When I graduated from university, I worked in the NHS for a year, part time, as a receptionist in an Occupational Therapy department. I no doubt got the gig because of my touch typing skills (thank you Legally Blonde), as I was not at the sharp end of critical services but spent a lot of my time typing up reports about elderly people who had broken their hips going home with raised toilet seats and being tested on their ability to make a cup of tea. I am being a bit flippant – for the people who were desperate to be allowed to go home, making that cup of tea was a life-chances level assessment. I’ve admired Occupational Therapists ever since – it’s not the most glamorous of jobs, but it makes a difference. In its truest form, it is all about helping people to actually live their lives.
I’m currently experiencing all kinds of therapy. Through my work I’ve been lucky enough to encounter Time to Change, and I think it’s really important to remove the stigma around mental health, so I have zero shame in admitting that I currently see a psychotherapist regularly. Luckily for me I also a psychotherapist friend, who was able to persuade me to stick with it after the first six session. In fact, I really enjoy my counselling sessions now, although enjoy is probably a strange word for something which often leaves me feeling absolutely wrung out, and I judge the impact of the sessions on the number of tissues used. But I feel the benefit. It was a conversation with my therapist that brought about “write more, live more” as one of my edicts for life.
Which brings me to writing as therapy – yes, there’s often a cathartic element to writing. A friend asked me if this blog was just therapy – well, I’m not confessing all my secrets here… but I know that writing takes me to a place in my head that is a good place to be. There’s been research on it – the state of Flow. I love it when I get there, and writing is the way I’m able to snap in and out of it.
Retail therapy is one of my weaknesses, and has a downside, which is the spending of money – my lipstick collection confirms this economic theory. I’ve always been a keen online window shopper, which has nearly all of the thrill of shopping without the costs incurred. Ever loaded up an online shopping basket with all the things you fancy and watched the total get scarily high? Just make sure you don’t have one-click settings enabled…
This week I experienced a bit of genuine Occupational Therapy! One of my friends is preparing to live abroad with her family for a number of years, only two years after moving to her forever home. I went round to offer help (and also wine and profiteroles), as she has a toddler and a five month old, and also a dog! And she is leaving an idyllic country cottage, that is currently surrounded by daffodils and snowdrops. After some chat and some dinner, and thoroughly failing to console the baby who didn’t enjoy my cuddles, I was beginning to feel that I was there under false pretences. “What am I actually going to do to help?” I asked… and I was led to two cupboards of plates and glasses and a very large roll of bubble wrap.
It turns out that when you’re not packing up your own life to a deadline, bubble wrapping and packing is surprisingly relaxing. Apart from being worried I would end up breaking someone else’s precious wedding champagne saucers, it was a deeply satisfying activity. I’ve read that one of the best ways to engage with teenagers (and anyone reluctant to talk) is to do an activity side-by-side, and I’ve always found walking and talking to be a good way to have a conversation. We talked, while I wrapped, and the baby was fed and snuggled, and before I knew it, there were three boxes full of wrapped breakables, and I felt immensely satisfied. Completing a task and helping others – very Gretchen Rubin style ways to feel at peace with yourself, but it certainly worked for me.