Nursing Diaries: We all have Mental Health!


Mental health is possessed by every one- Fact!

I know it sounds like a ridiculous thing to say but for ages I thought that Mental health was a bad thing. Like being mental as people often say. Interestingly, we all possess physical and mental health. Both have to be fairly stable to enjoy some level of well being, quality of life, health. We will all suffer with some form of issues to our health – physical or mental at some stage in our lives. I personally have coasted along fairly normally (whatever that means). But I was shocked when I recently broke down. We all know my status as a grieving mum but I still carry on. I am one of those who just does not stop. I just keep moving, Like the famous saying that if you are on a bike you have to keep pedalling or risk falling. However, you will agree that at some point everyone needs to take a break.

Well, being a nursing student means that time has suddenly become precious. There is always something to do. Placement, university lectures, assignments, portfolios and the list goes on. I was unable to switch off from this reality. For a long time this worked. The distraction kept me from feeling sorry for myself. I was happy. During the summer holidays, I tried to maintain my restless ness. But my holiday was long and so somewhere along the line, rest crept in. It was much needed and I just basked in nothingness. I did not even realise how tired I was until I began to relax. Endless days and nights rolled up in one. I was busy doing nothing or something that wasn’t major. I caught up with my colouring, walking, sewing, clearcut, meditation and so on. I even caught myself wishing the holiday would go on forever.

Harsh realities began to kick in at the start of the term. I soon began to feel bamboozled with course work. Unlike year 1, we spent what felt like 5 minutes at university and bang! we were in placement. The stress of it all created room for cracks to gradually emerge within my rock solid defences against my sea of grief. I began to feel absolutely incapable of withstanding even the slightest stress. I began to feel scared and anxious about everything. For example I dropped a dinner plate and began to cry. I was not even crying about the plate but I was feeling sad about not being able to hold the plate. Seriously, who even says that? Well I did. I was doubting myself a lot.  Could I really do this? Could I really carry on with my studies? I contemplated dropping out. I felt so fragile, it was unreal.

Then suddenly from nowhere, Karl developed an injury. He was in so much pain. I had to nurse him. We soon began to have one Xray, investigation, scan and all what not. I was getting by. Doing everything for my boys as I normally did.

Until…

One cool windy morning when I completely broke down!

I just began t cry uncontrollably. Somehow, sitting down waiting around for Karl’s scans took me back there again. I sniffed the ward and I found myself back at GOSH again with Otito. Why was I seeing images of Otito in my head. He was smiling at me again in his room in the hospital. I longed for him. I missed him.

Then next came the superstitions….

OMG, was Karl going to die? Was that why I was seeing Otito a lot? I began to have vivd dreams about my Otito. I would wake up sweaty. It was not a question of not accepting because I accepted Otito’s death before it even happened. I, like every Christian knew that he was in a better place. Yet all my knowledge could not shield me from the feelings I was experiencing. Karl was sick and so I could not even go to him with my feelings. I began to sleep too much, eat too little and just sit staring. I did not even want to wash myself in the morning or go for a walk as I always did.

University? I did not even want to attend anymore.

I just longed for the peace and solitude of silence. I was enjoying visions and thought of my son. It was comforting and scaring at the same time. What if it meant something bad was looming again. I count take another blow to my being again.

I cried and cried alone for days

Then…

One day, I just booked an appointment to see my GP.

You know there was once a TV advert that said the people could tell their doctor if they were feeling sad. Well, I could not access counselling immediately and I knew I was just so sad and helpless. I had headaches, I only wanted to sleep and do nothing. I said all my mantras and they were not working even though I still hate to admit it.

Well, the appointment day came and I saw the GP.

This GP listened. I wept uncontrollably. I expressed very deep rooted feelings. Her questions were not intrusive, they were subtle enough to help me navigate my feelings. I told her about my fears, my dreams, my sadness. Guess what she said

” Your feelings are quite normal Lauretta. After all you have been through. I am so sorry Lauretta, losing a child is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a mother. I would be worried if you did not feel sad sometimes. I will start you on some medication. What the treatment would do is to help you cope. It will keep you calm and help you find more happy days and less sad days.  Just expect some days like this when you feel so sad…and that’s normal. You are very brave. Coming to us means that you are brave. You recognise that you are struggling and you are getting help and that’s always the first step.”

I know it sounds ridiculous for you guys to read these statements but when people talk to me, their words impress on my being indelibly. That’s why I like to maintain only positive interactions with people. Negative ones can also be very damaging to me and so I deliberately eject them.

So as I was telling you…

The doctor spoke calmly and intelligently to me. She chose her words so carefully, they transformed into healing balms that soothed my weary heart. I continued to listen and she said

“You are training to be a nurse and hopefully one day you will go on and graduate (OMG, and there I was thinking of packing the whole nursing thing up. She believed that I stood a chance despite being so wobbly and silly) and be a good nurse. Otito would want you to be happy (Yeah doc, you got that one right, I thought). He would want you to look after his brother and his daddy (awwwww, and I began to smile). I can assure you that Karl will be fine. I am not his doctor but from what you have described, his symptoms are quite consistent with trauma. The investigations are probably being done to rule out any further complications (I knew this, but it was still reassuring to hear it from someone else)”. 

I came out from the appointment feeling healed.

I still felt delicate but not in a fragile kind of way. My emotions were still spongy and tender. But spongy was good, it meant I was redeveloping my resilience. I had been feeling quite emotionally brittle and so it was no wonder that I was breaking down and cracking constantly. The doctor gave me a prescription (I can’t tell you what it is so that you don’t start getting any ideas). I must confess that I did not like the idea of being on medication. It made me feel weak, incapable of self healing. I felt like taking medication would relinquish some control from me to a bunch of chemicals. I did not like the idea of something touching my brain, even for a good reason. Did they not say that the medicines made people fat? I was not sure.

Worse still was my diagnosis on the sick leave

“Depression and anxiety”

Oh dear! A badge.

But you see, it was a badge of honour. A badge like any badge that told you the name of a physical illness. We are more accepting of physical ailments than we are of mental illness. Medication was to help me feel better, help me regain control. It was not meant to take control away from me. The feeling of lunacy as a result of succumbing to treatment must have stemmed from the media depiction of different mental health related illnesses.

As the doctor said, I was brave!

And so are you.

Getting help when you struggle mentally is key to recovery. Sometimes we have to admit to ourselves that we need help. Like every other illness, a mental health illness takes time to get better. The time it would take to get better depends on how sever it is. It will also depend on how much support we are able to get. Support can be professional or it can come from friends and family. Mental illness may not disappear overnight. We need to be kind to our minds just as we are kind to our bodies. We know how to gauge recovery of physical health related illnesses because they may be visible as they are physical. So we consciously see them and as such can gauge our expectations. For example we expect a graze to get better more quickly that a broken hip. If we fractured our feet, I bet we will accept more easily the need to keep our legs in casts or weeks. How come, we are less accepting of the fact that when we are mentally unwell, we need time for the mental cast to support our healing. We won’t run if we were in a physical cast, we would hop along on crutches. So why do we expect the symptoms of mental illness to disappear overnight?

Thanks for reading

Written by Lauretta Ofulue

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