I’ve been struggling to find time to blog due to being on placement, and yet I have so many areas I want to explore. I’ll leave the more academic stuff until I have time to do it properly, but for now a reflection on the process of my recovery, prompted by experiences on placement.
A Graded Recovery
When I look back on my recovery I can see a very clear gradation; some of the latter parts were planned in a nice ‘OT way’ and other parts occurred more naturally because I was able to improve and require different levels of support. A brief summary from the point where I was requiring the highest level of support is as follows:
Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU)
Acute Ward (24hr 1:1 Observations)
Acute Ward (1:1 observations, being gradually reduced)
Acute Ward (ward based)
Therapeutic Community (In-patient)
Therapeutic Community (Day-patient), beginning voluntary work (in a fairly low demand setting), starting leisure activities.
Discharge from Therapeutic Community. Increasing voluntary work commitment (increasing both the challenge from the setting and duration), starting a college course and becoming more involved in leisure activities.
More demanding voluntary work, starting university, increased involvement in leisure and social activities.
First practice placement (decreasing voluntary work and leisure activities in order to try and preserve some restful time).
The time spent at each of the levels was not equal, but I am fortunate that while I have, at times, felt ‘stuck’ in terms of my progress, I never had to drop back a level. This is not true of the period before, as I tended to bounce between being able to be ‘managed’ on the acute ward on 1:1 observations and requiring treatment on the PICU. The purpose of the summary was to consider the many, and fairly significant, steps I have had to take to reach the point of being able to go out on placement.
I remember clearly a lecture earlier this year that included statistics about the poor relationship between the length of time off work due to illness and the chances of returning to work. The lecturer quoted the study by Waddell and Burton (2006) that stated that those people off work for more than 2 years are more likely to retire than they are to return to work. I remember thinking, ‘Yikes, that’s me, in fact my last hospital admission was almost that length alone’ and I wondered what challenges lay ahead of me. Of course, I’m not there yet, but as I’m currently engaged in a full-time placement I thought I might reflect on some of the challenges I’ve encountered.
‘So, why do you want to be an OT?’
It’s funny, during the year at university this question hasn’t cropped up nearly as much as I thought it would, and when it did it was very easy to give a fairly superficial answer that felt comfortable given the level of familiarity I had with the person who was asking. On placement however, I seem to have been asked this by professionals almost every day. With some I can give a nice vague answer about wanting to work with people and liking the approach used in occupational therapy, I’ll also talk about how I’d done various types of voluntary work and discovered it that way. Other people seem to want more concrete examples, like wondering how I discovered about the role of an OT and wanting to know whether I came to the place I now live to study. Now, you could argue that a lot of this stuff is none of their business, but as I am an honest person and because they are only asking to get to know me I find it difficult to be too evasive. Equally, I don’t feel replying with ‘well, I was a nightmare patient, sectioned and unmanageable who was sent for treatment here and when I realised the value of OT in my own recovery I decided to research the profession further and get experience in related settings before applying to study it’ is quite the answer I want to give. Of course, part of me feels like perhaps I should stand up and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health problems, especially personality disorder, but I’m also aware that I have the choice to manage my personal boundaries the same way anyone would on first encounters with people.
The Shadow of the Past
I feel like I am incredibly fortunate to be able to say ‘I have recovered from BPD’ but to not acknowledge that it has left its mark on me would be unrealistic. So, not only do I feel like I have 6 years of ‘crisis’ to try and account for I am still very much in a process of rehabilitation; it is not yet two years since I left full-time treatment. On a very practical level working a 5 day week is a bit of a shock to the system, not least because the one area of my recovery that still requires work is my sleep pattern. I have always found the night to be a very distressing time and while the quality of my day has improved significantly, I still struggle with lack of sleep, nightmares and dissociation throughout the night. University were very happy to discuss my needs regarding placement and we agreed the practical arrangements that would be helpful for this first experience. However, while I did move towards this point in recovery in stages I do feel a little like I’ve chosen to run a marathon while having only trained for a 5k race.
The locality that I am on placement is not one I’d had much experience of. Bar one, slightly significant, incident involving quite a lot of blood and an ambulance. Obviously being in that area brings back some challenging memories and it can feel quite isolating as those memories are not ones I’d choose to share with current colleagues. On balance though, it feels like a great opportunity to be able to face up to some demons and create a new, more positive, experience of the location. Yes, it is a stark reminder of how difficult my life has been AND also a very clear reflection on the progress I have made.
‘Fitness’ to Practise
This post has possibly focussed a little more on the negative consequences of my life experience than is normal for me. However, I wanted to use the post as an honest reflection on how my past influences my present. I am aware that there are areas of my life that still need to be improved and that this placement is quite an increase on the demands I am putting on myself in terms of both physical and emotional energy. I think this self-awareness is vital; it’s allowing me to try and balance up other areas of my life, perhaps temporarily scaling back the leisure activities I do, replacing them with less energetic options and ensuring that I make time to rest, even if my sleep is still atrocious. I’m also conscious that I still have work to do; that I am still very much on a journey and while I believe I am able to be a responsible and competent student I have to keep building these new, positive experiences. I also value this blog because I have a tendency to come across as incredibly competent to others. In the past I have found the trait of ‘apparent competence’ to be incredibly limiting and this has left me feeling very isolated and overwhelmed, in fact the concept of apparent competence and its influence on occupation is something I wish to explore later, but for now I feel that I’m not falling into the old trap of ‘performing’ for others while internally collapsing. This time, I am managing, and managing quite well thanks to a big chunk of mindfulness and honesty about my current situation. So yes, I am fit to practise, even if it is leaving me feeling a little out of breath!
Waddell G, Burton A (2006) Is Work Good for Your Health and Well-being? Norwich: The Stationery Office.