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What It's Like Being a Student Psych Nurse Living With Mental Illness

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When I started my university course, I never dreamed I would be studying myself; my flaws, my habits and my symptoms.

Let me explain. In 2015, I embarked on my journey to become a mental health nurse. I would study for three years as a student nurse, completing seven placements in various healthcare settings, spending 2500 hours working with people of differing mental health conditions, whilst working alongside some of the most experienced nurses, support workers, social workers and consultants in the field. All the while I never imagined that whilst I was looking after and caring for patients, I would also become one myself. However, I would not look after or care for this specific patient.

I decided to study this course due to family history and a general interest in the subject. I had always had a feeling of something more underlying but never allowed myself to overanalyze this, ignoring any issues or thoughts I had.

I had always been a quiet, sensitive child, according to my mum. I’d rather spend my days with her ensuring she was not lonely after my parents split, rather than being outside playing cops and robbers with the other kids.

I always had a growing concern with regards to my mum’s emotional status, as I had been aware of her mental health issues since a young age. It wasn’t until I moved away from home that I became aware I had been hiding behind other people’s issues to avoid my own.

That’s when things really began to go downhill for me. In the September of 2015, I became more and more aware of my low moods, my lack of energy, my irrational outbursts and my general isolation from the world. I put this down to homesickness, the change and the apprehension of a new city, a new group of people, a new life. But what I didn’t realize was that I would not get over this feeling after a few weeks, when I had settled in. As I got further into my course, I began to realize that no one else seemed to be struggling with adjusting like I was, and if they were then they were doing a great job at hiding it.

Some days it would become too much for me to leave my flat, too much to attend lectures, too much to engage in general conversation… And then it became too much to attend placement. That was the last straw. That was when I realized I really ought to be practicing what I preach.

If I was to be working within mental health services, working to combat the stigma attached it, then first I would have to combat my own self-stigma and overcome the fear I had around reaching out for the help I was to desperate for.

Ten months into my course, I first approached my doctor, explaining to him my low moods, my negative thoughts, my anxieties and my panic attacks. We began to work to overcome these issues with medications.

The first medication gave me awful side effects; from feeling drunk and in a bubble and grinding my teeth, to dizziness and memory problems. It also increased my paranoia and had zero effect on my symptoms. The second medication appeared to have no side effects but as I have increased to the maximum dose, it still appears to have zero effect on my mood.

So I began as just the usual patient visiting their doctor, but now after two unsuccessful attempts at stabilizing me on medication, my doctor has decided it best to refer me on to a more specialized service; a local community mental health team (CMHT) for an assessment. This will likely consist of a mental health nurse and a social worker conducting an assessment which will dig deep into my past, my childhood, my medical history, my family and my current problems. It will expect me to divulge information to professionals I may work alongside one day. Information that allows me to be vulnerable.
This is where I become the patient.

I have been on the other side of these assessments; asking the questions and writing the notes. I have listened to others open up about their life story as if it were an episode of my favorite TV series. I have listened to the concern of the nurses in the office after the assessment, or their dismissal of their case stating that their doctor just needs to adjust their medication.

Now it’s my turn to show myself for who I really am, in front of people to whom I have perfected the mask. I know in the long run this will be good for me. I know that being 100 percent truthful and providing as much information as possible is the only way to get the help I really need and that is best suited to me. It will make me a better person; a better nurse. I know it is the next step on my ladder towards health. I know I will be grateful to relieve some of these weights I carry on my shoulders.

However, I also know that for an arrow to go forward, the bow must first pull it back. I will need to go back, back to the dark in order to find the light. Trouble is; I’m afraid of the dark.

I’m not expecting miracles. I’m not expecting a magic wand to be waved and all my problems disappear and all my dreams come true. I am just open to hearing other people’s views on what could help me become the real me.

So why did I decide to write this lengthy, blabbering post that may or may not get published? For me, it was to let people know that professionals struggle too.

The consultant with 35 years experience in his line of work who may seem to have his life together may also be struggling with an invisible illness.

The social worker may be struggling in her personal family life.

The nurse may have to care for their elderly mother straight from their 13-hour shift. We are all human; we do not live to judge.

Please bear this in mind when you seek help. Healthcare professionals are people too; we may have been in your situation or know someone else going through it.

Do not be afraid of reaching out.

If they did not care, they would not be in their line of work.

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Thinkstock photo via bowdenimages

Originally published: July 26, 2017
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