I spend my life caring for other people, I forgot to care for myself. I had been feeling strange for a while. Worrying about everything, having this awful dull ache in my chest every morning, waking up through the night, constantly feeling tired. At the time I just thought everyone must feel like I felt, I didn’t really acknowledge it as being an issue. It took a huge breakdown at work and my doctor sitting me down and spelling it out to my face that I suddenly realised I was seriously not ok.
I am a children’s cancer nurse, have been for 4 years. Almost everyone has the same response when the find out what my job is; ‘that must be so sad’, ‘you must be a strong person to do that’, ‘how do you do it’. Rightly so it is sad at times. But it’s such a happy environment to work in. I work with a team of heroes and look after heroes as well. It’s a privilege and I wouldn’t wish to do any other job.
There was a sad case that I was involved in at work that knocked me quite hard. I had a lot of guilt and sadness trapped inside me for a long time after that I didn’t speak about. I put on a brave face and just got on with it, forgetting that I am still a human. I work in an environment that can at times be heartbreaking and I forgot that it is ok to cry and to be mad at the world when not everything goes the way we want it to.
I cannot say for sure if this was the reason my mental health deteriorated, but I think it was definitely one of the triggers. About 3 months after, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
It took a while for me to come to terms with it all, I was unsure of how people would perceive me. I was unsure whether people would think I was too weak to do my job and I was worried that I would be branded pathetic. None of this was true. I am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive manager and network of friends at work that helped me understand what was going on and to accept it for what it was. And so I was able to start to piece myself back together. 1 in 10 nurse sick days are down to stress related illnesses. The thing with being a nurse is that you can’t do your job when only half of your body is working. Nursing is demanding, mentally physically and emotionally. We all know that the NHS is in a crisis. We are underpaid and overworked. We do long hours and we have to be alert for all 12 of them. I can’t look after anybody if I am struggling to look after myself and so I have had to have time off work which is hard. But self care is something I am teaching myself.
I vowed from the start that my experience would be something that I am always open about. Being open and talking has assisted with getting me out of hard days. I want to help people understand that mental health problems are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Especially in my line of work. I want to encourage people to talk. If I’d have got things off my chest sooner, I may not be in the position I am today. A problem shared is a problem halved and if I can promote just one person to say ‘hold on a minute, I think I might need a bit of help’ then my experience has been worth it. I can’t help having anxiety and depression in the same way that someone can’t help having diabetes. My mental health doesn’t define who I am, but it’s a part of me and I won’t hide it.
Alone we are strong. But Together we are stronger.
Written by Danielle Knapper | 15.05.2019