How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

A month ago I wrote a blog on the 10 ways in which a hobby can improve your mental health when living with the impact of a serious illness or injury.

But after writing the blog, I thought of something I did not address in it. It was a question put to me by someone living with a neurological condition.

 

How do I find the right hobby for me?

new hobbies after serious health issue

Finding new hobbies after a serious health issue changes your life.

 

Great question! You may not have a hobby or have found the right one for you. You could be busy with the routine of your health issue, work, family and/or life in general. Which is normal and happens to a lot of people.

But maybe you are at the stage that you like to find a hobby to give yourself a break from illness, family, work, whatever. Or you may want an activity just for yourself or to restore a sense of normality in your life.

So in this post I am going to continue the theme of how a hobby improves mental health by answering that question.

 

How do you find the right hobby for you?

 

First, a recap from the previous blog the 10 way in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

hobbies improve mental health

10 ways hobbies can improve your mental health

 

These 10 ways provide an insight into the criteria or questions you can ask yourself when selecting a new hobby. Not all may be a requirement for you. Nor are they all a requirement for a hobby.

 

1. You are interested in the hobby

 

The hobby has a decent chance of holding your attention and focus. This is particularly important if you are hoping for the hobby to provide a distraction from your symptoms for a time.

 

2. You can use existing skills which you value using

 

This can be a powerful reminder of your existing strengths, which we can sometimes forget about when we are in a difficult place. For example, I enjoy research because it allows me to use my brain in a way I value. A new hobby I picked up whilst seriously ill was genealogical research. Another advantage of that hobby was I wasn’t required to move too much, which was good because I couldn’t due to the illness.

 

3. You will be able to physically do the hobby or adapt your approach to it

 

Sometimes after a serious health issue, our bodies can permanently change and we may no longer be able to do previous activities or we must adapt how we do them. For example, a friend had a heart attack and due to having angina as a result, returning to their hobby of running was not possible. They chose a new hobby of photography as it would allow them to walk whilst taking photos.

 

4. The hobby can provide an opportunity to learn and get better

 

Learning a new skill or developing an existing skill further provides a sense of satisfaction and mastery, which contributes to improved mental health and quality of life.

 

5. There is an opportunity to achieve something

 

And do you value that kind of achievement? For example, knitting can result in a finished product like a scarf, hat, jumper or blanket that you can use or give as a gift to someone.

 

6. The hobby provides a sense of belonging

 

Does the hobby provide an opportunity to socialise with others in person? Or to connect virtually with people? Which do you prefer? As I said in the previous blog on hobbies, being with others fosters a sense of belonging, which can be very powerful as it reduces the isolation that can result from having a serious health issue.

However, you may want a hobby that allows you to be by yourself and that is ok too.

Sometimes this nature of belonging is looking after something or someone else, whether it be a child, plants, or a pet. Whatever it is, it depends on you to survive and flourish. The process of helping in this way can be very affirming of you and your abilities. This is powerful as often after the onset of a serious health issue, it is common to lose our sense of self-worth as we feel we cannot contribute or look after others as we used to.

 

7. Is the activity something you think you will enjoy doing?

 

When we enjoy something, we often relax. And relaxation reduces stress. A win-win all around.

hobbies improve our mental health

The impact of hobbies on our mental health is a virtuous circle.

 

8. What meaning does the hobby give you?

 

By ‘meaning’ I mean you value what the activity has to offer whatever that is, such as the activity itself, being with people, helping others, creating or collecting something, increasing your knowledge, playing a team game with others, just having fun or something else. Or maybe the hobby allows you to live a value of yours, something that is important to you. For example, baking could be expressing a value of creativity, or community if you share your bakes with others.

 

9. Does the hobby restore a sense of normality to your life?

 

A hobby can provide routine like ‘every Wednesday evening from April through March I go kayaking’ and this fosters a sense of normality.

 

10. Consider what you enjoyed doing in the past, what you are good at and passionate about

 

What we enjoyed doing in the past, and our existing strengths and passions can be the source for new hobbies. Even skills we use at work and our jobs can be used in a hobby.

Hobbies we had as a child may capture our interest again. Or we may adapt childhood interests to what we want to do now. For example, maybe you used to sew clothes but now you want to make quilts.

If you are skilled at organising events, many charities and local neighbourhood initiatives may require this skill. If you are an accountant, maybe you do the accounts for free for a local club or charity or bring that skill to a non-executive position of an organisation. You can channel a skill you use at work towards a cause you find meaningful.

If you are passionate about nature, keeping bees or letting a beekeeper keep hives in your garden, bird watching, or creating homes for hedgehogs in your garden can all become hobbies.

It might be possible to adapt your approach to previous hobbies so you can still enjoy them. For example, if you now have limited mobility and gardening was a favourite pastime, raised outdoor beds or potting and growing plants indoors could still allow you to enjoy the hobby.

Sometimes a hobby can grow out of another hobby. For example, a friend developed a passion for Word War I history whilst doing genealogical research. He has since contributed to his local council’s initiative to commemorate those from the area who fought and died in the war, and may even start leading tours of the battlefields in France.

So based on the 10 ways hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life, these 10 criteria and questions can be your starting point in finding new hobbies. Have fun trying out new activities in your search and when you find your hobby, share it here. I’d love to know what you choose and how you are finding it.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result of your health issue? What influenced your choice? And how is it helping to improve your mental health and quality of life? Share below as your comment could help someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

How to create dependency on the NHS – Don’t give patients information

How to create dependency on the NHS – Don’t give patients information

Dependency on the NHS can (unintentionally) be fostered at the start of the patient journey. How? you may ask.

  • By providing little information about a patient’s diagnosis and prognosis to them at the point of diagnosis and only providing it verbally. And communicating that diagnosis via an unscheduled phone call or letter.
  • By providing little information about possible treatment plans, and the pros and cons of them.
  • Not signposting patients to relevant information, charities and organisations which can provide the information and support they may need going forwards.
  • Writing letters summarising what was discussed at appointments and treatment plans in medical speak, a language the patient does not understand.

 

In my work with the Transverse Myelitis Society, I hear the above happening a lot. I have experienced it as a patient (got the name of my diagnosis in a letter; the name of the diagnosis opens a door to getting more info).

People are left to learn what it is they do not know during a stressful time. The not knowing and associated uncertainty can increase already high anxiety levels. It can feel like a battle trying to get info, and then determine if the info is relevant to you.

information reduces anxiety

When information would help you understand and reduce anxiety.

 

I’ve seen this foster a sense of abandonment among patients. They feel so let down by their healthcare providers. It can also foster distrust. If a patient feels they cannot trust their consultant, GP, or other healthcare professional to tell them what they need to know, then is this patient going to follow their recommendations?

A patient can end up becoming reliant on the NHS professionals to do things for them. That reliance breeds expectation that that will happen. That expectation can then be passed on to others (parent to child, friend to friend, etc.).

When the expectation cannot be met due to lack of money, resources, competence, services not being joined up, whatever, then you have patients potentially upset with their treatment and care and potentially less likely to follow their medication regime, exercise recommendations, etc. Their health issues may worsen as a result. They return to the NHS for treatment. The cycle continues.

 

Lack of information is an issue for neurology patients

 

Lack of information has been identified as an issue in the Neurological Alliance’s Patient Experience Survey Falling Short: How has neurology patient experience changed since 2014?

  • 41% believed that communication of their diagnosis should have been done more appropriately or was not at all appropriate.
  • 45% were unsatisfied with information they have received about their condition
  • 46% were dissatisfied with information they have received about their care and treatment options
  • 53% were dissatisfied with signposting they had received from healthcare professionals to sources of voluntary sector support. A lack of information, particularly at the time of diagnosis, was a common theme in the survey.

I am sure many other health conditions are similarly affected. Not providing information to empower the patient is still happening at a time when the NHS can least afford it, and there are calls for patient-centred care and empowering the patient to be a true partner in their treatment and care.

 

Information is power

 

We say that information is power. And it sure is when you are diagnosed with a serious illness, chronic illness, or have a serious injury. When you get ill or have a bad accident, it often happens unexpectedly. It is not something you search for; you don’t want to get ill or badly hurt. So there is a very strong element of you don’t know what you don’t know.

If the people in the know don’t give you the information you need to know, it is that much more difficult for you to ask questions let alone the ‘right’ questions, advocate for your needs, be a part of decisions regarding your treatment and care, and find non-medical sources of support and information. You are not empowered.

information is power

It’s hard to know what to do when there is a lack of information.

 

Empowering the patient requires action by the NHS, charities and the patient

 

NHS

Please write letters summarising discussions had during appointments in plain English. A neurologist I once met said such a letter is meant to be the ‘care plan’ when he was asked why care planning was so poor in neurology (85% of respondents to the Neurological Alliance’s Patient Experience Survey said they have not received a care plan). A care plan is of no use to me as the patient if I cannot understand it.

If the doctor’s letters are meant to be the ‘care plan’, then they can’t be one dimensional, i.e. only about the medical side of things. People are not one dimensional and so our care cannot be either.

Make it easy for healthcare professionals to provide patients with information of national and local organisations which can support their needs. Develop a national database of such organisations available to all NHS trusts. Set it up so healthcare professionals can add information about local organisations.

Until such a database is developed, make it routine in your ward/practice and during appointments to ask what other non-medical support patients require and signpost them to appropriate NHS and non-NHS services and organisations.

Explain to the patient how your local NHS trust/hospital/GP surgery works in relation to their needs. When you enter an NHS system as a patient, you don’t know the in’s and out’s of how it works. Here’s a recent personal example. A doctor initiated on the same day two appointments (in different clinics) for me even though one of them has to follow the other. The reason? The second appointment is in a clinic that has longer wait times than the first appointment. By the time the date for the second appointment comes through, it should occur not long after I have had the first appointment. This was a consultant using his knowledge of how the system works for my benefit. (His care was compassionate and patient-centred! Yay @UCLH!)

In my experience with a serious illness hospital in 2008, the neurologist looking after my care knew their stuff. They were good. And nice. But they didn’t tell me much about the illness and what to expect in recovery. I had to figure out the majority on my own. So this is a gentle reminder to give your patients information verbally and in writing.

 

Charities

Produce information that your members or beneficiaries would find useful. Ask them what information they need. In fact, they may want to help you produce it. Have relevant healthcare professionals review it for accuracy. Schedule a date for when you will review the information in the future to ensure it is still up to date and accurate. The Information Standard guidelines can help you produce good quality information.

Develop relationships with healthcare professionals and hospitals as they are the conduit to getting your information to the person who needs it. This takes time. However, it can go a long way towards helping someone newly diagnosed get the support they need sooner rather than later. And as a charity, this is often a key reason why you exist.

 

Patients

Google is a great gateway to information about your condition from expert sources and your peers. Keep in mind that what may seem like an ‘expert source’ may not actually be one. If you are not sure, make a note of the information you came across and its source and ask a suitably qualified professional at your next appointment or the charity who supports people with your condition.

Your peers can be a great resource for information. However, please do not make changes to your medical routine without speaking to your doctor first. Your peers may be experts in their condition as it relates to them, but they are not experts in how the condition affects you. And sometimes, the information they provide can be incorrect so they also cannot be the only source of information.

If you can, take your partner, another family member or friend to your appointments. They can be your second pair of ears and take notes for you. Thus freeing you up to ask questions and listen. Also, your family member or friend may remind you to ask the doctor about certain things you haven’t yet asked.

Prepare for your appointments. Keep a note of questions you and your family has about how your condition impacts you. Keep a diary of how you are affected. This helps the healthcare professional to help you. That is key. In the world of managing our health, the doctor-patient relationship is a two-way street. As much as we need them to give us information, we need to give them information too. Rather than have dependency on the NHS, it’s about sharing the dependency on the NHS, charities and patients.

empowered patient patient-centred care

Two way street = Patient helping the doctor to help them and the doctor helping the patient.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What has your experience been like learning about your health issue and how to manage it? What support did you get from healthcare professionals and charities?

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

Is it depressing supporting people living with chronic illness?

Is it depressing supporting people living with chronic illness?

Is it depressing supporting people living with chronic illness?

I was asked this question on holiday by someone who was staying at the same hotel I was. I felt really surprised by it.

I responded no and that it was some of the best work to be doing. I also talked about that people living with life-changing serious health issues, whether it is temporary or chronic, face a struggle many people never have to deal with. And this population deserves to have a good quality of life like anyone else and that is possible. I also rambled on about the nature of recovery and how society’s assumption of what it means is not helpful.

This person asked me again, ‘But isn’t it depressing working with people with chronic illness?’

Again, I felt surprise and thought, I just answered the question. I explained that I did not find it depressing most likely because I experienced a serious illness which has had a permanent effect on my body, and how I appreciate what I can do like having the gin and tonic I was making for myself. I spoke about my other half’s mid-life brush with his mortality and how all this meant that we had both been there, been through it, continue to deal with the illnesses’ ongoing impact, and are thriving.

I continued to say that for me serious illness has played a significant part in my life, it has been the inspiration for the work I do now, and so no I do not find working with people with chronic illness depressing but incredibly rewarding, interesting and I continue to learn so much. And then talked about how my field of work could be relevant to their field of work, which was corporate social responsibility and ethics at work.

Afterwards at the dinner table I reflected on the conversation and felt like my response was a bit garbled and I had missed an opportunity.

This is what I wish I had said in response.

 

‘Good question. At times living with or witnessing another’s serious illness can be depressing. Are you thinking you would find it depressing to support people living with chronic illness?’

 

Acknowledging that their question is a valid question by saying, ‘Good question.’

…plus referring to their experience of witnessing a family member’s health decline due to a progressive illness (which they had told me about), and at the same time acknowledging that experience may have been difficult: ‘At times living with or witnessing another’s serious illness can be depressing.’

…and only then asking the question: ‘Are you thinking you would find it depressing to support people living with chronic illness?’ Particularly when they asked the question the second time.

This might have opened up a whole new conversation. One I felt I had implicit permission to have given how our conversation was unfolding, the timing of it, where we were, and that they asked the question twice.

Whilst introducing ourselves to one another, the person initiated the topic of conversation referring to the conversation I had with their spouse earlier that day regarding what I do for a living. The person had also voluntarily talked about their experience of a family member’s  progressive illness.

It was just the two of us in the hotel’s honesty bar mixing our pre-dinner drinks so there was no one else listening in. This would not have been a long conversation. It could not be as we were both due to join our respective other halves for dinner.

The location and timing of our conversation was possibly safe enough for that person to raise a question possibly important to them at some level given they had voluntarily referred to their family member’s illness. (My use of the word ‘possibly’ is me holding my meaning-making lightly.)

Also, when a person says, ‘Do you think…’, many times that is reflecting what THEY are thinking and feeling about the topic being discussed.

I missed an opportunity.

 

To possibly leave the person with something to reflect on and perhaps of value regarding their family situation

 

What exactly that would have been, I don’t know as the conversation did not get that far. My question might have raised awareness of their possible assumptions towards serious illness. And maybe I could have shown how living with a serious health issue doesn’t need to be depressing. That is the point I would have wanted to make.

 

There is reward in your struggle to live well with a chronic illness

 

Sometimes it is downright depressing to live with a serious temporary or chronic illness, whether your own or watching someone else go through it. The uncertainty, unwelcome restriction in use of your body (or a loved one’s), forced change in lifestyle, feeling like something else is in control of you, yeah, that can suck big time.

But it doesn’t have to be like that all the time.

To live well in life in general can be a struggle. A serious health issue can amplify that a thousand-fold. So the effort you put in and achievements you make to live well despite the very real constraints you live with are that much more valuable.

live life well with chronic illness

You have already achieved something of value today. Picture drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

Recognising your effort and achievements, however insignificant those achievements may feel to you, is key to keeping any depressing aspects from taking over your life and keeping yourself in control.

Helping people to do just that is some of the most meaningful and needed work to be doing in this world.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What has been the most surprising question you’ve been asked about living with a serious health issue? How did you respond or wished you did? How do you remind yourself of the value of your achievements? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a serious health issue or its after effects, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to move beyond the depressive aspects of your situation, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

 

Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness #ihavementalhealth

Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness #ihavementalhealth

When adjusting to living with a serious or chronic illness, whether this experience is more recent for you or you’ve been living with it for some time and things have changed, you can experience a period of mental upheaval.

You may experience anxiety, scared of what your future will be like, worrying about every twinge and odd feeling in your body, feeling unbalanced emotionally, and are quickly moved to tears, anger or both. The rollercoaster of emotions is never-ending. You want to feel a sense of calm and balance. You want to feel normal again but are not sure if that’s achievable or how.

Firstly, it is possible to return to a sense of wellness and normality. I have helped clients successfully do this after they experienced a serious illness or onset of a chronic illness. Just a heads up that it often looks and feels differently from what it was like before.

Secondly, feeling the way you do because of the changes in your health is actually normal. These periods of adjustment are about transitioning from one way of doing and being to another. It’s about change. And when we experience change, we can experience all sorts of unfamiliar and unpleasant emotions, particularly when the change is not expected nor welcomed.

So you are not going crazy. You are experiencing another side to your mental health. Read on to learn why looking after your mental health is as important as your physical health when living with a serious or chronic illness. But first, let’s review that definition of mental health because it can sometimes get in the way of people seeking out support.

handling emotions when living with chronic illness

The roller coaster of illness

 

Debunking the myth of mental health

 

In our society, we have come to associate the words ‘mental health’ almost exclusively with issues such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, bi-polar, suicide, schizophrenia, other personality disorders, etc.

It is also often assumed that help is only for these type of issues. And if you don’t have them, you don’t need help, and should not need help. But if you access help, then you must have something wrong with you, like a ‘psychological problem’ and be ‘screwed up’.

That societal definition of mental health doesn’t do much for empowering people, who are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression (maybe for the first time), to seek help and support.

The definition also discounts the whole human experience and all the good things we experience and feel. It has resulted in lack of recognition that people with mental health issues can and do experience good feelings, good times and periods of happiness.

Just as our physical health can experience good and bad periods, so does our mental health. At times our mental health is ill, other times it is in good shape.

‘Mental health’ is a neutral term like physical health. Just as we have physical health, we have mental health.

mental health #ihavementalhealth

Mental health is a neutral term.

 

The #ihavementalhealth campaign

 

Last week the #ihavementalhealthcampaign on Twitter reminded me of this and its importance to people like you and me who live with chronic illness or the ongoing after effects of a serious illness.

Dr. Ilan Ben-Zion (@drilanbz), a clinical psychologist in the UK started this campaign last week when he was sharing his NHS stories via the @NHS Twitter account. The campaign’s aim is to show how neutral the term ‘mental health’ is and that we all have it. In turn, this can reduce the stigma mental health has developed and normalise people seeking support when they feel they are struggling.

If more people feel able to seek support when they are struggling, then this can prevent issues growing into even bigger ones.

 

Your mental health is just as important as physical health

 

parity of esteem #ihavementalhealth

A balanced focus on mental and physical health is needed.
#ihavementalhealth #weallhavementalhealth

 

When living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious health issue, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. The reasons for this are several.

In my own and my clients’ experiences, stress can exacerbate symptoms. Learning ways to effectively manage the impact of stress becomes very important to reduce its impact on symptoms. I’ve had clients report feeling a reduction in symptoms due to addressing issues which caused them to feel stressed and learning to manage the stress differently.

Also, stress and anxiety can become more prevalent due to the uncertainty which often accompanies a change in our health.

Having support to adjust to any unwelcome and unwanted change with your health or any other part of your life can help you to work through the stress, anxiety, depression and emotional struggles more quickly and effectively. So you can return to that sense of calm and balance you’ve been seeking, and experience quality of life and normality once again. Timely support can also prevent issues escalating, allow people to appreciate and feel their self-worth, and to continue being a part of society.

Sometimes the physical health issue can cause changes in the brain which impact emotions, cognitive abilities and executive functioning. Side-effects of medications can also cause mental health issues. This is when it is important to have a suitably qualified healthcare professional involved who can formally assess the issue and recommend strategies and treatments.

These reasons show that mental health is ever-present, there is a complex relationship between our physical and mental health, and it’s super important and ok to look after it and seek support to enable us to do that.

To show your support for these ideas, get on social media, introduce yourself and use the hashtag #ihavementalhealth.

My name is Barbara and #ihavementalhealth

In fact, #weallhavementalhealth

 

What’s it like for you?

 

When you’ve been in a difficult period, what helped you to enhance your mental health? If you reached out and asked for help, what enabled you to do that? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I write these blogs in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a family member, friend or colleague would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury or onset of a long-term condition can take time and involve many mixed emotions. Your body has changed. Forever. You can feel it. You remember what you used to be able to do. And your body has that memory too.

You go to move in a way you want without thinking because it’s what your body does. So you think. But your body doesn’t comply. Or it does and you feel a lot of pain. You may feel betrayed by your body. You can’t trust it anymore. You may feel a sense of loss missing what you were once able to do. You may even feel anger.

I know the feeling. At times, it really sucks. I have osteoarthritis in both knees. Learning to trust my body again and what it can do now has been an ongoing journey. But I had a realisation about it whilst on holiday that has been so freeing, I want to share it with you. Keep reading to learn what it was, how it helped me and may help you.

 

Fear can get in the way of learning to trust your body

 

That was the first realisation. I had assumed my knees were no longer capable of hikes which involve a walk up a steep hill (steep to me, maybe not to others). I have missed hiking over the years. I used to do a fair amount of it when living in Central Asia where mountains were on my doorstep.

Central Asia Almaty Kazakhstan

Mountains outside Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo taken by B Babcock circa 1997.

 

This fear came about for several reasons. The long-term prognosis for my knees isn’t great based on the doctor’s verdict. I had become more tentative when I walk due to often feeling pain that can come on unexpectedly and for no obvious reason. So I take great care on uneven ground and when there is a high step. This is me being careful; I want to preserve my knees for as long as I can.

Yet I feel that carefulness morphed into a fear that wasn’t helpful. I feel at times I have chosen to let the fear hold me back, to give in and say no to activities rather than trying them to see what my body is capable of.

 

While on holiday, I had to face that fear and deal with it

 

I signed up my other half and I for a guided walk of the Mach na Bo (Plain of the Cattle) on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. The walk was deemed easy to moderate and would take 4 hours. I explained that I have osteoarthritis, checked if there would be any ascents and what they were like. I felt satisfied I would be able to do the walk and my husband and I would have a lovely time.

Just in case, I decided to bring the husband’s walking sticks.

Thank the gods I did.

It wasn’t until we had walked up the valley – an easy walk where I wasn’t using the walking sticks – that the ascent ahead of me became visible.

I expressed my concern. The guide was lovely and encouraging. My other half easily scrambled up like a mountain goat. I felt envious of his ability. But also surprised and proud knowing the health issues he has experienced. He was my example to aspire to on the walk. If he could do it, I was going to as well. (There is also a healthy sense of competition between my other half and I.)

I took out the walking sticks. I moved slowly and very very carefully. Looking over the edge, I could see that if I were to fall, it would be down a steep slope. I did not fancy that. I could feel resolve kicking in. I wanted to continue walking because it was great exercise, which I enjoy, in beautiful nature, which I also enjoy.

I got to the top. The ascent was approximately 330 meters. It may not be a lot for some people but to me it felt like a 1,000. I was elated with my accomplishment! (still am)

 

facing fear and trusting my body

Making it to the top of the hill on the Mach na Bo walk. You see that river along the valley floor? We walked along the trail next to it. Photo taken by the other half 2017.

 

Support is crucial when overcoming fear and learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

 

I could not have done that walk without those walking sticks. They enabled me to such a degree I could not believe! They took the pressure off my knees. I am still amazed at how much that simple piece of equipment helped me. I had no pain in my knees the next day!

The guide was incredibly supportive and helpful in such a friendly manner. He encouraged me, often happily saying, ‘Ah, don’t worry about that ascent. It’s not very long! We’ll be there just around that corner!’ Then proceeded to tell a story from Celtic mythology in relation to the area we were walking through.

My other half was patient. That 4 hour walk took us 7 hours.

 

Willingness to ask and use support is important too

 

A willingness to ask for and use support, whether it is asking someone to offer their arm or using mobility aids, can get your farther than you thought possible.

But I know you may hate asking for help or using equipment. It can feel like you are giving in to the illness or injury. You miss your independence. You may feel that everyone is looking at you as you move along with your walking frame/sticks/wheelchair. It is a common reaction to your situation and understandable.

So many clients have spoken to me about how things changed for them when they learned how and when to ask for help and use support. That willingness can be developed over time. If that is something you want to explore further, I’ve written a series of four articles about why asking for help can be so hard.

mobility aids give you support

What the support of walking sticks enabled me to do. Photo taken by B Babcock 2017.

 

Keep fear in check by minding your thought patterns

 

We get so used to thinking, ‘My body can’t do this anymore…I am afraid of…’, I think sometimes we can lull ourselves into a trap of vicious circle thinking. The focus is on what we cannot do and possibly fear to such a degree there is no room or energy left to focus on what we can do or might be able to do.

I realised after that walk I had gotten myself into that place. I just assumed I could no longer hike up a hill without even attempting to hike up a hill. That fear was having a protective function – maintain my knees for as long as possible. But I had let too much fear creep in and take hold so I was making my decisions from that place. I didn’t learn I was mistaken until I was in the situation.

To double check if you are making decisions from a place of too much unhealthy fear, listen to your inner self-talk. If hear yourself saying something like, ‘I can’t do this, can’t do that…, My body is no longer capable…, Oh, that is not possible for me!’ stop and ask yourself these questions.

 

trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Keep the fear in check to help you learn to trust your body after a serious illness or injury. Photo taken by B Babcock 2017 at Annascaul Lake looking back at the descent.

 

So Barbara, are you going to walk up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike or Snowdon?

 

No, that would be way too much too soon. For now, I will go on these monthly walks a friend organises. I will use the walking sticks. In between those walks, I will continue to do easy walks in my local neighbourhood. A few times a year I will try a more challenging walk. Having a go, building up bit by bit, checking in with my fears, and asking for help will be my way forward in learning to trust my body.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Have you overcome a fear as you learned to live with a changed body due to a serious illness/injury? What enabled you to do that? What worked and did not work for you as you learned to trust your body after a serious illness or injury?

If you are learning to live with the changes in your body due to a serious health issue and would like support to manage the fears and do what you want to be doing, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although these blogs are written in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a family member, friend or colleague would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

P.S. A big shout out and thanks to Kevin O’Shea of Celtic Nature Walking Tours for his excellent guidance and support during our Mach na Bo walk!

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

Uncovering the unconscious biases that can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

Uncovering the unconscious biases that can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

This post focuses on uncovering the unconscious biases which can interfere with an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue. It s the fifth and final post in this series for line managers who have a team member returning to work after a serious health issue, and are wondering how they can best support their employee. 

Rather than focus on HR policies and employment law, what I am sharing here are the subtle and often unseen aspects which can help the employee’s return to work or derail it. Knowing about them will enhance your ability to relate empathically with your employee and support them, which is a key ingredient for a working relationship built on trust. This in turn can enhance employee engagement and loyalty. The previous posts are here, here, here and here.

As part of supporting employees returning to work after a serious health issue, one of the topics I’ve written about has been how not to say the wrong thing. I’m continuing this theme but from the perspective of how the biases and assumptions we hold around health, illness and disability can impact how we treat people.

My starting point is to look at some of these most common assumptions we hold as a society. These are the messages we are surrounded by every day, which we absorb and can sometimes impact what we believe, assume, think, feel, do and say.

The aim is to deepen our awareness so we can make mindful choices regarding what we say and do when supporting a colleague returning to work after a serious health issue. Last week I shared two prevalent biases.

  1. Having had a serious illness or acquired a disability means you can no longer work
  2. For an illness/symptom to be valid, it must be visible.

This week, I’m sharing three more and offering an exercise to uncover the unconscious biases around health, illness and disability you may hold.

 

illness biases

Illness biases in our society. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

As you read each bias, consider what could be the result if someone acted on them when supporting an employee returning to work after a serious health issue.

 

Unconscious Bias 3 – When you are ill, you must look ill. You cannot look or feel well.

 

This bias relates to the invisibility bias mentioned above and says, ‘You must be sneezing, blowing your nose, have a limb in a cast, stay in bed, be in a wheelchair, whatever. You can’t laugh or smile if you are depressed. You must give me a visible sign that you are really are ill. Only then will I believe you.’

Many illnesses, symptoms, and conditions are invisible like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), Transverse Myelitis, and Multiple Sclerosis to name a few. And these conditions can fluctuate. There may be periods when the symptoms are very bad, and then they reduce or even disappear for a time. You can have a long-term condition punctuated by periods of wellness. And when you are in a bad patch, you can still look well.

Consider what it is like for the employee who has an invisible illness or disability who sees their employees roll their eyes when they leave work early because of symptoms, or the manager who asks more questions than of others who have been off sick.

 

Unconscious Bias 4 – You look well so you must have recovered or be recovering.

 

This bias says, ‘But if you are still ill, despite looking well, you must not be working hard enough at your recovery.’ Ach, that puts a ton of responsibility on a person and assumes a level of control that may not be possible.\

At work and elsewhere, this can lead to people giving the employee the quizzical look and possibly even saying something to others that the person looks well but is ‘supposed to be sick’. It can also lead to receiving a lot of advice regarding what you can do to recover.

When it comes to our bodies, we can directly control our breath, muscles and mind. We can influence other things, for example weight and body mass index through our diet and exercise. But there’s a lot going on in our bodies that we don’t see and cannot control.

 

Unconscious Bias 5 – Mental health issues aren’t real; people who have that are ‘soft’

 

The following example in the sport of cricket reminded me of this assumption. Jonathan Trott left England’s Ashes tour in 2014 because of a stress-related illness and took a leave of absence to focus on his health. ‘Michael Vaughan asserted that “both he and the public have been been ‘conned’ by Trott…”’ (Moss, 2014).

I don’t need to explain that further. The impact of being on the receiving end of that can be crushing. Having people say this about you can come across as if you do not know your own body and so are unable to evaluate your own experience.

Stigma around mental health issues unfortunately still exists in the workplace. Although there are initiatives encouraging Human Resources professionals to share their personal stories with mental health issues, ‘less than 10% of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems…yet 78% of employers believe their staff are comfortable having mental health discussions at work’ (Gyton, 2017). There is an obvious disconnect.

What is it about mental health at work that isn’t working?

 

Perhaps it comes down to what Dr. Miller, policy advisor at the CIPD, said ‘A crucial missing link is often found in the relationship between line managers and their employees.’ An important link to this is the training line managers receive to manage and support staff with mental health problems. Dr. Miller said 22% of employers are investing in such training (Gyton, 2017).

There is the saying that people leave line mangers and not jobs. That line manager and employee relationship is so important. If you are a line manager supporting an employee with mental health or another health issue, one of the things you can do is develop your awareness of the assumptions you hold around health, illness and disability so you can make mindful choices going forward. Keep reading to find out how.

stigma of mental health at work

The stigma of mental health at work. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

IMPORTANT TANGENT – MIND offers a course called Mental Health First Aid, which trains you in the signs of various mental health issues and appropriate ways of dealing with them. It’s very informative and helpful and I recommend it. Click here to learn more.

 

How to ensure you don’t act on unconscious biases when supporting colleagues returning to work

 

These 6 questions will help uncover unconscious and biases you may hold around health, illness and disability. This will enable you to make mindful choices on how you support an employee returning to work after a serious health issue. You can also book a session with me and we can do this together. Sometimes having an objective person listen can give you new insights.

The questions ask you to reflect on what it is like for you when you, and those around you, are ill, disabled, and in good health. The questions are repetitive, but it is important to consider them in the different situations to uncover any unconscious biases. Take the holistic approach used here and consider what you think, feel and actually do. You don’t have to do this all in one go. It may be helpful to write your responses.

 

Uncovering the unconscious biases – The 6 questions

 

1. When you are ill and/or disabled

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? Do you continue going into work, work from home, or stay in bed? Something else?

What is it like for the people around you? Your family, friends, colleagues, clients? How do they respond to you when you are ill? How do you respond in turn?

2. When you are in good health

What is that like for you? Again, what do you think, feel and do?

What is it like for the people around you? How do they treat you? How do you treat them?

3. When a family member, friend or colleague is ill and/or disabled

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? Do you look after/deal with them the same way you look after yourself when you are ill? Or differently?

4. When a family member, friend, colleague, client is in good health

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? How do you treat them?

5. For each of the above questions, review your responses. Ask yourself,

What must be true about me (and others) for me to think, feel and act the way I do?

What do I have to believe?

What am I assuming of myself and my capabilities? What am I assuming of others?

6. Read through your beliefs and assumptions because they point to the biases you may hold.

The biases can be helpful or unhelpful and that may depend on the situation. Consider a real life situation (your own or another person’s situation) and how the biases can lead to action on your part which is helpful or not to the situation. With these new realisations, you can choose to do something different when that is appropriate.

 

unconscious biases

Uncovering your unconscious biases? Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What biases around health, illness and disability have you come across at work or elsewhere? Which ones did you find unhelpful or helpful? Feel free to share here and ensure examples cannot identify companies or individuals.

If you have an employee returning to work after long-term sick leave and would like support to ensure a smooth transition, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although these blogs are written in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a colleague, friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Moss, B., It takes strength to recognise your own mental ill-health, People Management, CIPD, 25-Mar-2014, Available http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2014/03/25/it-takes-strength-to-recognise-your-own-mental-ill-health.aspx?utm_medium=email&utm_source=cipd&utm_campaign=pmdaily&utm_content=250314_comment_1

Gyton, G., Less than 10 per cent of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems, People Management, CIPD, 20-Feb-2017, Available http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/02/20/less-than-10-per-cent-of-employees-feel-comfortable-disclosing-mental-health-problems.aspx

 

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