Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Three Wishes

I published this blog for RCPCH earlier this week as part of Mental Health Awareness. It's raw, scary and a huge thing for me to publish but here it goes....

(Any feedback would be great!)

It's time to share. I am not asking you to do anything, just read and reflect. Take from this what you will.

If you were given three wishes what would they be?

  • To be skinny.
  • To not feel hungry.
  • To be happy.
This was the question asked by a professional in 2012. That was the start of the consultation. Introductions were done and then boom, I was posed this question. From that moment on the consultation spiralled a little. I suppose they were a little taken aback.
That's a reasonable answer isn't it? Back in 2012 I thought it was an entirely logical answer, after all... That's all I wanted. I didn't need anything else, who needs family? Who needs friends? Who needs health? I didn't. I was invincible, I had no issues, I was superwoman, I could work ridiculously long hours, I could put on my front and no one would know the torment inside of me. No one could see a wiggling monster that was part of me. I would reach my goal, I would be skinny, I would not feel hungry and then I would be happy.
I expressed this all the time, everyone knew that I needed to be skinny and not feel hunger and I truly believed that this was an entirely normal thing to want. Selfish. That's what I was called, how could I not care about anyone else? Actually you're wrong, I was not selfish in the slightest... I was ill.

I went along living this life.... Get up, work, sleep, get up, work sleep. I could maintain it... It was me. I was invincible.

I was invincible until the moment I wasn't. I was superwoman until the moment I wasn't. That day came on 20 January 2014. I was no longer invisible; don't get me wrong I still thought I was invincible for months to come. The reality was quite clear though: I had a mental health issue and I needed help.
Up to this time I had been in and out of psychiatric units with anxiety and just general rubbishness.... At one point I thought I may have had an issue with my eating but then I got told my BMI didn't meet the criteria. That squashed that idea and I came to the conclusion that, actually, I was a healthy human being who just needed to be skinny, happy and not hungry.
In January 2014 I started my nursing degree, I thought it was easy... I thought it was easy because I was living in my own world paying attention to nothing around me. One morning I got up for uni and bang. I end up lying on the stairs having collapsed again. Collapsing was a reality of life. A week or so before I had been at an event in London and collapsed in a black cab with a friend and London hospital manager. Yes, it was an embarrassment but I saw no issue. On this morning though, my parents decided enough was enough and dragged me to the GP where I got rushed into hospital.
For the month I was in the district general hospital, I was told that I was bed blocking yet when I tried to leave the ward I was told that I may have to be 'assessed.' There's nothing wrong with me! Why am I wasting a bed yet being kept here? These people are stupid. One specific time I was told that I was wasting a doctors time when I was unresponsive from a hypo. In fact she said 'I've got patients that are actually ill yet you're using up all of my time.' I told them I was a waste of time! The confusion just mounted more and more.
After a month I was transferred to an Eating Disorder Unit where I spent the next ten months. This was a private unit that the NHS commissioned a bed for. It turns out that my local NHS unit still wouldn't accept me because I didn't fit their criteria. I told them I was a waste of time! I told them that I wasn't ill! Over those ten months I worked through a lot and came to realise that there was a problem. I realised I did need people, I did need my health and I didn't need an Eating disorder. That was the hardest year of my life. I was terrified, I started to feel emotions again, I was confused and I was angry. At the same time my mum was going through her cancer treatment and I couldn't be there for her, I was emotionally but physically it didn't happen.
In that time I learnt a lot about myself, I was lucky to have an amazing therapist and I made the most amazing friend ever and I cannot thank her enough for being my rock. She showed me how to use art as an outlet and she stood by me and believed in me when no one else did.
Where am I now? I still have problems, I'm certainly not cured and everyday I still debate what to eat. I still eat my vegetables first, I sometimes cry over dinner and sometimes I think everyone is against me. Despite all this... I have moved out of home, I have a social life, I enjoy myself, I am a student nurse, I like life. Yes, it's scary but I love it.

Now, back to those wishes:

  • To be skinny: this was so people liked me but who will like someone who doesn't like themselves?
  • To not feel hungry: I felt hungry, hungry for something... this wasn't for food. I needed fulfilment in my life I didn't want to constantly crave something to fill my void of emptiness.
  • To be happy: no matter how much I portrayed that I was happy, I was emotionless, I lived in a void. Well now I am: happy, sad, scared, angry, optimistic,loving. I can feel and I am happy, not all the time but if we didn't have sadness then how would we know that happiness is so amazing?
That's a brief outline of my story. There is no blame, there is certainly no attention seeking, in fact, I'm terrified of this but actually this is the truth. This was me and these is me now. It's time to speak out about mental health and let people know... It's okay.

I am no longer the girl with the eating disorder. The girl that cries at the table. The selfish one. I am Ellie, I am a student nurse, I am an auntie, a sister, a daughter, a cousin, a friend. I am me.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Can we care too much? A reflection of my first days on placement.

*obligatory pre placement selfie*
So, I've got my first day off since I started placement. I'm currently meant to be sat writing my assignment... yet here I am doing what I do best: procrastinating. I have so much whirring around my head right now that I thought I'd share it with you. I started my placement on Monday and what a couple of days it has been! I've been placed on a neurosurgical ward at a specialist Children's Hospital and I am loving it. The staff team are amazing, they are so supportive, kind and genuinely want to help my learning. I know it's early days but I truly believe that I couldn't of asked for more supportive mentors (and, actually, the whole staff team!.)

I started my placement with two weeks of Earlys and Lates thanks to occy health, this will 'ease' me into it. Hmmmm, thanks occy health! On Monday I rocked up to my early full of nerves, I was terrified! Excited, but terrified. I was shaking on the way but as soon as I got there, those feelings started to ease. They didn't diminish but they certainly got easier to handle. After handover, which I sat in and thought 'are they actually speaking the same language as me?!' we started the shift and... BOOM. The day was absolutely incredible, I learnt so much and actually felt like the team trusted me. It was surreal, I felt like a fraud wondering if they knew that I had about as much experience as the general public. Throughout the day I started to realise that I did have knowledge and although I had A LOT to learn, I was doubting my ability far too much. I'm a very hands on learner and had already told myself that I would take every opportunity. All I seemed to say all day was 'I've never done it on a real patient, but if you're happy to talk me through it, I'll give it a go.' This seemed to work best as I was very hands on and got to do so much on my first shift! At the end of my shift, I walked away exhausted, fell asleep for two hours and woke up buzzing realising that I had certainly entered the right profession.

Roll on my second shift... before I had even entered the hospital, I was covered in blood. Anyone that knows me personally, will realise that this is typical me! I had been walking into placement, enjoying the sun (well, actually getting a sweat on before shift in the midday sun!) and then spotted a man on the floor. I went up to the people around him, and quietly whispered that I was a student nurse and wondered whether they needed any help. I'm not going to lie, I was hoping they'd say no as this was completely alien to me. All I kept thinking was... I only know how to deal with children, this is an adult! Much to my shock, they asked for my help! Yes, me... little old Ellie, first year student nurse on her first ever placement! Anyway... half hour later, covered in blood from the mans head injury (that had somehow managed to not only go all down me, but also drip into my tunic in my bag!) I was on my way to shift. After getting into scrubs, yes they are comfy but how on earth people managed to stop the trousers falling down I will never know, I went into handover. Straight from there was to pick up a patient from theatre and my shift began. Again, lots of learning experiences, being very hands on and prompting a smile or too. I walked away from my shift having learnt a lot, however this time I wasn't quite sure that I was cut out to be a nurse.

Exhausted. That is the only way I can describe how I was feeling, not only physically but also mentally drained. After a call to my mum, dinner with a friend and numerous FaceTimes and phone calls, I was ready for bed. It was at this point that I realised I was taking my work home with me. I couldn't stop thinking about the man on the pavement, I couldn't stop thinking about one of my patients who I had particularly bonded with. They were constantly on my mind, this worried me... I had always been warned not to become emotionally attached to patients, yet I felt I was doing this already. I had varying responses from friends, obviously I didn't disclose any information, but I had said how I'd found it a struggle. Many praised me for stopping with the man and for being so caring, praise wasn't what I was looking for but it did confirm that I was doing something right. However, others told me that I was being too caring, I needed to harden up and some even said that I shouldn't of stopped!

Well, I've reflected on this all night, the little sleep that I did get last night was threaded with thoughts on my previous days. Yes, maybe I did care a lot but my question is: can you ever be too caring? It is emotionally draining to care and worry for your patients, yes it is difficult to separate it from your down time. I am hoping this will get easier with time. However, I wouldn't change this for the world. I may be exhausted and I may be finding it hard but this certainly mean that I'm not cut out to be a nurse. In fact, perhaps this will make me a good nurse. Would you want to be looked after by a nurse who doesn't care and doesn't give you a second thought? I wouldn't. I am trying to cling on to that excitement I felt before my first ever shift. And, in answer to my own question... I don't think we can ever care too much. In fact, this is a bold statement but... THE DAY I STOP CARING, WILL BE THE DAY I HANG MY TUNIC UP AND STOP BEING A NURSE.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

A Reflection on NHS Change Day 2015, the big reveal.

Every year I feel the NHS change day cannot get any better, yet every year it never ceases to amaze me. This year I feel the NHS change day has actually not only made a huge impact on my career but also on my life. I have been involved in NHS Change Day since 2013 where I facilitated a day at Birmingham Children's Hospital. From then on I became a huge advocate for change day as I realised that by working together, we could actually make a difference to the experiences of patients, staff and the wider NHS. I went wild and spread our success in 2013 which got huge coverage and it was when I met similar, likeminded individuals that I realised this was HUGE. From then on, I took on the role of a Hubbie, helping to co-ordinate change day events across the West Midlands and helping to link individuals in different organisations together. I threw myself into this as it was such a passion. Then I went AWOL. I always had my eye on the Change Day activities, but especially in 2014, I seemed to go off the radar.

In 2014 I still made a pledge to share my story of personal experiences in mental health services to try to improve things for others. I shared my ideas with the Nursing Standard and also had set wheels into motions of talking to seniors in the NHS trust who treated me. Unfortunately, this is where it had all stopped. I started my degree in Child Nursing and was ready to take on the world and saw no issues with sharing my story with others. Then... I got cold feet.

Change Day 2015, has just developed into something indescribable, in fact, I'd go as far to say, it was something quite beautiful. I spent the day at university promoting NHS Change Day in between assignment writing, student services appointments and collecting my uniform. I even sat on the train to university speaking to a class of 8 year olds about the NHS, and one of the lovely students turned round to me and said 'wow, can I work in a hospital when I grow up and make everybody happy?' I felt warm inside. I also thought, well if I do nothing else for NHS Change Day, I have still impacted someone's life and I'm happy with that. 

The day went on, I saw some live streaming, I was constantly checking Twitter and the what's app group (there was probably more phone checking than assignment writing!' And I was so proud of how we have come together as a United front and we're striving to make changes to our NHS. Some changes were big. Some were small. Nevertheless, every change and action was as valuable as the other as I truly believe that every tiny bit of change can make a momentous difference to someone, somewhere. It was at this point however that I felt like I'd let the other hubbies down, I wished that I'd done more, I wished that I was about more. Despite their constant reassurance, I still felt like I should have done more. I wasn't going to go to the HC Voices workshop, but I'm so glad I did. 

This is where the magic happened. 

I had my lightbulb moment. It's lovely to meet new and old faces and hear how everyone's Change Day has gone, I love to hear the stories, it really does fill me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Then I heard Lisa Rodrigues speak, wow that lady is an inspiration. I still feel humbled now. I sent a little whatsapp message to Lydia,  fellow Hubbie and friend, 'Defo gona cry.' Lisa was a living proof, right there in front of me that no matter what is thrown in front of you in life, you can achieve your goals and that whether you have a mental health issue or not, you are still as valuable as anyone else and actually, you have different skills to enable you to understand when working in the NHS. This truly remarkable woman inspired me, she let me believe in myself and has helped me to find the courage to speak out about my own difficulties and in those brief few minutes helped me to realise that I have only been hiding away from my own self judgement. Anyone who was sat near to me probably saw the bright red blotches appear on my body that I get when I feel a little anxious or intense emotion, that's because I had the lightbulb moment and realised that now is the time. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, my heart was thumping but nevertheless, I raised my hand and shared that I had experienced mental health services. 

It is thanks to NHS Change Day, the Time to Talk in the NHS Campaign and Lisa herself, that I am going to briefly share my story. 

I'm Ellie, a 22 year old Child Nursing student, I am in my first year of university (again.) I started uni last year, even though I wasn't mentally ready. For the previous couple of years I had some experience of mental health services but had ways palmed it off as. Medics and psychiatrists being over dramatic. After starting my course in January 2014, I had to defer my place only a month later. Within the three weeks I was at uni, my mental health had deteriorated and I was in complete denial of my Eating Disorder. Constant arguments would fly across my house, there would be secrecy and hurt along the way, until one day I was getting ready for uni and collapsed on the stairs. A month after this collapse, I was still on an acute medical ward getting my electrolytes and hypos sorted. I was then transferred to a specialist Eating Disorder Unit where I spent the next nine months. It was one of the hardest times of my life, I was watching everything pass me by, I was watching my mum face cancer without me there to hold her hand, I was watching friends graduate, I was watching friends have babies, I was watching course mates go on placement. Yet I spent day after day in group or individual therapy, obsessing over my weight, refusing to eat and at times, trying to run away (literally.) 

In November I was discharged, I was in a good place and I had set my mind to recovering and getting my life back. Guess what? I've done it! Thanks to the NHS and my strong support network around me, I have moved into halls of residence, I'm ready for first placement, I was around for the birth of my niece, I'm spending time with my family. I am living life. Yes, of course I have relapses, and unfortunately things do go crashing down, however I now have the coping strategies and support available to pull myself back up the ladder, buckle myself in and carry on with life again. 

You may be thinking, 'I thought this was going to be a Change Day blog, not someone's life story.' Well actually, on reflection of NHS Change Day 2015, I truly believe that NHS Change Day may have changed my life. Yep, it sounds cheesy, I know. I'd of never had the guts to share this before, I'd of been still thinking the way I was at 3pm this afternoon, that if anyone finds out that I've used Mental Health services then they'll think I'm an incompetent nurse. Now I do not! I truly believe that I can use my own experiences in a positive way and I have been inspired by Lisa on NHS Change Day. The thing with Change Day is, sometimes what you say can have an impact on just one person, but you could make a drastic change in one persons life. To me that is magic. 

For me, magic happened on NHS Change Day 2015. 

I can't wait for next year!