How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.
Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice, How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.
Our first blog in the series is by Emily Clarke, Curatorial Intern at Girl Museum and Museum Assistant at Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service
I am a museum professional currently working at Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service and volunteering with the Girl Museum. I have suffered with anxiety and depression since my teens and have recently been diagnosed with PTSD.
For years I have struggled with accepting my mental health issues. I’ve asked myself, why am I feeling this way, and what do I tell people if I’m feeling low or anxious?
As obvious as it may sound, talking has really helped me to cope better over the past year. Deciding to be more open about my mental health has been one of the greatest, most liberating things I’ve ever done. Being honest about how I’m feeling has changed my relationships with friends, family, colleagues & healthcare professionals.
I am lucky to be high-functioning and I know there are people suffering a lot worse than I am, but recently I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter how big or small you think your issues are if you’re being affected by them. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised that mental health is just as important as physical health, which is spoken about freely and without shame, so why should it be any different for mental health?
When I joined the sector as a Training Museum Trainee in 2015, I was surrounded by a supportive team that I could be open with about my anxiety. Finding people who would listen and take my mental health seriously was really refreshing. I realised how important talking was as a coping mechanism for me.
I continued being upfront about my mental health when I started a new role at the British Museum. Being open with my team about my feelings of imposter syndrome and anxieties around my new role meant we could work together to create achievable deadlines, organise regular check-ins and organise counselling through HR. Once my contract finished, I went on a museum tour of Europe; mixing my love for museums and travel to support my wellbeing. After this, I returned to my local museums & joined the Girl Museum so that I can live at home. I continue to be vocal about mental health, alongside supporting others in the sector as best I can.
Saying that, I do understand how difficult talking about your mental health is (I didn’t do so for over a decade!) Before I was able to speak about it, writing really helped.
When I was 11, I was told I suffered from anxiety, after around 3 years of anxiety attacks. A few years later, I started feeling really down and cried… a lot! My mum gave me a notebook so that I could write my feelings down, which meant that she could better understand (and help) me.
This is something I have continued to do and find it really helps whether I’ve had a good or bad day. I recently got Fearne Cotton’s Happy: The Journal, which includes space to write about your day, poses questions and also provides self-care suggestions. For me, writing is a great way to document what’s going on in my head and get thoughts and feelings out as well as being a source of reflection. Having a journal is really useful during counselling to help pinpoint patterns as it gives me something tangible to refer to instead of relying on my memory (which is the first thing to be affected when I am stressed).
Over the past few years I have developed a bank of self-care ideas that have really helped me. In April I went to the Women of the World festival at Southbank Centre and attended a workshop run by Georgia Dodsworth, founder of World of Self Care .
She introduced me to the idea of a ‘Self-Care Jar’, a jar ‘filled with lots of Self-Care tips, affirmations and kind notes to self.’ I pick a piece of paper out of the jar when I’m feeling down and need cheering up or to reward myself when I’ve done something I feel proud of. My jar is filled with things such as ‘have a bubble bath and have an early night’, ‘go for a long dog walk’, ‘binge watch a new series on Netflix’ and my personal favourite, ‘visit a free museum’.
Museums have not only changed my career goals over the past 3 years but are also a great form of self-care for me. They give me something to focus on, I always learn something new and they give me an excuse to get out of the house & socialise on days when all I want to do is stay in bed.
Since entering the sector I have been overwhelmed by the support that I have found both in person and online. Groups like Museum Detox (http://museumdetox.com), Museum as Muck and the twitter page @Museum_Wellness all help me to talk through work-based anxieties or challenges and give out really great advice. I am hugely grateful for these groups and the people that have supported me since I joined the sector in 2015.
One of my New Year’s goals for 2019 is to continue igniting conversations about mental health in the sector. I hope continuing to talk, write and share ideas with others will not only help colleagues, but also normalise the issues of mental health to help inform decisions about accessibility, inclusivity and representation for the communities we, as heritage organisations, aim to serve.
If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.