Does anyone have an antacid? The burn of infertility

The pain is horrendous, it goes away sometimes then like acid reflux or heart burn it reappears, often with no prior warning, and burns. It burns me from the inside out.

I’ve written before about my wish for another child but I thought it would have gone away by now. If anything it is as raw and as painful as back when we were hopeful for a pregnancy, as raw as each pregnancy we lost a couple of years back.

I want to be happy when I see friends announce their big news but equally I want to scream and shout like a toddler that it’s not fair. I used to pray daily that God would give us a baby and now I pray daily that he will help me accept this pain.

I sit each evening with my medication for my mental health and with each tablet I swallow I can feel that reflux burning again. The reflux of knowing that I get to choose between staying well for the child I have or risking life threatening mental illness relapse. Some nights I swallow them quickly and other nights my thoughts are as though the Cambridge debating society have taken over my brain simply to justify why I need to take them.

I hate the jealousy and envy I feel when I see someone with a blooming tummy and an excited glint in their eye. I hate myself for not feeling happy for them.

For various reasons we can’t adopt so that option is gone too, when I realised this with finality a couple of weeks ago I felt that burn then I felt my guts being wrenched out akin to surgery without anaesthesia.

I even allow myself to indulge in a little self loathing at times when I can manage to convince myself that this lack of a baby is punishment for the fact I rejected our first born when I had severe postnatal depression. My head knows this is ridiculous but my head knowledge and heart knowledge are so far from each other with this subject.

When will the acid reflux and heart burn stop? I can’t bear this. I can’t smile and say “fine thanks how are you?” When I want to (quite irrationally) scream “NOT pregnant”.

This isn’t about my mood though, I must be clear my mood is fine this is ‘normal fertility related sadness’ if there is such a thing. Our journey has already involved two years ‘trying’ with two very early losses, getting to the top of the list at a fertility clinic and starting new mental health meds so having to revert to contraception.

I feel empty, inadequate and in pain, the burn that pains alongside the lump in my throat which holds back the tears, goodness they take huge amounts of energy.

I tell myself I’m blessed to have one child.

I tell myself we should concentrate on us as a couple and think of the life we can and do have.

I tell myself I’m being greedy.

I tell myself to concentrate on my career.

I tell myself lies in response.

The reflux burn continues and I’ve not found a remedy yet. One day.

Just a nurse

I recently went to the funeral of someone I had nursed and as I went into the church I was asked “Are you friend or family?” this was just to establish where I should sit. I heard myself reply that I was just a nurse who had cared for the deceased as I slid into the pew nearest the back. I was there to pay my respects but did not want to intrude on this intimate occasion too much.

I knew this person well, during assessment we had discussed the intricacies if their life. Mental health nursing never ceases to amaze me that we start a few minutes after meeting someone to adopt a warts and all approach to questions with an expectation that those we are chatting with will bear their soul to us. We expect a lot, I know we need this to aid formulating and plan treatment but we do expect a lot.

We sang hymns, read prayers and then it was time for the eulogy. Goodness this struck me; this person was so much more than the person I knew. So much more than the life events which had them to mental health services. I have always considered myself to be a clinician who does see the whole person, maybe because as a service user many people over the years haven’t seen me as a whole person. I felt in this moment like I barely knew the person I thought I knew inside out, it was so wonderful to hear about their life.

I wonder do those who care for me when I am service user not nurse see everything about me that makes me? What would they wish they had known if they were listening to my eulogy? I am so much more than my illness, we all are. I am a wife, a mother, a nurse, a Christian, a Sunday school teacher, a friend and I have been a million more things over the years.

This really stuck with me that despite working with someone for a long time I am and will always be just the nurse, and sometimes that is fine but sometimes knowing that little bit more could be key to working with someone on their recovery journey. I’m not even sure how yet but this experience will make me a better nurse. This is only a short blog post but I did want to share this with you because in a moment, this changed the person and the nurse I am. I am just a nurse but that’s ok.

The commute

She got in the car weary from another week at the frontline of NHS mental health care and muttered a quick prayer thankful for the strength to have made it to Friday once again. She used to refuse to say the term ‘front line’ as we weren’t at war but goodness some days this feels like war now, front line captures those clinicians wearing their NHS armour to help them protect themselves which in turn allows them to protect others.

Once in the car the radio goes on (along with the air con on full) and she tries to sing the day away, she has had some bad news today so that isn’t easy. Thoughts of each person she has met are punctuated with the drive time presenter introducing the next song or sharing a brain teaser which distracts her momentarily. What is the link between those words? Oh heck red light must stop!

Wow she is half way home, autopilot do you reckon? Her mind is going as fast as her driving; what will she cook for dinner? What’s her daughters school report like? Is it even today its due? Heck, did she write up that phone call that she fitted in earlier because she didn’t want that person to feel unsupported but simply couldn’t fit a visit in. She is bound to have written it up but wonders whether to turn the laptop on and check when she gets home? Bad idea, once it is on…

Her commute is long, up to an hour, but that time is precious. Her commute is time to process the day and plan for the next. Today she wonders what Monday will bring? Calm or chaos? She doesn’t mind really she just wants to help, she wants to support people the way they supported her when she was poorly.

Her husband rings, can she stop for veg on the way home? She quietly thinks hmmmm she could stop for wine (and veg!) so agrees readily. She looks around the supermarket and wonders if everyone else has had a commute like hers or if this is a commute special to CPN’s? Does everyone else worry on their way home about that phone call they wish they made or the conversation that didn’t feel right?

She didn’t relate to many people in that supermarket at all; nursing is an absolute privilege. And supporting people as a CPN well there isn’t a word for that.

And home, key in the front door, pick up the post (fingers crossed no speeding fine!) and the nurse is not left behind the door but certainly hung up with the coats until Monday. She is mum. She is wife. She is friend. She is Sunday school teacher. Like a stick of rock though cut her in half and it says nurse and come Monday she will hop in the car, turn on the radio and head in fresh to do it all again.

A Shocking Treatment – ECT

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I missed the @WeMHNurses chat the other evening but I thought I would share my experiences of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT). I don’t mind as I feel there are a lot of myths to dispel around this, in my humble opinion, amazing treatment.

Several things about ECT are controversial, one of the main things being no one is exactly sure how or why it works! It was explained to me in simplistic terms that if a computer crashed the first thing most of us would do would be to turn it off and back on, reboot it. If we think of our brain as a computer and with mental illness it ‘crashes’ then ECT reboots it. I liked that explanation, it makes it seem logical somehow. Continue reading

How are you today?

You would be bored witless if I answered honestly each time you ask. Wellness is the easy answer that everyone wants to hear “Fine thanks how are you” the British pleasantries which are acceptable greetings and part of the reason stigma still exists because generally people don’t answer “feeling a little bit poorly today but thanks for asking”. Can you imagine if society was a place where we were all honest about out well being? But then that would mean we would all have to engage in discussion about that once any differential has been disclosed. I can almost hear you screaming aaaaargh as you read this.

Folk are interested in the periods of illness whether depressed because that is worrying and risky or whether elated and manic because that’s often exciting and in my case sometimes quite fun to be around (with a side order of exasperation!). Folk are interested in your wellness, in recovery, because they care about you but also because it proves recovery is real. It is joy sharing and hope giving.

Then there is the other bit. The bit where folk expect the “fine thanks how are you answer”. Recently my answer would have been “I’m alright, not sleeping well and in constant pain with side effects of meds in addition to feeling really crap about myself due to the weight I have gained on previous meds” but I still generally go with “fine thanks”

I feel like shit. Not mood wise my mood is fine so I guess answering “fine” is a half truth. This is “normal feeling like shit but still functioning every day” which is not covered by the DSM.

Most days I want to cry at the muscle pain but GP will only give a tiny dose of meds needed to relieve this, I swear it would be easier to get crack off them yet ironically they have benzo’s on repeat! Go figure!

I climb the stairs at work partly because I need the exercise given the hideous size of me at present and partly because I am embarrassed to use the lift because people don’t see my ‘injury’ I know there is a current rhetoric not to compare mental health to a broken leg but in this case a plaster cast would be easier.

My colleagues know I am struggling with sleep, they see my exhausted face at times. That’s good though because no sleep but not exhausted well that’s another issue entirely isn’t it? I’m tearful tired now yet ironically since my meds were adjusted again I have slept the past two nights.

The daily toil of living with mental illness us exhausting, but no one sees it. They see the ‘episodes’ but not the inbetweens, sometimes I need a hand on my shoulder and told it will all be ok even on the fully functional in between bits cos no one realising makes these bits the most difficult in fact.

*Moan over; as you were*

Why I love the NHS #NHS707

I could go on and on here about the socialist ideals of the NHS and how this fits with my personal values but you all know that and chances are if you follow my blog you will have similar values. What I will share with you here is a story, my personal story of what the NHS means to me. The NHS is made up of millions of personal stories, stories played out each day. Stories which bring both laughter and tears, amazement and despair. This is just my story.

I was born in an NHS maternity hospital in 1980 and there’s are photographs to prove it, in the manner of Princess Diana and Charles stood outside cradling William even with similar haircuts and fashion choices I was introduced to the world, or to Newcastle at least. I wasn’t an easy birth apparently and needed lots of assistance, imagine if my parents had been expecting me pre NHS and had to fund all that extra support. Would I be here?

As I child I was about as clumsy as its possible to be and was always breaking bones or injuring myself in some other way. My mum was a single parent by now so money was tight, imagine if she had been forced to choose between me seeing a doctor and having X-rays against household essentials such as food or heating. The NHS was just there, always had been in my lifetime and I am guilty of taking it for granted, I think lots of us did/do though.

I was 16 when I first shared with my GP how low I felt, it was the mid 90’s and Prozac nation had arrived so I was handed my first prescription for antidepressants. I only took them for two weeks because I suddenly felt amazing which in hindsight was my first taste of hypomania. Fast forward a few years in which I learned how to manage my mood whenever it bounced which wasn’t too often so thankfully I could still study.

When I was 25 I became pregnant with our first child and wow I probably am solely responsible for the financial crisis in the NHS I used it so much! I had hyperemesis so was sick 25-30 times each day, I was in and out of hospital for fluids. Despite the horrors of how pregnancy left me my gorgeous daughter was quite comfortable and needed an NHS eviction notice (induction) to get her out. 24 hours labour and an emergency section later she was in my arms. Imagine that without the NHS? My Nanna is 91 and tells me how many births had sad outcomes before the NHS because people couldn’t afford an attended birth. When our daughter was born she was blue and needed 4 rounds of resuscitation followed by treatment in special care, again we took this for granted, its what she needed and it is what she got. As I look over the sofa at 5’3″ of lively 11 year old, good grief I am thankful. I am so thankful that in my lifetime healthcare has always been free at the point of need in this country but I am conscious of my Nanna’s memories of pre-NHS lets never go back there.

The NHS didn’t get rid of us once our daughter was born because I thin suffered with severe postnatal depression. I spent the first five weeks racing around manically then depression hit like a shovel in the face. Huge efforts by NHS staff to keep me at home but alas I needed hospital, five months later I was discharged after medication, talking therapy and ECT in a unit which cost nearly £1000 per night to look after me. This stay in hospital meant that my husband still has a wife and my daughter still has a mummy.

At age 82 my Nanna developed bowel cancer but no one said she was too old to treat, she was treated just as any other person with the disease and to the credit of the NHS doctors, nurses, OT’s, physio’s and all the other people she met she not only survived but she thrived. She is 91 and has nurses come in every couple of nights to give her fluids in her own home as her bag is over active but still runs her own home and does her own garden. I can’t imagine a Nanna less world just yet to another thanks to the NHS for keeping her going.

A few years later and I experienced another relapse in my mental health and was admitted again to hospital for four months and more ECT. The team on the ward didn’t just look after me but after my husband and daughter too, they played with her when I wasn’t able and actions like that were as important to any medication in my recovery. The true spirit of the NHS shone.

I have had further relapses of my mental health but thankfully have never been admitted again, daily visits from crisis nurses have ensured that. They even enabled me to have ECT again as an outpatient. Bipolar disorder isn’t easy to manage at all, in fact some days I wonder if I can but I can and I do with the support of the NHS mental health services I keep on keeping on.

Finally it offers me employment, the NHS not only offers employment but it offered a second chance after loosing my first career to mental health stigma. I have never felt so proud as the first day I said “Hello I am your staff nurse today”, nursing in the NHS is tough, it is under resourced and under funded but it is an absolute privilege every single day. It is a great British institution and one I for one am willing to fight for. I implore you not to believe the hateful vitriol shown on the front of some of our national press. The junior doctors are not asking too much, the nurses are not being greedy over pay, the brexit bus has not arrived with bucket loads of money. We are on our knees, tired and in need of resources but we do and will continue to hold our heads up high and uphold Bevan’s ideal for the most amazing health care system in there world. It is free at the point of delivery but it must be accessible at the point of need. Keep fighting folks, its what Bevan asked of us.