Today has been a very exciting, educational, and rather exhausting day.
Many months back when climbing back to the top of the mountain from my trip to the depths of depression and anxiety, my GP contacted me and asked if I would be interested in playing a part in the education of some future GP's. In the form of group sit down sessions, and mock GP consults at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London.
The initial group session was a blast, with a GP I knew, and trusted, having been on a long mental health journey with her, however the latter, which started today was a whole different ball game. A new location, new people, and travelling on public transport at peak time, what could go wrong, eh!
I left early, and missed the most of the rush hour, so at least I would arrive quite fresh. That worked well. 30 mins early, a walk to get some fresh air, and all was well. Arriving on Euston Road, I went into the building and soon found my way to the right place. Handed a sheet with my schedule for the day, a voucher (which I was not aware I would receive until recently) and a heads up of what to expect and when.
Settling down in the waiting area, I was immediately in awe of the grandeur of the place, stunning and modern, if not futuristic. Looking for friendly faces to try and make conversation with, I noticed that a large number of people there seemed to know each other already. Awkward, new kid on the block in the house!! Within minutes, the ice was broken with a lovely guy Brian. Making conversation with strangers is really not my forte, but this just seemed to work, super friendly and chatty, putting all my fears about the day at rest, one by one.
What soon became apparent was that the majority of the "role players" were in fact actors, given a brief of their character and symptoms. I however, along with Brian and a few more had no brief. Brian explained that we were presenting as ourselves. This was soon confirmed by the briefing and a quick Q&A at the end. Take my experience with depression and anxiety, choose an aspect of it to focus on, and work with that. Sounded simple enough, I know my mental health pretty well these days.
As the clock ticked down to the first group going in, I wondered what it would be like to try and role play a real life experience. The first GP came out and introduced himself, and reiterated the original brief, choose a symptom and work with it. I was ready!
Michael Snasdell..... the first student called. It was time.
In I went, to find not only them and the GP but another 3-4 students in there observing too. A group of strangers, excellent! Given anxiety was my planned focus, it wasn't hard to get my head into the role. Anxiety was very much present. Not in a terrible way, but at least in a way I am familiar with. So I guess if nothing else, it was an authentic performance.
As the first session went on, I opened up a bit, and really offered an insight into how I actually presented on the day when I really did go to see my GP for the first time. 20 mins in, the consult was wrapping up, and CUT.... Finally I can just be me again. Time for a debrief. I have to say I was impressed, thoroughly. Given the lack of experience in diagnosing mental health issues that the students apparently had, I was amazed at how comfortable I felt, and how realistic it all was. Certainly brought back some memories for me!
With four sessions before lunch, and four more after, I have to admit I was feeling rather exhausted mentally by the time the break came around. I grabbed a bit of the lunch they had laid on, then went out for some fresh air, space, and distraction from it all. My conversation skills were waning slightly by this point. Off to an exhibition over the road, then a stroll up and down Euston Road, taking some time to stare at the awesome St Pancras Station, before heading back in for the afternoon session.
Come the first PM session I was more prepared for the students, and if I am honest, a little harder on them, partially through not wanting to repeat the same story another four times, and partly as I could tell that I was presenting a little too easily. Sorry PM students, I did it for with your best interests at heart, and you all did an amazing job.
The afternoon was pretty much like the morning, if anything over with a bit quicker. Quick enough in fact for me to get out and away before the evening rush hour took hold, which was a huge bonus given how exhausted I was by the end of it all. After the final session popped back to the first floor and spoke with Madeleine and Niki about how the day had gone.
As a whole it was a massive thrill to be giving back to a profession that is almost completely responsible for my recovery from various mental health trials I have faced in life. From telling my GP a couple of years back that I wanted to give something, anything, back to the health service, and help as many people as I could along the way, deal with their own mental health issues, here I was. Doing it!!
It doesn't get much better than that! Genuinely.
Knowing I will be doing a couple more sessions of this is a great feeling, and I would love to be able to continue to do this, and anything else I can along the way, to help with the battle against depression and anxiety.
I was a little rather touched at being asked for a link to this blog, for them to read, as well as pass on to the students who had asked about it. Any regular and long term readers of the blog will know that I have documented my most testing of times right here, and left it all laid bare for others to read, and maybe benefit from should the need arise. I am pleased that some have already given feedback on it, and found some benefit or comfort in what they have read. It was the aim all along,
A huge thank you to everyone from Dr Elizabeth Paul at my GP surgery for suggesting this, and putting me forward to do these sessions. To Madeleine and Niki the facilitators of the course (I hope that title gives you enough credit for the amazing work you do). Not forgetting of course the amazing students who endured a day of mock consultations, and what I believe were some of your first experiences at dealing with mental health. And of course, had to put up with me!
Going back to the experiences shared with the students, I kept it as near to real life as possible, expressing fears and concerns which the conditions had presented me with at the time. Even referring back to the blog at lunch time to make sure I was staying on track. Open and honest, at times maybe even seeming a little "un-bothered" about things such as death. I won't say it was nice to see some of them struggle a bit with the questioning phase of things. Having been under exam conditions myself in recent years, I know all too well what it is like trying to keep the structure of the scenario, while following the lead of the fluid situation. I am delighted to say that by the end of it all, it was a straight 8 for 8. I would happily have revisited any of them as a GP based on my initial interactions with them. Maybe preference towards one or two over the others, but that is just a personal thing, Professionally, bravo all !!
The debrief at the end of each session gave me the opportunity to feed back to the students in the room, not only the one doing the consult. As well of course as the GP mentoring them. This was my chance to offer them a little guidance on how the session had gone, any pointers for improvements for demeanor, and give any other trinkets of information about anxiety, depression, and dealing with mental health in general. Referencing this blog a few times, I explained that while there are drugs and treatments for certain aspects of mental health, the most important bits for me had been striking up a great rapport with my GP, which enabled me to touch base from time to time,and feel like I was speaking to someone who knew me. And of course the self help side of things, such as a diary and the blog, which I often re-read to remind myself of the journeys I have been on over the years.
I will be returning next month to do another session with some more students, and in the meantime will continue to seek out other opportunities to share my experiences and knowledge with the groups of people who are the future helpers for people like myself.
A massive thank you again to Elizabeth, Madeleine and Niki for this opportunity.
I will leave it there for now, but will sure to revisit this very soon when my mind is a bit more relaxed. I just thought it important to get this blogged asap, while it was all fresh in my mind.