Circus Skills… CPN Life.

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Oh my word by anyone’s standards 2016 has been difficult for me in so many ways with family illness then subsequent bereavement with one of those family members, our ongoing infertility issues, a cancer scare and a change of job with pressures which have left me questioning my own capabilities daily. I feel like I have spent months walking a tight rope with my own mental well being. I have written recently about how I have felt here

I’m a mental health nurse, not a circus acrobat, so walking an emotional tight rope has felt dangerous. I have stumbled and nearly fallen on so many occasions, arms outstretched with a wobble and a dance the one we all do until just at the last moment we correct out footing and just about manage to prevent the fall. My colleagues and I are all mental health professionals; nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to name but a few and whilst we are acutely aware our own well being and that of each other what we aren’t overly good at is being kind to ourselves and looking after our own well being, we are for each other but rely on coffee and a couple of custard creams so sustain ourselves. Turns out that is not enough. Continue reading

Being patient being the patient… 

I offer a disingenuous smile as I accept directions from the nursing assistant to the xray department in our local hospital. I smile to stop tears from falling as I am so afraid. I found the lump in my breast on the bank holiday weekend we had at the end of last month so it was a few days before I could see my GP. I kept telling myself that it was ok and felt sure that my GP would say it was nothing, just fibrous tissue maybe?

My GP was lovely and smiled kindly as she said that usually at my age she would ask me to return in a couple of weeks at a different point in my cycle but that my new found lump was ‘so significant’ she didn’t want to wait and that she would refer me to our local hospital. My ears pricked up at that point when I heard her tell me that she was referring me on the two week pathway. I knew what she meant, she hadn’t said the words but I heard her questioning breast cancer loud and clear. 

I am a nurse, I’m used to examining the evidence base of my actions therefore that’s what I did with the help of Google when I got home. So now full possession of the evidence would tell me that statistically I am in a really low risk group for breast cancer, that most lumps in women my age are harmless but I could still close my eyes and see visions of my daughters graduation and her wedding day without me in it. 

My appointment came through in the post within a couple of days and as per the pathway was within two weeks of seeing my GP. 

As luck would have it, and I say that in the loosest sense of the word, we had a CQC inspection at work during those two weeks so I was left with little time to think about the lump and the implications which could come with that. 

My husband took the morning off work to come with me and my boss told me to take as much time as I needed today and not to rush back to the office, I had told a few friends and they text me to tell me they were thinking about me and praying for me. They reminded me my strength is always in Christ which never fails to make me feel stronger to face whatever challenge life throws at me. 

I arrived for my appointment and was seen by a consultant and a nurse who asked me about family history and my own medical history. The consultant then examined me, he agreed he could feel a lump so gave me a slip of paper to take to another department where I was to have a mammogram and an ultrasound scan. He spoke warmly with a reassuring tone in his voice which was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I attended for my mammogram first and realised in the small room how alone and how vulnerable I felt. As I undressed I was struck by how naked I felt, not just physically but emotionally. The radiographer sensed my nerves and talked me through the procedure. She asked me to sign a form to confirm I wasn’t pregnant and as we have been trying to become pregnant for a year now this stung more than a little as I signed to confirm not. The harsh clamp of the mammogram made me hold my breath, I wondered in those seconds whether I would ever breathe again. I felt like I was drowning, not in water but in a lust for life I was terrified I wouldn’t get to experience. I was drowning in moments I found myself wondering if I would maybe never have. 

I was then returned to my husband who knowingly squeezed my hand, we have seen off worse challenges than this as a couple. His hand squeeze told me it would be ok whatever the result. After a short wait I was called through to ultra sound where again I was asked to remove my clothes and felt so painfully vulnerable again. The consultant radiographer and her assistant were both wonderful putting me at ease, they talked me through what could have been a deeply dehumanising process whilst ensuring my dignity at all times. As I lay on my back in the ultrasound room I felt a lone tear roll down the side of my face, the emotions of the day beginning to escape without my permission. The radiographer noticed and offered a caring smile, I explained how long we had been trying to conceive and how I had envisaged being in an ultrasound room for such a different reason this year. I hide my disappointment over that behind a smile daily as people as questions such as how many children I have. I scream silently and try never to show that emotion other than to a select couple of people yet today it spilled out of my eyes and I told a complete stranger in the radiographer. 

Back to the clinic I went clutching an envelope which I knew sealed my fate, she she passed it to me the nurse said to use the walk back round to think of any questions and to use the time with the consultant to clear my mind of any worries so I can go home with less weight on my shoulders. Good advice I thought. It’s a strange thing to be the patient when so often I am the nurse, it’s a good reminder how the small comments of care and compassion make such a difference to a patients journey. I shall think on that this week as I plan the care I deliver. 

Waiting to be called back in to see the consultant my heart was beating so hard I thought my rib cage was at risk of bursting. What if it was bad news?

I suspect the consultant is an incredible poker player because I scanned his face for clues as we entered the room but nothing was disclosed by his face. He quickly told me that he had seen nothing sinister on the scan or the mammogram but as he can feel a lump he would like to do a needle biopsy. I have a blood clotting disorder so a needle biopsy would need clotting factor treatment beforehand therefore given the probability of risk after seeing the scans etc we decided to wait a few weeks and see if the lump disseminates on its own or if it is still there in 8 weeks when he has asked me to return to clinic he will do a biopsy then. 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, my heart was going almost as fast as my brain which has been like a hamster wheel for the past week. I headed to work almost on automatic pilot, trying to process the morning. I felt such relief at what he had told me but with a much reduced but still evident sense of foreboding at the fact he may still do the biopsy in 8 weeks if the lump is still there. 

I usually do well to mask my emotions from the world so today was difficult for me to admit my vulnerability. The nursing and medical staff were to be highly commended for putting me at ease, for making a difficult day a little easier. As I reflect upon today I an reminded how frightening being the patient can be. Being a patient today will influence the nurse I am tomorrow with the care I deliver. Those who cared for me today personified the values we all aspire to hold in the NHS, I hope I do that for others. I’m so tired now yet my brain won’t switch off. Hopefully I will rest soon. Good night folks. Xx

Micro Managing

I consider myself blessed to have been able to remain mentally well without medication for while now but this doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing. There are blips. Last week was a ‘near blip’ and although upon reflection it was a bit of a worry it is also a boost to my confidence that I was able to manage it. Now please don’t mistake the message in this blog, I am not anti medication; absolutely not, at times medication has been absolutely necessary and has saved my life, in fact Thursday evening last week it was medication which helped me avoid a bigger blip. This blog post is about me explaining how I manage on a day to day basis to stay well (or well-ish!), I know it likely won’t always be like that but I also know from experience that the correct medication works really well for me to aid my journey to remission.

Looking back on last week I am able to see how I caught my mood in the absolute nick of time and that even one day later and I may not have been able to recognise how damaging the effects could be. Let me put into context how I think I came close to a blip… Two weeks ago I worked Tuesday through to Friday which were busy in the way an acute ward is the always busy but actually were lovely shifts where I felt good about the amount of time I actually got to spend with patients that week. I was asked to do some overtime on the Saturday which is something I deliberately rarely do as I am very aware of my need for rest days with low stimulation but was swayed by the thought of weekend enhancement plus overtime rate so agreed. Continue reading

Another chance

So I graduated yesterday, I wore my cap and gown feeling so incredibly proud. Not necessarily because I got a degree but because of what that degree stands for. My BSc Honours in Mental Health Nursing means I get to register as a nurse and do a job I love every day and this means so much more than the qualification itself. It means even more than this to me though, it means society has given me another chance, having already lost a career and a business to my own mental health difficulties this made my graduation yesterday especially poignant.

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Celebrate Recovery – A reflection

You may remember I blogged a while ago about starting to attend a group at church called ‘Celebrate Recovery’. It’s a Christ focussed twelve step programme which helps people with their hurts, habits and hang ups. You can find more details about Celebrate Recovery and whether it runs in your area from the link at the end of this blog. A standard introduction at celebrate recovery is “Hi my name is… , I am a Christian and I am in recovery from…” Which seems simple or so you’d think. Not to me it seems who over analyses everything I say and do. As a nurse I pride myself on being a reflective practitioner, which is a vital part of nursing, yet can’t help but berate myself for taking this too far and obsessing over my inadequacies. I have managed to skirt the introduction thing thus far and it has been without issue but tonight I was asked if I would be willing to read out the beatitudes which would involve an introduction in front of the whole group. I was happy to read out the beatitudes but quickly had a moment of realisation that I didn’t know what to say in my introduction. I could have confidently said I am in recovery from mental illness or childhood sexual abuse or even promiscuity if I go far enough back but however true those statements are they do not reflect why I am attending CR.

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Lived experience?

The issue of self disclosure in mental health setting is a controversial one and one to which I have given much thought. As I have blogged about previously I am a mental health professional who has lived experience of mental illness and the stigma which comes along with that. Continue reading

Recovery is a Process not a model

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You may have noticed my tweets recently asking about whether your local mental health NHS trust has a recovery strategy or recovery policy statement in place. I’m asking because I am part of a working group within my local trust considering this but it has got me thinking when I have had lots of retweets but not one person has been able to confidently reply and say that their trust has one in place.

So maybe I ought to start by asking myself what recovery is? I’m a third year student mental health nurse so often hear people talk about working with a ‘recovery model’ but I dispute this; recovery is not a model it is a process. Continue reading

Nearly a statistic; Postnatal depression

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Trigger Warning re childhood abuse/birth trauma/suicide

I have been involved with a piece of work with the midwifery education school at my local university, the same one incidentally I am due to graduate from this summer with a BSc Hons Mental Health Nursing although this is totally separate to my academic studies.
What started as an email saying ‘you’ve talked about having had postnatal depression haven’t you?’ has evolved over the past 14 months into something I am exceptionally proud of. The email was from someone I have come into contact with in a service user voice worker capacity and on behalf of a senior midwifery lecturer at the uni, we agreed to meet for a coffee in December 2012 to discuss what was being asked and how it could work. Continue reading

2013; The good, the bad and the ugly

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The end of a year encourages us all to reflect upon how the year treated us and I am no different. 2013 has like any year that has gone before it seen highs and lows (although neither to an extreme in my mood thank goodness!!!), over all it was a good year, stable and steady. Continue reading

Letter to my younger self…

Ten things I wish I could tell my younger self:

1. To always have hope. Through both mental illness and via situations I have faced I’ve felt hopeless at times in my life. I can’t necessarily change how I think or feel when in the grips of mental illness but I can change how I deal with situations that life will invariably throw at me in the future. I have ‘Dum vita est spes est’ tattooed around my ribs which means whilst there is life there is hope in Latin. I truly believe that no matter how utterly hopeless you may feel at any given moment if you just keep on going moment by moment it can get better. So no matter how low one feels it is important never to take a permanent action to solve a temporary feeling. Continue reading

Happy Campers

Well another summer over and another family camping holiday had, good cheap family fun.
The very first time we went camping as a family I had to really persuade my husband to try it, he had no desire to leave his home comforts.
I had been unwell with a severe depression, been hospitalised for several months and during that time some dear friends had a collection to send flowers. They sent some gorgeous flowers but realised they had around £100 left and decided to buy me some leisure vouchers so we could do something nice as a family once I recovered. The leisure vouchers could be spent on a day at a theme park, or an over night stay in a hotel or at a small selection of retailers. One shop had an offer on a camping starter set including a tent and with that those friends have us the most amazing gift ever, the gift of memories being made for years to come.
We bought that tent set and never looked back, we have added to the kit we take over the last couple of years.
Once the tent is pitched and I sit in my folding chair admiring my hard work I literally feel my mental health improve. In the same way a dose of Valium can be felt lifting anxiety I can feel my body letting out a sigh in relief of the opportunity to regenerate with relaxation.
The flowers those friends bought were beautiful and yet the years of memory making that the tent the paid for has given us is priceless really.

Shocking!

A few people have asked me to write about my experiences of having had ECT or Electro Convulsive Therapy. 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

Was Larkin right?

Did Phillip Larkin have it covered when he penned his famous poem which was entitled ‘They fuck you up your mum and dad’?
I know that my own father emigrating and sending me a post card to say he had moved and my mother choosing her emotionally abusive husband over her child who was already vulnerable did have a profound impact upon my adult life but I feel comfortable that I have processed the emotions linked to my own childhood. I have enough insight to know that whether someone has the seemingly perfect childhood or if someone has some dreadful experiences those experiences all help us from the person we become. Continue reading

Stop the Victim Blaming!

64166_10151526939649417_996056550_nToday April 3rd 2013 is International day against Victim Blaming. I have posted this on my social media accounts today and been amazed by the responses I have received, in both a positive and negative way. Continue reading

Is a mental health diagnosis a modern day equivalent of a straight jacket?

27521_103617956343859_280_nIs a mental health diagnosis a modern day equivalent of a straight jacket? I began to wonder this after a few conversations recently where the subject has come around to the different way people react to a person once they discover a diagnosis of mental illness. Continue reading

The best mum in the world…?

Mother’s Day, like Father’s Day, is a day which until I had my own child I dreaded. It has its own meaning now I am a mother and receive a card and treat, it’s a day to make me smile widely to show my pride at being a mammy.
Nearly all of the cards address ‘The best mother in the world’ and when that is not how you feel it seriously narrows the choice available to choose one. It’s not that I don’t love my mother, I do love her I just don’t feel that she deserves the title of Worlds Best Mother. Continue reading

Disclosure – The Sequel

Last month I blogged about how I respond when someone asks me why I have come into mental health nursing and received some positive feedback on that piece.
This morning a conversation between myself and a lovely, very dedicated and very experienced nurse turned to the subject of ECT or Electro Convulsive Therapy (I will write a whole blog on this in more depth sometime), she asked had I seen this treatment and it felt entirely natural to reply “seen it? I have had it!” Continue reading

Faith in Hope and Hope in Faith…

On a form if I am asked for ‘Religion’ I always put RC or Roman Catholic and recently I have questioned my allegiance to the Catholic Church. By this I do not mean I have questioned my faith as I feel strongly that I am guided in life but I mean that some of the actions or lack of actions of the Catholic Church have disturbed me and also I have been questioned as to how I can class myself as a catholic when I use contraception. I feel this blog may be as much for me to work out my thoughts on being a modern catholic woman as for me to share these thoughts with you.

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Tess of the D’Dubervilles…

Why do I find dieting so hard? Why can I not be happy when I look in the mirror?
I remember when I was at school studying ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ understanding on a deep and very unfortunate level why Tess felt the need to shave off her eyebrows to disguise her beauty to men following her rape. I knew what it meant to wish that I hadn’t been so appealing in that way. Continue reading

Bad day or unwell?

Bad day? Or unwell?

It may seem like the most simple thing in the world to know whether you have had a bad day or whether you are unwell with a relapse of mental illness. It’s not easy at all.
I’m not sure why I get so worked up about this issue maybe it’s fear that I am becoming depressed again? To a point the reason is not important it is the way I deal with it that matters. Continue reading