On Being a Nursing Student With a Mental Illness

It was my first semester of nursing school, and it’s a day I’ll always remember.

My teacher said, “You may have heard about one of those dumb teenagers who takes a whole bunch of over the counter medication thinking it will kill them so they have to give them charcoal.”

As those words echoed in my head, I couldn’t help myself, my impulsive mouth got the better of me. “By the way charcoal taste really sweet and chalky despite being pitch black,” I said in front of 35 strangers. But I’ll never forget the look on my teachers face when she realized I was, “one of those dumb teenagers.”

And yes, I really did think I would die. I didn’t know that it would take so long and that I would get sick and scared. I thought it would be easy and over quickly. I can say I was less scared of dying then I was of the repercussions of my actions. I thought dying would be easier than facing everyone at school, but what’s harder is hearing the stigma. Hearing the way people talk about suicide attempt survivors, that wasn’t the first time in the nursing school that I’ve had an instructor unknowingly insult me. Another time, a teacher said, “The cutters, those are the crazy ones, they are the ones you need to watch out for.” Knowing I was her favorite student and knowing she had no idea just how many of those marks use to line my arms, or upper thighs, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, because I like to identify myself as crazy. (I don’t think it’s an insult in my opinion, but I do have an odd sense of humor)

She still doesn’t know why I laughed so hard, or that the reason I was laughing was because I had fresh marks on my arm from my first relapse since starting the program. But it’s my business. My doctor knew about it, and just because I have flaws doesn’t mean I’m not competent. I’m not perfect. I do know one thing, and that this coming May I will be a nurse with a mental illness, and you will never know, because my illness doesn’t define me. I may have some hard moments but there is a reason I’m still here, and being a nurse is why.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via monels

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