March 26, 2012

Paula, Time to Change bloggerI 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.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.