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Working with mental health issues

Working with Mental Health Issues Following a Brain Haemorrhage, by Dawn Derbyshire for Insurance Age - July 2020.

Nobody knows when life is going to throw a curved ball, especially when you appear – and believe yourself to be – completely fit and well. Then, BOOM!

At a critical moment in my career, I was oblivious of what was about to unfold. On a return flight from a diving holiday, I suffered what is known as a Subarachnoid Haemorrhage. I was unaware it had happened to me, because although I still talked when spoken too, I was not actually conscious. It only became apparent to me 4 days later, after surgery.

What I did not anticipate was, this brings with it brain damage and that leads to certain mental health difficulties. So, the next 3 years were going to more challenging than I could ever have imagined. Indeed, the event changed me and my personality overnight.

The optimist in me thought, “well, that’s ok, I’ve survived. Although I may not be able to drive or dive for a while, I’ll be back at work in no time and life will carry as before.” How wrong I was!

Seven months later, as I started my journey back into the workplace, this was when I started to realise what a different person I had become. With the passing of time, each day, week, month presented itself with behavior’s that I was unaccustomed to.

As time passed passed, I became stronger, but started to develop things I had never experienced. A fear of leaving the house was one of them. How can this be so, after travelling alone for work all over the country, during the previous 30 years?

A fear of crowded places was another and I became sensitive to noise. Also, I lost control of my emotions, as I knew them, pre the event; and I still struggle with them now. I no longer have the same self-control as before. So, be warned!

My cognitive abilities have changed. I have experienced recognition, memory and language loss, both receptive and expressive. This sometimes makes it difficult for me to make sense of what is being said, or what I read, as well as finding the right words to write. This piece has taken me three days to compose!

A much-reduced concentration span also presents its problems, frustration and anger can rear their heads, because of my inability to process information in the manner I was accustomed to. Nevertheless, sharing all this with my colleagues helped me manage it and allowed me to work through some difficult times.

Not being able to exercise as much as I would like is another thing, because I must balance my days with how much my brain can consume. We use our brains for every piece of everyday existence; to think, to eat, walk, talk and we take all of this for granted. Not until now had I recognised the power of mental fatigue.

My neuropsychologist (who I still see) advises me to sleep during my lunch break to re-energise the brain. Easier said than done, although lunching with some insurer BDMs can make this less challenging. Our brains thrive on sleep, as much as the rest of our bodies do.

Interestingly COVID-19 has had huge benefits for me. Working from home has given me the ability to have a near normal day. I can exercise and work 8/10 hours a day and stay awake beyond 8pm. As well as thinking clearly for the whole of that time.

During September 2018, I was delighted to join the Insure Trek team’s stroll around Mont Blanc, raising vital funds for the Alzheimer’s Society, now a charity supported industry wide, thanks to IUAD. How could I say no?

Yet, as excited as I was about the trip and, very much wanting to do what I could to support a very worthy cause, I was immediately filled with fear knowing this would present me with mental challenges on so many levels. Being with strangers, travelling alone, excessive alcohol consumption, sharing dormitories and the tiredness that all of this would bring.

Nevertheless, I managed and, thankfully, our efforts not in vain, because we raised more than £100k and a great deal of awareness for Alzheimer’s.

I came away from the trip with some great new friends and knowing just how much personal progress I had made, as well as the challenges I had overcome.

Finding myself struggling with mental health was something I’d never thought would happen to me, I felt alone. My message is clear – do not ever judge another, always consider what they might be going through and offer your support.

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