Nursing wasn’t my first career choice. Well, I had expressed a wish to be a “nurth” when I was about 3. (My grandad kept a diary every day for years and these sort of things were in it, that and the cricket scores).
Unfortunately, when applying for universities at the tender age of 17, my school never highlighted nursing as an option. It didn’t seem something that was possible. It was more of a case of “pick one of your A-levels and go to that at uni.”
My A-levels were in Sport Science, Psychology and Fine Art… I flipped a coin. I had always been quite academic, and when that coin flipped and narrowed it down to Art, my mum wasn’t happy (IS SHE EVER?! I’m Sorry I broke your favourite wax melter get over it!)
Why was I going to go off and do art when I loved the challenge of learning facts and science. WELL, I was being a stubborn teen and thought I was all cool and edgy heading off to Art College with my vintage clothing and red hair.
I did the degree (hated it). Had all the confidence kicked out of me. Plodded home covered in acrylic paint and shame and took a job in an office doing graphic design (yawn).
Then my second grandad died. Suddenly and unexpectedly. And something clicked. Heart problems are in my family (yeh I’ll cut down on the saturated fats when I’m good and ready thank you) I was suffering at the time. depression, grief, a break-up. It was truly god awful.
But as I said, something clicked. I was discussing nursing with a friend and I just decided to apply for a nursing degree. I had hope, that I could finally do what I wanted.
That I could help others. That I could work with people like my grandads and make a positive difference to others. Even if I struggle to make a positive difference to my thoughts.
I took a job in a nursing home. The hours were ridiculous, the work was strenuous, the management was poor. I was bullied by my manager there – told I wasn’t capable of being a nurse. I nearly let her words win. Until…
I got the interview (why I decided to try and make jokes in my interview at MMU I’ll never know!) I didn’t have much hope, people I had spoken to had said how high quality the degree was there and how it was difficult to get in. So obviously my anxiety said “Not happening love, that cow at work is right”.
I went home, I quit my job at the nursing home. And pondered what the hell I was going to do with my life. When I got the call. MMU wanted to offer me a place on Adult Nursing, and to start the following month (March) as opposed to the September! (My jokes must have paid off). I felt truly happy, apprehensive but happy. For the first time in a long time. I was finally putting me first, doing something scary, but something I had always wanted to do. This was for me. And my grandads.
Throughout my training, I hid my mental health issues from my personal tutors. I brushed on it in lectures (honestly, go into a lecture of nursing students it’s like a therapy session!). I struggled at various points but it was my main focus. I was older now, I didn’t have the distractions of living in a big city, £1 vodka lemonades and Big Mamma’s takeaway. I lived at home or with my grandma depending on placements and uni blocks.
I hid my mental health, so wrongly believing that it could affect my ability to practice as a medical professional. That it could impact on the care I gave, that people wouldn’t want me to be a nurse.
The media has covered stories of those with mental health issues, in medicine or not, who have put others in their safety in jeopardy. In the media day and age we read it, and fear is attached to those with these health conditions. So of course, why would I want to declare it!? I’m stigmatising myself here. The Sun has a field day with it but I wouldn’t wipe my backside on that ‘newspaper’.
I qualified, I was so proud. I had done it all off my own back. I got a great degree. I got a job in the field I wanted… and again I hid it. Until it all got out of control. Admitting to the mental pain I was in, as a nurse, in the hospital I worked in was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
And you know what… I’m glad I did. It’s actually common in medicine. We see a lot of heartbreaking things day to day. We put up with verbal and physical abuse. But all we want to do is help you. That takes its toll on anyone, even if your heart is made of Stone! Or another strong item… even steel, that’s really hard. I digress again.
What I’m saying is finally opening up in my profession opened floodgates of support. My management and my colleagues have been amazing. I couldn’t thank them enough. Yes the NHS is under funded – especially mental health. I’m still on waiting lists. But those who work in it are a support system themselves and I love the NHS for that.
I might still feel the stigma, I might still feel I have to hide it sometimes. But it’s only because I really, really care. I LOVE my job. I’m such a nerd about it. I will look at all your veins when we converse and think where I would cannulate you. Possibly think of care plans I’d need to put in place for you.
I may have let my care for myself slip but it will always be there for the public.
I go back to work next week and I can’t wait. Of course I’m scared. But I know I have so much support.
As the NMC has said, there is NO evidence mental health will detriment the care a nurse provides. I stick to the 6 C’s, I work within my code of conduct. And I’m in my dream job. If that’s not something to smile about. I don’t know what is.
I’m a nurse with mental health issues. But you’re always going to come first patients of Britain.