a unique time in my career, as it is for all therapists. We’re experiencing the same anxieties as our patients when it comes to Covid-19, whereas usually we’re completely objective. The concerns the public have are the same concerns I have, as my colleagues have. Trying to contain those feelings to provide the best care for others can be challenging. 

I look after myself by limiting the amount of news I watch and read, but if you’re supporting someone else through their anxiety on the subject, it’s impossible to get away from it. That can feel heavy, and it isn’t going to go away. It’s accepted in psychology circles that there will be a new wave of new patients seeking support very soon, and that the UK mental health system will struggle without innovation.

"I advise my patients to put their laptops away when they’re finished with their work, especially right now, when working excessively can be a sign of avoidance."

5pm: I take a break to have an early dinner with Tanju. I’m learning to cook and today it was homemade curry. During this break I watch a film to switch off – I’m watching a lot of comedy at the moment, as it’s so important to have a little laughter in our lives.

7pm: I prep for my last patients of the day, who I see at 8pm and 9pm. When my appointments end, I try to use closing my laptop as a mental switch that I’m done for the day, but it can be hard. I also advise my patients to put their laptops away when they’re finished with their work, especially right now, when working excessively can be a sign of avoidance. There are healthier ways to tackle what’s happening.

However, how successful I am in tuning out depends on the cases I’ve had, and what’s happening in my own life. At the moment I can’t see my parents. They’re over 70, and I miss them. I also lost my best friend on Easter Sunday. It’s my first real experience of loss. It’s been hard, and it’s hard to keep yourself together when you’re helping others with their suffering.

10pm: I generally go to bed at 11pm. Before that I shower, and do a 10 minute breathing exercise. I spray lavender over my pillow, and fall asleep after an hour or so.

I feel tired tonight, and drained. When you finally switch off from your day, you notice how you really feel. I think about all the other people struggling more than I am, and I hope they get in touch. I hope they ask for help. I hope for another good night’s sleep so I feel energised again tomorrow, so I can give the best version of myself to my patients, and start all over again.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on mental health charity Mind’s website or see the NHS’ list of mental health helplines here

Illustration: May van Millingen

Other images: Unsplash

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