What’s in Your Toolkit? 15 – Dr Rachel Andrew (Supermum Myth co-author)

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As we enter the week of The Supermum Myth’s publication, I wanted to share the Toolkit of my lovely co-author, Dr Rachel Andrew. Rachel and I have never actually met in person, although I feel like we have! We wrote the book together through a series of lengthy phone chats and email correspondence, wading through child-related obstacles such as chicken pox and school holidays. Rachel was always patient and gracious whenever I had to change phone schedules, and with all of my demands and suggestions. Couldn’t have asked for a better co-author and I’m so excited for the world to see (and get involved with) the book we have created together. Here is a little bit more about her. Enjoy!

Tell me about yourself! Tell me more about your day job, how long you’ve been doing it and how you came to be in the field you’re in. 

I am a clinical psychologist and I specialise in working with children, young people and their families.

I worked in the NHS up until two years ago, and then left to start up my own clinical psychology company Time Psychology Ltd. The last two years have been so exciting and challenging. I still see children and adults who are struggling with emotional health difficulties or who seek help in coping with physical health problems, diagnoses and difficult life events. It is a really honest, friendly company and that’s what I love about it.

I care about other people, and I’m a real grafter. I think the two things came together and allowed me to pursue such an interesting career path.

Recently there has been a lot more light shone on perinatal mental health, getting people really involved sharing their stories and chatting about these important issues over social media. Do you find that people are generally more aware of their mental health nowadays and keen to nurture it?

I think that there is definitely more information out there for people. There are traditional leaflets and websites and also vloggers and bloggers on social media helping to share stories. I still think there could be more information and support out there – so everyone carry on doing what they’re doing!

I also think that in spite of some recent NHS funding from the government, NHS antenatal and perinatal support services still require more money, more staff and some systemic changes to help them adopt best practices regarding the mental health of parents nationwide. I’d like to see even more developments regarding fathers’ perinatal mental health and more support for parents who lose their babies at any stage of pregnancy or during birth. It also makes no sense to me that we continue to divide mental and physical health services in the UK – they are both so intertwined – there should be clinical psychology in every NHS department!

I also think that although we are living at a time when we know most about mental health risk factors and the things that help improve our mood and wellbeing it intrigues me that we still live the lives we do. It just shows how complicated it can be to do what we actually know is good for us.

Your work is fundamentally grounded in helping others nourish their mental health. What are your own personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

I take lots of ideas from clinical psychology and try them out in my life. Overall, the idea that we need “A life worth living” from Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) appeals to me, so I try to keep coming back to this, especially if I find myself working too much.

I have found that paying attention to my diet and doing exercise helps. I can over-think things, and going swimming, running or doing a fitness session helps with this.

I’m not great at putting myself first, so sometimes I write a little list of things to do for me, and make sure I do at least one a week.

I have little visualisations (of me holding my own hand when I’m scared), imaginings of “What would Joanne (my more assertive friend) do?” and a little soundtrack in my head that I sometimes play to fire myself up, or calm myself down.

How do you balance kids and work? 

I’m not sure I do. Like every mum I know, I spin a lot of plates. I try to hold on to the ideal that I want to be there for my children as much as I can. They are my priority… but I want to do it all! I use nursery and after school club a couple of days, but most days my husband, my mum and I tag team childcare.

I am grateful to have my mum as our third team member, and it’s still hard work. It works for us, at the moment, just about. There is always going to be fewer hours than things I have to do, and I have to remind myself constantly that I can’t do it all.  When I feel I can’t keep all the plates spinning, I make a decision to drop a work one by saying no – but it’s not something that comes naturally, so I do have to keep myself in check.

What would be your top tip for keeping your mental health on track throughout pregnancy and early motherhood?

When I look back on my pregnancies and early months of motherhood, I was so anxious. I want to give my old self a hug and reassure myself that it will be OK. At one point, I used a visualisation of just rocking myself and saying a comforting, “Shhh” to just get myself to sleep.

So that’s my tip, know that this is a watershed time and that its not just you. Then prioritise your self-care in whatever ways you can. Whether it’s a quiet bath, a night’s uninterrupted sleep (I still fantasise about booking into a hotel on my own just for this), a yoga or Pilates class, a swim, reading a magazine or book for 10 minutes – whatever is your thing – know that you need it, that its OK to prioritise it and feel OK about doing it.

My inspiration comes from the people I meet day to day. I feel lucky to meet such a vast array of people who can teach me about adversity and triumph.  That’s the beauty of my job – you get to know people in a way you never would otherwise, you get to share experiences and journeys that you never would know about. It feels like a secret world where you get to find out what people actually think and feel – and that really is a privilege.

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