Having talked a lot about self-care this week I’ve also been thinking about the fact that self-care sometimes isn’t the answer to everything. Sometimes eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and taking time for the things you enjoy either doesn’t happen or can’t happen because of the problems you are facing.
This happened to me.
This is nothing to be ashamed of.
This is the time where your self-care needs supplementing.
I started my 3rd year in the October and immediately I was enjoying my modules at uni, I started work on my dissertation & was getting on well with my supervisor, and I soon found out my 1st placement was going to be in ITU, an area that I wanted to experience. I was so excited, there was a lot of work ahead which I found daunting but it seemed like an adventure. But I had other things on my mind as well. A family member was starting treatment for cancer, another had a stroke a few months later, I was having trouble with my flatmates and I was finding myself stressing about small things that shouldn’t be bugging me but I just couldn’t shake them off.
I started to worry that I was slipping into old ways; I had struggled with depression, anxiety & an eating disorder during my previous degree, fought a hard battle to get myself healthy and yet always feared the shadow of the black dog looming over me. I reached out to my family, talking things through with my parents when I felt my stress levels rising. I ate balanced meals, exercised regularly and tried all my self-care tricks that had helped for several years.
But as the 1st few months of 3rd year zipped by I found I was getting more and more anxious, I was so close to having panic attacks on several occasions and I decided I had to go to my GP, I needed to get some help. My GP was brilliant. He listened to me, prompted me to be as open & honest as I could and when I was too afraid to say “I think I need help to manage my mental health”, he said it for me. We talked about the options available to me, going through the GP or using the support my uni could offer me. He was so kind and so respectful of me not wanting to mess up my nursing course, he understood the pressures of uni as well as my other worries.
There was an intense relief in having opened up to someone, a professional, about how concerned I was. Taking that first step towards help was the hardest one and I was so grateful to have been met with support and care rather than being dismissed like I thought I would. I went through my GP to get support and had a short course of CBT based counselling spread over several months to fit around my placement, lectures and family commitments. Mostly it was reiterating self-care lessons I’d already learnt but there was also new things we talked about and it gave me new insights into how to manage my mental health.
Although I didn’t use my uni’s mental health support I knew that there was a comprehensive service available to me. I spoke to my mentor on placement and my tutor at uni when my family situation was at its most intense and again, was met by support and understanding. The combination of support from professionals and my wonderful family got me through my final year and job applications. By the time I started my management placement I had completed my CBT and worked hard to put the valuable lessons I learnt into play. When I started my NQN job I had a few wobbles but I was fortified by the lessons I’d learnt over my 3rd year.
Even now I have my good days and my bad days, I try not to stress about the bad days and try to be kinder to myself when they do happen. I still think self-care is key to me remaining on an even keel but I also know that if I need to supplement my self-care by reaching out again I will do it.
What I’d hope to gain by sharing my story with you all is to say that if you’re struggling with any physical or mental health concerns then please reach out. Self-care is important but so is recognising when you can’t do it on your own. Be kind to yourself student nurses!
(Debs Cooper – newly qualified nurse)