I walked away from my empty office and my tidied desk that night not knowing when I would return. I had endured a year of an insidious meltdown into depression, I was in a state of denial to myself and I had become blind to how ill I had become. My manager had encouraged me to seek medical help and a break from the stressful work routine. I now realised the time was right to dutifully oblige. I saw my GP the following day and was prescribed 'sick leave'. I had rarely been off work and had a tendency to 'cope' regardless of my stress levels. Maybe that had been my downfall?
As a psychiatric nurse you always have to be seen to be strong for others
As a psychiatric nurse you always have to be seen to be strong for others. As a man this is even more reinforced, wrongly. As a qualified psychiatric nurse it was my role to help others and give advice. Alas, I was not always as willing to take it myself; hence my decline over many months ignoring my own needs to be there for others and theirs.
Walking proved to be more therapeutic than I could ever have imagined
Medication, emotional support from family and friends, and a rest from the stressful environment of work all proved to be priceless in accelerating my recovery. However, walking alone and for many miles, proved to be more therapeutic than I could ever have imagined.
I started walking through the local hills here on the edge of North Yorkshire, through fields I was familiar with that offered peace and tranquility and a surrounding of natural beauty. This gave me a sense of 'connectiveness', spirituality even. Walking took me back to my childhood and early teenage years. Then I would walk for many hours, again through the same fields and hills. Undisturbed and in this quiet isolation I purposefully started to clear out the demons that inhabited my mind, without invite. This was 'quality time' to myself to just think, and think a little more. The exercise, fast walking and just strolling, also produced the natural release of chemicals to lift my mood.
Two work colleagues rang me one day to invite me out for a coffee and cake
Two work colleagues rang me one day to invite me out for a coffee and cake...... it’s the simplest things that can often make a difference. The phone call came out of the blue. I had been off work for a few weeks and had commenced anti-depressant medication. I could sense my confidence in social situations waning as a result of being away from others and this sounded like the perfect remedy. I was so used to being surrounded by people daily in my work and to some degree I missed this. We went for a coffee in a quiet cafe nearby. Interestingly, and wisely, I thought, we didn't really discuss my work/mental health situation. This wasn't through stigma or shame but through what I would see as 'normalising' everything. I was not defined by my condition. I was unwell but I had not changed as a person.
Following the break of a couple of months from work I started to feel much stronger, both mentally and physically. I was now strong enough to return to work. I enjoy my work and even though it proved stressful leading up to my 'breakdown' I realised it would ultimately prove to be therapeutic in my recovery. My mood had lifted to an acceptable level through medication and personal support and I gradually regained insight to be able to see my world more clearly.
My dual experience of nurse and patient had led me to appreciate more deeply that everyone is unique and each person’s coping strategies reflect this
I have always viewed tackling stigma and discrimination of mental health as an essential part of my work as a nurse. My contribution is as someone who works as a psychiatric nurse but who has also experienced mental illness. My dual experience of nurse and patient had led me to appreciate more deeply that everyone is unique and each person’s coping strategies reflect this. People’s individuality must be acknowledged first and foremost before care can be delivered.