Dr Abaecheta is a retired specialty doctor in rehabilitation psychiatry. She is one of 25 women to be highlighted as part of a special project that celebrates the stories of 25 amazing women psychiatrists.
Dr Abaecheta's story
To introduce myself, I’m a retired psychiatrist and I am of mixed race with a Nigerian father, Nathan Abaecheta, whose name translates to “The Rich One shall not forget his background”, and a Liverpudlian mother, who herself is half lrish, which is not uncommon if you’re from Liverpool. I must tell you what drew me to medicine and then to psychiatry as a specialty.
My father’s older sister, Chienye, who was one of the first female Igbo doctors. She trained in Glasgow as a paediatrician. After her success she was married to a senior Nigerian politician, Mr Toss Benson. They were both introduced to the Queen in 1960 at “The Independence Delegation” ceremony of Nigerian independence. Sadly, Chienye died young of cancer, though she continues to be inspirational to me. Thinking about the influence of my family on me, I feel I must also mention my grandfather, Tom Silcock. He recognised the value of the gift of time, and chose not to be immediately judgemental.
I started my medical training in south London at Guy’s medical school in 1985. Of course, I did lots of intense work with long hours and short amounts of sleep. I had a huge overdraft, as London is pricey and always seductive! I chose psychiatry as my specialty after I worked for six months in A&E in the Brook Hospital, South London. I remember being touched by many people’s stories. On one particular shift, I was called to assess a terrified-looking young man with psychosis, possibly drug-induced. I saw the registrar kindly assist him and I felt inspired. Later, I went on to train as a psychiatrist in The York Clinic. I saw many incidents of psychosis and depression. I was struck by the struggles of people in my community.
One man whose story has never left me lived in my local area and had many difficulties with his health. He faced eviction and poverty. He had struggled with traumas in his life, including the death of his mother by suicide when he was a teenager. He loved animals and told me about how he had saved an escapee pet dragon which was ready to jump from a tall building; after climbing the building to rescue it, he took the dragon home. He even told me about a particular pigeon he was worried about. He had been highly skilled in his line of work but had to stop due to ill health. He was worried he may become homeless. As I listened to this man, he told me that he had been in the position when he had to make a choice between rent and food. We would chat often and bump into each other in the local shop. Sadly, he passed away during an operation. He was a kind and caring man and I was able to attend his funeral along with many other attenders. This was one of many people who influenced me to want to learn more about how to try and connect to people and understand their story.
Eventually I went on to work at a clinic in Lewisham. I became interested in rehabilitation psychiatry and the importance of stories and making sure we preserve and do not lose these. As a senior doctor in training, I spent a week with patients with severe and enduring mental health difficulties and studied drama therapy with Dr Brian Robinson. I observed a couple of mute patients using drama therapy techniques to communicate worries which they were unable to verbalise. There was increased understanding of their problem and some pleasure for them was achieved through this treatment.
At the age of 30, following working in Guy’s &St Thomas’s, I suffered a demyelination and was given a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Later on, I was sorry to be advised to take ill health retirement. I still always feel a psychiatrist, but I was glad to have found the value of the drama for myself, especially learning many monologues. Now I’m taking oral medication called Tecfidera. Fortunately there are no side effects - currently I’m symptom-free!
I mentioned above that I was inspired by the use of drama therapeutically with patients in my early years in psychiatry. Drama has been beneficial to my neurological disorder, with the numerous Shakespearean monologues I learned with ‘Drama Direct’ at the Merlin Theatre, Frome. I had the pleasure of learning from Mark McGann, who is truly skilful. Drama was also a tool that I was able to encourage a close family member to use to communicate more effectively during his struggles with his mental health.
I would also love to share with you the value of poetry. I ran a small group and read poems. We were particularly impressed by Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”. Dr Jane Mounty, who kindly nominated me to be one of the 25 Women, and other colleagues, sometimes attended the poetry gathering in my garden.
All this work has been therapeutic!
I have two sons, Josh and Isaac, both in the sixth form. Isaac is doing drama, film studies and psychology. Josh is doing sciences and maths. Josh is talented at playing football and plays for a local team. Isaac has acted in Cornwall, playing Fagan in Oliver Twist. He has also been successful in drama, playing Ernest in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Mickey, the Scouser in Blood Brothers, and Hamlet.
Reflecting on my career, I suppose I’ve observed the danger of suffering severe and enduring mental illness. I’ve seen how essential it is to preserve the sense of self, but also the danger of being unable to pay for food and your rent, and so risk homelessness. The danger of society being led astray by tabloids in misunderstanding the difficulties in managing these troubling challenges.
Why Dr Abaecheta was nominated
Anne-Marie’s nominator, Dr Jane Mounty, shares why she recommended Anne-Marie for the 25 Women project:
Anne-Marie is a delightful colleague with a gentle sense of humour who is great fun to work with. Her energy, enthusiasm, and determination to do the absolute best for her patients is exemplary and inspiring...actually infectious! This has impacted all the health professionals who have been lucky enough to work with her.
For me this was on two separate occasions; firstly, as one of my ward doctors in general rehabilitation when she was a senior trainee and I was a registrar tutor, and secondly in Bristol as a specialty doctor on the low secure male Rehabilitation service at Fromeside, Avon and Wiltshire Partnership.
Just like me, she has always loved and promoted rehabilitation psychiatry as a career, calling it “detective work”, and leaving no stone unturned in her efforts to fully comprehend and address the complexities of some of our challenging patients.
She has tremendous kindness and empathy and was always keen to explore and establish innovative therapies for our clients, whether psychological or practical, particularly promoting the use of drama, music and art.
She has overcome many barriers. Undaunted following the need to take early retirement, Anne-Marie took up drama and creative writing, penning her autobiography “A Sense of Direction” which she hopes to publish. Anne-Marie has been able to give even more time and inspiration in the things she loves to her sons.
During the warm spring and hot summer of the pandemic she took solace in her garden and in poetry, providing regular poetry reading sessions in her garden for herself and local psychiatrists... being invited to one of these recently was how I found her and got inspired all over again. I would like all of you to have the opportunity to be touched by her alchemy and magic through her inclusion in this project.