Getting help... but let down by my GP
Trigger warning: birth trauma
Before getting into this post, I want to make a point of saying that just because I am talking about a bad experience with my GP, I am not saying that all GPs are bad. I am simply sharing my experience.
Why I need help
A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to seek help. The horrendous flashbacks from my birth trauma were taking hold again, flashing up unexpectedly in the middle of the day, and almost guaranteed when I would try to go to sleep at night. They had been awful for the first couple of months following the birth of my baby, but had eased off slightly around 3 months, and honestly I was telling myself it was better in an attempt to make it so. But around 4-5 months in, the frequency and severity crept up again, and reached a peak at around 6 months postpartum.
I am getting angry/irritable at any little thing, jumping at any little noise/fright (I've always been very jumpy but this is a new level) and just always feeling on edge. The flashbacks come whenever they like - sometimes a vague link will trigger it in my mind, other times it just appears.
I use the word flashback and it may not sound too severe. I don't want to type it out yet, perhaps one day, but something horrendous happened to me following a traumatic birth. Flashback is a nice way to say the worst, most distressing and painful moment of my life. There are parts I can't remember, and other times I remember things from the point of view of across the room. No idea why that is, but it's awful to put it politely.
I am desperate for it to go away, to stop. I want to carry on with my life and move forward, and despite trying to convince myself a few months in that I was leaving it behind me, it is persistent.
Deciding to seek help
Getting help wasn't an easy thing to do for me. Despite being plagued with my trauma, it still is hard to face, and I knew getting help meant facing it head on. I also had irrational concerns about judgement on my abilities as a mother, what if they thought I couldn't look after my baby?
Despite my fears, I plucked up the courage and booked an appointment with my GP. Being Covid times, it was a telephone appointment which I was more than happy with.
My GP phone appointment
I received the call back from the GP that morning. She asked what the problem was, and I told her I needed help to deal with my birth trauma. She bluntly asked me if I was planning to harm myself or my baby. I appreciate they have to ask these questions, but it's possible to do it with sensitivity. I assured her I was not. Then came the two words I'd dreaded; "what happened?".
I reluctantly and painfully gave an overview of my experience. She showed no empathy or real kindness and simply said "ok", as if I was telling her what I'd eaten for tea yesterday. She then said she would refer me to a form of talk therapy. I felt like saying why did you make me tell you what happened? Could I not have just said birth trauma and been referred? Was it necessary for her to make me go over everything then say ok and leave me to deal with the resulting distress? I felt sick and shakey for hours after talking about it.
I asked how long the wait would be, and she told me, again bluntly, that with covid it could be months. But she assured me she would send the referral and I should hear within a few weeks for the initial assessment.
I hung up unhappy with what had happened, but being me, I'd spoken with nothing but politeness and appreciation towards her. It's a bit of a curse being painfully polite, I felt a bit of a doormat afterwards.
A couple of days after the appointment I received a voicemail from a health visitor who recommended I self refer for therapy. I had already contacted the GP so hopefully going through them would be quicker anyway, I thought.
Being let down
A few weeks past, and I felt increasing helpless about my situation. I really needed help. Could I afford private? Not really but it might be worth using my savings. I remembered what the health visitor said about self referral - I suppose it couldn't hurt to do it again myself. I went on my laptop and found the local therapy service and completed a self referral form.
The next day I received a phone call. THE NEXT DAY. They had received my self referral and wanted to arrange a first appointment to assess me. So what on earth had the GP done if the only referral they'd received was from my own self referral? Had I not done that, I would have been struggling on, waiting, for no reason.
Things started looking up
I had my first phone assessment with a lovely, empathetic and kind woman. She expressed horror at my story, and was incredibly sensitive about asking me to share it - I cried the rest of the day after sharing it and speaking about it all, but I felt it was a really positive first step to get better. She said that because of my flashbacks I need further assessment, so I am back to waiting, but I am happy that I feel help is there.
I will end this post by saying that access and communication around mental health services in particular needs to improve. We all say "speak to someone" or "tell your GP" if you're feeling mentally unwell. So when you actually pluck up the courage to be let down, it can hit hard. I am just lucky I found a way around it. Here's hoping this is the start of a journey to recovery, I will certainly update the blog on my progress.
Thanks for reading, please let me know if you are in a similar situation or have recovered from a traumatic birth.