Being Well in Difficult Times- Elizabeth

How would you feel if you were pregnant right now? It would probably add a whole other dimension to your concern. What if, to add to the puzzle, your work made you responsible for the mental health of others? Elizabeth* is a thirty-something school-based psychologist who is in the third trimester of her first pregnancy. This is how she is coping.

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It’s always helpful to hear how other people cope with life's challenges. Over the next few weeks we are dedicating the Being Well blog to a series called Being Well in Difficult Times. We've asked a range of health professionals 3 big questions to see if there was anything we could learn from them.

What are your biggest concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the pandemic my biggest concern has been balancing my professional and personal life.

As a School Psychologist, the students I support are always a top priority for me. I found myself at the end of last term placing pressure on myself to be onsite for my students… this pressure took a large toll on me personally as I am pregnant, and I was wanting to do the right thing for my baby to keep he/she safe but still fulfill my duty as a psych.

I am now working remotely (thankfully), so the health of me and my baby is no longer as great a concern… however, I still worry about my students. My team has been working tirelessly to develop an ethical and accessible remote counselling service to our students. Even with the support in place for students, I have found myself having to manage my own discomfort on a daily basis - when students don’t reply to my emails or choose not to engage in remote counselling.

And lastly, the uncertainty… are my students ok being isolated at home? How long will this last for? Will I be able to close with my students face-to-face before I go on maternity leave? Will my family get to see me in the final stages of pregnancy? Will my husband be allowed in the delivery room? And how long will it be before I can let anyone visit my baby?... questions that are constantly running through my head.

How are you managing your anxiety about these things?

When I found out I was pregnant one of the first things I said to my husband was “I don’t want to be stressed while I am pregnant”. Then the universe sent us a pandemic!

At one point I was struggling to manage my own personal worries with the pressure of being a school psychologist. I then realised if I was going to honour the promise I made to myself (and my baby) about remaining calm, I had to put some strategies in place.

Firstly, I reduced the amount of media coverage I was exposed to and would only obtain my information from the health.gov website. I asked all my family and friends when they were checking up on me to not talk to me about the virus. My husband and I are both working from home, so we scheduled daily exercise and cooking dinner together as our downtime.

My colleagues have helped ground me when I worry about my students. I have received supervision to discuss closure with my students and engaged in PD so that I am equipped to provide remote counselling to students.

I bought all the basic necessities for me and the baby so I felt more prepared and joined online antenatal classes.

And lastly, although it may seem like a cliché, I have taken one day at a time. I do not have the answers to the questions that keep running through my head… nobody does, so I decided to focus on the things that are in my control and on the things I do know. Firstly, that me and my baby are safe and secondly, that as a school we have done everything possible to offer and provide support to our students.

Do you think the experience of this little bit of history will make a difference to you or your plans for the future?

I think this experience has reminded me of the importance to slow down and take time for myself. I now appreciate the freedom of being able to visit relatives, go out with friends or pop by the shops.

I look forward to being able to tell this story to my little pandemic baby when they are old enough and I hope that our little family can continue to maintain the calm, safety and slower pace we now have even when this is all over.

*not her real name

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Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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