I’m a single mum to two amazing grown-up sons who followed my footsteps into medicine. Well, sort of. The eldest is a Neuromuscular Research Scientist in the States and my youngest is now a Physiotherapist. I was a Mental Health Nurse, then a Ward Manager before I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder (Transverse Myelitis) which sadly culminated in my early medical retirement at the ripe old age of fifty.
Back 1992, once the boys were at school (against their dad’s wishes) I returned to work as a part-time Personnel Officer for a large fashion chain where the salary and benefits were excellent. However, after three years, because I was unwilling to work full-time (I wanted to spend my time with my adorable little boys), I was made redundant. In those days, you could walk out of a job one day and start another the next, so I did. I started working for a large petrol company and stayed for two boring years.
It was during this time and some months after my relationship with the boys’ dad ended, I had my own ‘break down‘. And that’s exactly what it felt like; both physically and mentally, I was broken.
I was having panic attacks throughout the day and particularly at night, keeping me awake. Alongside the huge purple sacks under my eyes, general pains, headaches and nausea, I felt really jittery. I was permanently exhausted and, after three nights without sleep, I started to hear, see and feel odd things and I thought I was being followed by the police. Jeez! I was terrified. It was torturous, twenty-four-seven, week on week and with no end in sight, I wished I was dead. Although close friends and family were aware of the break-up, I couldn’t tell anyone what was going through my head, scared they’d think I was mad, that I should be locked away.
What’s the problem?
After a while, not sure how long as I was in a constant haze back then, I took the boys to see our GP about their asthma. Once he’d seen them he sent the boys out, turned to me and, with his hand resting lightly on my arm, he said “Tell me, what’s the problem? You’ve lost so much weight and though you smile, I think you’re very sad.” The floodgates opened and it all came tumbling out; I sobbed and God knows how many times I had to wipe the tears and snot as I explained how the boys’ dad had been seeing someone else, how we’d split up around eighteen months ago and I was devastated. The GP told me to let the boys go home, he would make some telephone calls and I was to come back in to see him.
Dr Nga said he had been talking to a colleague at our local hospital and that he’d agreed to see me so my GP was going to drop me off there now! I knew it was a general hospital, rather than a mental one, but I was still shaking like a leaf and howling, telling him there’s no way I’m going to any hospital and I don’t want to be locked up! Once there, fortunately, although I had suicidal thoughts the psychology team were confident that I no intention of killing myself, I’d said I knew I couldn’t do that to my sons. I couldn’t possibly leave them with that legacy. Three years of weekly counselling followed.
Return to study
Still in my boring job, I was on the road to recovery when I realised I wanted to study but I wasn’t sure I was clever enough and I wasn’t sure what to study.
I thought I’d start small and took evening and weekend courses in Shiatsu, followed by Swedish Massage, Seated Massage, Aromatherapy and finally, Indian Head Massage, where I was trained by the blind guy who actually invented it. I loved it and so too did my family and friends who I practised on. I had the massage table, the massage chair, lots of fluffy white towels and a full kit of aromatherapy oils. However, despite passing my exams with distinction in all the above types of massage, and much as I loved it, I just couldn’t charge anyone. All I asked in return was a fluffy towel or some aromatherapy oils.
In February 1997 I learned I was about to be made redundant again which was abso-bloody-lutely fantastic as I’d seen a large advert in the Evening Standard looking for General Nurses to study at my local University and Hospital. This didn’t so much interest me but, right at the bottom of this ad, there was a few lines about becoming a Mental Health Nurse.
So, during my recovery from, what I learnt was, a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I applied to train as a Mental Health Nurse. After three long and arduous years of study, I worked successfully as a Mental Health Nurse in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager.
I felt like a fraud
Despite being qualified, I still felt that I just didn’t know enough, that I was a fake and I’d soon be found out. This drove me to attend further specialist courses including the one-year Thorn Nursing programme which taught nursing interventions for schizophrenia and a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course for psychosis. Outside of the NHS, I also trained to become a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA England) Instructor, a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor.
Due to my disability and ongoing mental health problems I am no longer able to work in the job I loved and even after eight years I still miss it. I often reflect on some of the most amazing and inspiring patients, remembering some of their journeys and the difficult changes they made on their road to recovery.
From here on, in my blog, I’ll be writing about my nursing practice together with parallel life experiences in the hope that some might take comfort in the knowledge that there is such a thing as recovery. I’d also like to think that both mental health nursing students and qualified nurses will take something good from my blog.