I worked as a Nursing Assistant in Acute Mental Health, Elderly Mental Health and forensic Mental Health since 1989 to 2007. Within this time I was seconded to university to study to become a Registered Mental Health Nurse. This is where my eyes began to open regarding my own mental well being.
In many lectures, I started to think the tutors were talking about me: delusions of grandeur, yes I get that; psychosis, a tick to that one too; isolation, I could relate to this, depression, tick and the list went on. My fear went through the roof.
At the end of my 2nd year I was hospitalised for 3 weeks as a voluntary Patient but I was told I would be sectioned if I tried to leave. There I was medicated for a mood disorder. This all felt very surreal. One minute I was administering medication as a Student Nurse and the next minute I was on the other side of the meds trolley being administered medication as a Patient. I remember thinking that this would help me become a good Nurse as I could see things from both sides. I took in everything that the Nursing Staff did - there were both good things and bad. I asked the psychiatrist would it be advisable to continue with my nurse training at my discharge meeting; he immediately said, yes, we need more nurses like you because you understand.
I returned back to university a week later. I decided to be open about my diagnosis - to my own detriment. Walking back into the University took a great deal of courage. I saw all my cohort sat relaxing in the common area. They saw me coming and looked away. Not one of them asked me how I was and I remember feeling very alone. I walked passed them all and went out for a cigarette, my heart pounding through my chest. Then I went on to our first session of the day. I remember thinking: what hope do patients have when the staff cannot even ask a friend how they are. I felt lonely, angry and very hurt.
By lunch time all I wanted to do was run away and hide but I thought “no”: I have worked far too hard for this, much harder than any of them can comprehend. Outside having another cigarette I was approached by a couple of my peers who said, "We're so sorry Paula, we didn't know what to say" and one of them hugged me. I cried because I felt like one of the gang again and not invisible. It's beginning to upset me as I remember this so I will cut this story short...
Although the university was aware of my diagnosis, no support was given. I went straight into my Community Placement, told my mentor about my diagnosis and was told to keep it to myself. How I got through that Placement is beyond me. I then went onto my final module of Management Placement but became ill again only 5 weeks before the end of the entire course. I passed every assignment and placement I had done but I was timed out - all of that hard work and no recognition. I received no support from the University and no support from the employers who seconded me.
With no job I felt that I had no purpose. This in turn left me with little confidence and no self-esteem. I had been isolating myself for years. Social isolation is soul destroying. I wouldn't open the curtains, I didn't move from the time my husband went out until he came home. My bones ached. Not eating or drinking until my Husband reminded me that I hadn't eaten. I felt nothing but aches & pains.
After 4 years of asking I got therapy. This changed my life. From there I got suggestions that I should join an art group to help combat my social isolation; just a couple of hours on a Wednesday. I hadn't painted a thing since school but I loved every minute. From there I now hire my own studio and hope to have a solo exhibition this year.
With the right encouragement you can get strong again. I have just been asked to speak at The Rotary Club Dinner about Mental Health. I feel so passionate about all of this, I now want to shout it from the roof tops.