Her name is Nita. Nita is a neuropsychologist.
Probably like me you have no idea what a neuropsychologist does or how they can help you in managing your illness. So I thought I’d write a post which explains how Nita works and how she has helped me in our first four appointments.
Nita works as part of the ME service provided by my local mental health trust, in a discipline known as physical health psychology. She deals not only with patients suffering with ME, but also people with other conditions such as strokes, cancer or acquired brain injuries.
Amongst other things her work involves looking at the troubling thoughts and feelings that often come with physical illnesses, and helping people to develop more helpful and compassionate ways of thinking and behaving that can aid recovery.
Nita also helps patients to find meaning and purpose in their illness, as well as grieving the losses that inevitably come with it, and on creating a new sense of self which integrates the changes that the illness has brought. Another way in which she offers support is to help patients accept and live with pain.
So, what did we do in our sessions?
I must admit that before the first session I was feeling a mixture of excitement, apprehension, and anxiety. I wasn’t sure whether I was up to travelling for three quarters of an hour each way to the appointment, and then sitting and talking quite intensely for a further hour. I was really concerned about the effect this would have on my energy levels, and if it would cause me to crash.
On the other hand I was just grateful to have someone to talk to who had experience in dealing with this illness. To be honest, as helpful as my GP had tried to be, ME is such a rare illness that I felt she knew very little about it. Worse still, my psychiatrist had even suggested that it was all in my head, and that if I just stopped thinking about it I would get better.
Anyway, back to our time together.
In the first session, we spent time reviewing my experiences and symptoms, talking about what I expected from the sessions and more generally from life itself, and then trying to set some goals for the time we were to spend together. Initially we agreed on six sessions, with an option to extend this if needed.
In many ways Nita acted as a counsellor, listening attentively to my experiences and helping me to make sense of them. She was not directive, but instead helped me to navigate my own way through this illness, providing gentle nudges from time to time when her experience was helpful. I would say that I talked for 70% of the time, Nita for 30%.
Nita then spent some time explaining to me the different therapeutic approaches that she would use in trying to help me. She suggested that an approach known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, ACT, would really be appropriate for our work together. You can find plenty of information about ACT on the Internet.
Since then we’ve covered a lot of ground.
We meet every two weeks to give sufficient time between appointments to integrate what has been learnt.
We looked at what I value in life, how my illness has affected these things, and what I could do to try to compensate for this. This has helped me to develop a new routine for the week, which has added some structure to my otherwise empty days.
Each week we have identified one or two changes that I can make, put these into practice, then reviewed the following week how things went. This has led me to try some new activities, ranging from going out in a wheelchair for the first time to reliving my childhood through building with Lego.
We explored pain and how best to deal with this, looking at when it is appropriate to consult a doctor, when I need to just accept the pain, and how to know the difference between the two. We also looked at energy management and pacing.
And we talked about my relationships, how the illness had affected these, and how to improve these going forward.
Yet I feel that the most important part of our meeting together has been the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings for the hour we are together with someone who seems to really listen and understand.
Nita has really helped me to unravel some of the knots that living with ME has created in me, and I really believe that this is helping me live better in spite of this illness.
Needless to say I’ve had to make some adjustments to enable me to do this work.
I need to rest totally in the afternoon and evening following our appointment, and I’m usually pretty wiped out on the following day too.
I use a wheelchair to move from the hospital reception to our meeting room. As the appointment is an half hour drive from my home, I’ve also had to develop a rota of friends who can give me a lift to and from the hospital.
But all this has been more than worth it. Nita is helping me to recreate a new life living with ME, something which six months ago I would never have thought possible or have the motivation to explore.
If you get the chance to work with a neuropsychologist, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.