As many of you know, my day job is a mental health nurse working in CAMHS.
Clearly I am very passionate about mental health, as I am about nursing, but this isn’t something that has been my dream since I was a child. When I was little I had aspirations to be a professional showjumper. As I got older and became more creative I decided I wanted to be an author, then a tattoo artist.
My inpatient admission had a huge impact on my life. I was isolated in some ways and surrounded with care in others. I was taken out of school and away from my friends and family, but I was in a place where I made new friends and was cared for by an amazing team of nurses, support workers, occupational therapists and psychologists. My core nursing team, especially my named nurse, were all incredible and have played an enormous part in my recovery journey to this day.
I did my GCSE’s in hospital and completed only 4 of the 14 I had started with. I got average grades that barely got me into college, where I studied art and design. I was immediately drawn to textiles and spent the next three years engulfed in fashion design. Looking at me now you would not think this I promise you – almost every day I can be found in skinny jeans, a black slogan jumper and one of many pairs of converse – hardly a style icon. But I had plans to go to St Marten’s University in London and pursue a career in fashion.
I was still under CAMHS at this point as I was 17, though was approaching discharge. I felt that I no longer needed services at that time and was reflective about the last few years and who had looked after me. It was during this time that my thoughts were continually drawn back to those nurses who cared for me in hospital, especially my named nurse. I thought about teaching, counselling and psychology, but ultimately I decided I wanted to be like her.
I quit college shortly after this and ended my plans to go to London. I searched desperately for posts in the NHS for a long time and was eventually given a job as a support worker in adult mental health. I worked there for a year but I knew CAMHS was where I was meant to be. I found a job in CAMHS and started an access course to help me reach the qualifications I needed to get into university, and completed the GCSE’s I had missed in hospital.
I was an academic child but years of depression (later discovered to be bipolar disorder) and eating disorders had taken that from me. I had lost faith in my abilities and wasn’t sure how well I would be able to perform. To my total surprise I passed my GCSE’s and completed my access course with straight distinctions. I was going to university.
Although I am very open about how much my fear of failure impacts me, graduating from university did help with that a little because I worked incredibly hard both academically and in practice and graduated with the highest grades in my year. I was a good student nurse and people believed in me that I would be a good nurse.
I was incredibly lucky to be offered the one job that I had my heart set on, and to this day I adore it. Don’t get me wrong, it is very challenging. I’ve spoken about this before, but it is heartbreaking to not be able to offer the care you want to all the time because the system doesn’t allow it. There isn’t enough money, resources or nurses, and that does ultimately mean that people are left on long waiting lists or aren’t able to be seen at all sometimes. I work in a crisis team – I see the impacts of these difficulties every single day. All we can do it try our very best, and my main goal for this job is to be to a child what my nurse was to me.
In the last five years, I have gone from studying my maths GCSE to becoming a senior nurse – and what a journey it has been! None of the challenges of this role – as significant as they may sometimes be – outweigh the many benefits and rewards it gives me. Today, I can proudly say that the wonderful nurse who inspired me to start this journey is now my manager and one of my biggest cheerleaders. She remains one of my greatest role models, alongside many other incredibly nurses I have met both as my colleagues and those looking after me.
Helen – thank you for inspiring me to begin this journey and believing in me as a nurse.
Mike – thank you for helping me to finally overcome anorexia, and to understand myself better.
Matt – thank you for not only being an amazing boyfriend but an amazing nurse, and for being my sounding board when I need one.
Lindsey – thank you for all the hours you spent reading my assignments and for putting up with my anxieties as a student.
You are all, among others, a huge part of this journey and each of you in your own ways have been incredibly important to me.
I am proud to be a mental health nurse, and I am proud that we are being recognised on Mental Health Nurses Day.