Postnatal depression inspired me to write novels

The subject of mental health has always been a subject close to my heart. My own issues with mental health, including my personal experience of postnatal depression, means that the subject is important to me.

Having qualified as a nurse, it came as a great shock to me that quite soon after giving birth to a very longed-for baby, I became mentally unstable. So much in fact that I decided to have some time-out from my career and concentrate on recovery. For me, my symptoms were transient and, within less than a year, I was well enough to continue my work as an NHS nurse at our local hospital.

However, those few tormented months will remain encompassed in my memory forever. At the height of my illness, I can clearly remember saying to my husband, "I would rather suffer physical pain, than this mental torment." 

Fortunately, I made a full recovery. The experience, however, has remained with me forever.

Throughout my long career, I have nursed many patients with a variety of diseases. Some of these patients suffered from the added complication of a mental health condition. I have the deepest of sympathy when confronted with such a situation. There have been occasions when such patients can be difficult to help and, without going into too much detail, I must admit this was at times quite challenging. At such times, I drew on my experience and addressed the situation with empathy and understanding.

As a practice nurse, the limitations of the allotted appointment time restricted the amount of counselling I could offer. Sign-posting and referring to the appropriate agency was the only option. Sometimes, when a patient had spoken about their mental health issues for the first time, they were not ready to talk to another health professional. After all, it had taken a lot of courage to speak out in the first instance.

In such circumstances (if appropriate and safe to do so), I offered a follow-on appointment to enable continuity of care and an opportunity to build a relationship of trust. This enabled me to build on that trust until they felt able to discuss their issues with the GP or an appropriate health professional, be that a counsellor or a psychiatrist.

During my 20 plus years as a practice sister, there was a number of successful outcomes using this approach. When I retired from my career, I drew on my experiences to raise awareness of mental health and associated conditions, through the media of fiction.

My debut novel Alice raises awareness of how mental health can deteriorate when faced with a situation involving loss of empowerment and control. As the story of Alice unfolds, we watch the sunny, positive nature of Alice gradually crumble after a series of family incidents. Without realising, she spirals out of control with her drinking. This leads her away from home, where she falls deeper and deeper into the realms of alcoholism.

My second novel, Love, Secrets, and Absolution follows the life of young Alfie from birth until he becomes a young man. Alfie is different from other children or rather his behaviour is. He suffers from obsessive behaviour and lacks social skills. Throughout the story, the reader observes the constant struggles he endures. Anxiety, teenage angst and addiction are just some of the issues explored in this story. Trying to describe the years of pain and torment for Alfie was quite challenging as a writer. I do hope that I succeeded in raising awareness about some of the aspects of mental health and counselling within my books.

I plan to continue along this route with my future novels.

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