Occupational therapist Emma Finnegan: It's heart-breaking when you work with people grieving for their loved ones

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Emma Finnegan from Banbridge, the first occupational therapist in Northern Ireland to be working in a mental health capacity within the Southern GP Federation

 Emma Finnegan from Banbridge is the first occupational therapist in Northern Ireland to be working in a mental health capacity via the Southern Health Trust
Gail Bell

Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

Pre-pandemic, I often found myself rushing in the mornings, but now I get up at 6.30am. I stretch, breathe and set my intentions for the day before I start getting ready for work.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

TikTok has brilliant porridge combination ideas - my current favourite is porridge with chia seeds, strawberries and some Biscoff spread.


A salad, avocado toast or leftovers from dinner.

Evening meal?

I like to use the slow cooker so there’s minimal fuss when everyone’s tired and homework needs done. My husband is a great cook and we like trying new dishes.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

Having a presence within the practices has been important, especially during the pandemic. This kept me in a routine and gave me a sense of familiarity when everything in the world seemed incredibly scary.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

As well as making banana bread along with the rest of the world, my family had a great time making home-made pizzas, prepping all the ingredients and changing up the vegetable combinations.


Weekend treat?

We take it in turns each Friday to pick a takeaway for the family - usually the local chippy or pizza. We love going out for Sunday lunch once or twice a month - Harry’s Bar in Banbridge is a favourite.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

We go to Gosford Forest Park most weekends for a long walk. During lockdown, I did a couple of online boot camp workouts which were great. It is important to do something that is meaningful to you, as an individual. That is key, as any occupational therapist will tell you.


Do you have a daily outdoor exercise?

I like to go for a walk at lunchtime. This is great mentally, especially if the morning clinic involved a crisis or a lot of emotional ventilation.


How do you relax?

I love reading for escapism - a complete diversion is so therapeutic for me. Music is also a great tool to help me relax. I love creating personalised playlists.


Teetotal or tipple?

A tipple - usually a nice glass of rosé wine or a gin. I recently tried a pomegranate and rose gin which is worth a try if you have a sweet tooth.


What book are you currently reading?

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I’m also re-reading the Thoughtless series by S.C Stephens and Claudia Winkleman’s autobiography - I think she is hilarious.


Best Netflix?

I would highly recommend Good Girls. I also loved Bridgerton, like most of the female population. I must also give special mention to Tiger King for being the ultimate lockdown diversion.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

The pandemic quickly changed so many elements of my routine which was incredibly stressful, but it also challenged me to adapt quickly. The focus became about our family unit, how to make the most of things and make sure we were as okay as we could be, given the situation.


On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

At the height of it, I was a six. The introvert in me enjoyed everything being quiet and slow. We were about to move house when the first lockdown started, so we lived with boxes piled around us for 12 weeks - not an experience I would ever like to repeat. Now I’m a one or two on the scale. I think the visual of the masks and signs in public serve as an important reminder we are not out of the woods yet.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

Family - our family is constantly in and out of each other’s houses. This is something I will never take for granted again. Also, visitors - never in a million years did I think I would see my 79-year-old grandparents on a family zoom quiz! And community resources - I didn’t appreciate how much I relied on our local resources like our library, swimming pool, restaurants, and parks until the pandemic.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

The pandemic has made me wonder why I was constantly putting things off and making excuses. Now, I’m going to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity.


Biggest gripe?

Covid conspiracy theorists. It’s heart-breaking when you work with people who are grieving for their loved ones and never had the chance to see them or say goodbye.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Yes, it has made me focus more inward on our own family, to be more mindful and take every opportunity afforded me. Our children only get one childhood and we only get to do this once.


Any new skills or hobbies?

This is where the occupational therapist in me really comes out... I love my hobbies and finding new ones. Since moving home, I’m loving furniture upcycling and decorating and having fun with different colour combinations and decoupage.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

The pandemic has taught us to value our support networks in a new way. I want to focus on spending my time and money on experiences to create memories with family and friends as opposed to wanting the next ‘thing’ that social media says I need.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Absolutely - I have made a conscious effort not to function on auto-pilot all the time, but be present in the moment. It has spurred me on to plan more goals to work for, grab my life with two hands and be grateful for every blessing I have.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access