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March 2016

Portofino

I did not become a mental health nurse by accident, nor was this blog set up by coincidence.

I believe it was a collection of incidences that led me to my current path.

In the early stages of my adult nurse training, I attempted several times to access the children’s nursing course, believing in my heart, that this was what I truly wanted to become. But the courses were too full and the timing was all wrong, even the experience I had gathered as a nursery nurse assistant seemed insignificant in my applications and I was rejected quite painfully and with great disappointment.

I certainly never contemplated becoming a mental health nurse because in truth I feared the unknown realm of mental illness and the perceived stigma surrounding it. I was too immature to cope with those struggling with depression and certainly lacked any ability to engage with those in the midst of such darkness. I lacked both knowledge and awareness of conditions such as schizophrenia and ‘psychosis’ and invented illusions in my own thinking reinforced by negative media that incensed me with my own preconceived misperceptions that only gave way to my own ignorance. The thought of nursing an alcoholic provoked unsettling imagery of a drunk on a bench hugging an empty vodka bottle, like a lone destitute. However, this skewed perception would soon change.

Several years later I found myself working in an Accident and Emergency Department, nursing those who had attempted suicide. I nursed several teenage girls admitted into the unit due to overdoses, most commonly as a result of bullying. I felt that I enjoyed relating to this age group and discussing the impact that the bullying had had on their lives and how it had led them to the emergency department. I felt empathy towards their helplessness and emotional distress, but also anger that there could be such cruelty in the world.  I also nursed several patients with schizophrenia and I met some vulnerable people suffering great distress who really just needed some care and understanding and most of all non -judgment.

However the person that had the most profound impact on diverting me towards the avenue of mental health nursing, and in the creation of this blog, was a dear friend whom I met roughly 9 years ago. He was very successful, intelligent,  kind and he was a very deep thinker. However, sadly I think he lacked a belief in his own sense of self- worth, despite his achievements. He suffered from a disease called alcoholism. During the short period of time I knew him, his disease progressed, his episodes of sobriety lessened and his relapses became more frequent until sadly he succumbed to the illness and passed on.

The most significant attribute my friend possessed that captivated me was his ability to engage with those around him, and his great passion in helping those around him wherever he could. He was probably one of the most passionate people I ever met and one of his focuses was research in science to develop breakthroughs in both medical and military applications. I admired his intelligence greatly and his devotion in wanting to help others through his focus on disruptive technologies.  I think he inspired me also and challenged my thinking towards the world around me and wanting to contribute to those around me.

Witnessing his deterioration at a distance and the powerlessness to be able to help him or his inability to save himself from slipping into his own sea of self -destruction through an illness that bound him and he was unable to break free from, was like watching my friend fall into a fast flowing river as I stood helplessly on the shore, watching him drown. This was heart breaking.

This changed my whole perception of caring for someone with a mental illness/ addiction and how I related to those with mental illness. And this tragic event , propelled me towards a mental health degree and the path I am on now. I speak of him in this blog and remember him, as he was also a very spiritual person who enjoyed travelling to the Portofino Coast, Italy. Last week, I also travelled there and lit a candle for him, in the same church he once said he lit a candle for me, on what would have been his 50th birthday.  I will never forget my wonderful friend and the impact he had on my life, who I am, where I am now and where I am going in the future, because his positivity and belief in me, helped affirm me onto a road towards my destiny , a bit like the walk I took to get to Portofino harbour from the Rapello coastline, on a rugged, sometimes steep and bumpy, but beautiful path to where I am now. My only wish was that he had had the same belief in himself, which I hope I can encourage those reading this to believe.  In life, no matter where we are, what trials we face, HOPE does lie ahead and  we must  push through adversity like a strong wind, not being thrown off course, but standing firm and looking ahead, to the goal that lies ahead using what lies within to align us with our true destiny, which often lies within our hearts.

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An Oak Tree

Often in our own lives, it is so interesting how we allow past experience to define who we are and therefore our current state of mind.
So often, we allow bad experiences to mould us, and shape our frame of thinking , which then influences our own actions and sense of self.
I am learning that the human mind is a powerful entity. It is influenced by so many factors, including our own upbringing, childhood, life experience as well as our own genetic susceptibility to how we deal with life events around us.
It can be an amazing source of power in terms of knowledge, creativity, success , ambition and other qualities, but it can also be our greatest adversary. If we allow, it can become the most dangerous and deceptive part of our own being that we are bound to.
I always tell people, that the greatest barrier to anyone’s achievements or successes or development, isn’t anyone else, but themselves. ….self doubt, low self worth, low self esteem…the list is endless.
The interesting thing is most of these feelings are shaped by our own thinking, which has been moulded or chiselled into our own schema and has become so concrete it is difficult to realign.
Lately, I have visited some animal sanctuaries to take abandoned dogs out for walks, they have been rehomed because they were either found neglected or mistreated. It is interesting to note that when they are first taken on by the volunteers at the sanctuary, the most prevalent behaviour is a mistrust and timid presentation which is often an illustration of past abuse /neglect. But, it is also an interesting observation, that after several months; much care, love and nurturing, the dogs seem more responsive, brighter, affectionate and happy animals and are often not recognisable as the frail, vulnerable animals that first appeared several months prior.
I also wonder about the capacity of an animal’s retention in it’s historic episodes of abuse. Some animals remain weary and some, not so weary. One thing that is very clear is the value of care giving and love from the carer’s perspective in helping the dog rebuild it’s trust and sense of worth.
I think this is an important illustration and a theory that can be applied to the concept of how fragile we all are at some point as human beings.
It is very easy to allow experiences in childhood, or teenage years, such as being bullied or perhaps not feeling loved or respected, define our sense of self worth. They especially are delicate years where our own sense of identity and frame of thinking is being developed, therefore difficult or complex relationships can possibly disjoint our frame of thinking and create an unstable sense of self worth. This often creates a ‘snowball’ effect, in which our self esteem is low and our own boundaries become fragile so we allow the wrong types of relationship into our lives which can erode our sense of self worth even further and so a ‘domino’ effect can be created and as humans we can lose our sense of true self. When we are mistreated we feel this is all we deserve because we don’t even know our own value or sense of self worth or we would never have allowed such mistreatment in the first place.
Thoughts are a powerful phenomena, because they guide our own feelings which map our actions in life. But the most important thing that influences our thoughts is words spoken over us. So I feel it is so important to sieve negativity out of the mind.
It is so easy to dwell on past negativity, unkind words or criticism spoken over us, which if we ruminate upon too much can swamp the mind and have a detrimental impact upon our own self perception and self worth.
This is why the value of encouragement; encouraging ourselves and encouraging others is so vital in our lives.
Criticising someone is as destructive as felling a tree. It quells the life/the potential the tree had.
A tree gives out beauty from its everchanging leaves through the seasons, it also brings shelter in the storms of life, it is a nesting place for many species of life and most significantly it’s purpose is to deplete the atmosphere of it’s sources of carbon dioxide, which has a detrimental impact as we know on environment, hence the tree has a purpose and needs nourishment , not destruction!
We can liken ourselves to a tree by producing fruit in our own lives as we too are nourished as humans through kindness and love that surrounds us. And overcoming hurts, negativity and bitterness surrounding us that would extinguish the beauty we have the potential to exude.
An encouraging kind word is like a tree planted by water, that is nourished and quenched at the very roots in order to grow , flourish and blossom. The branches and blossoming leaves are an outward reflection of the health of the root of the tree.
I think the portrayal I try and illustrate is evident, the objective is how to achieve positive thoughts regardless of our past and upbringing and how we allow our thoughts to shape our own lives.
In life, I think through meeting people with complex lives and from my own experience it is the value of truly letting go of what has gone before, forgiveness and not looking back on life. But living in the present here and now, starting each new day positively, hanging onto positive thoughts, memories, kind words that linger and nurture a positive spirit and forgetting negativity and bad experience. I think the most valuable gift is in forgiveness and trying to see positivity in each individual , goodness in those we have met in life, despite their apparent failings or misdemeanours and learning to see own self positively, managing our own sense of self and having an inner identity as firmly rooted as that of an oak tree and that is a daily choice of meditating on the goodness in our lives , forgiving and forgetting the things of the past and embracing the future and believing in the power and greatness of love that exists beyond our own imagining through the gift of faith.

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