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.