Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mental Health

Thanks to my dreadful schedule, it has been quite a while since I posted. While it is still manageable, I have less of a life than I did last semester. Here’s what I figure – you’ve got the first two out of four years taking pre-reqs, right? Those aren’t too bad; you get to set your own schedule. Then comes the second two years that are the actual nursing program. The first semester is pretty stressful, because you’re getting used to this strange thing called “being a nursing student.” But by the end of the semester, you’re like “Hey! This is a piece of cake. Bring it.” The second semester, the one I’m in now, takes quite a bit more of your life away – and a large part of it is with what I’d like to call busy work and other crap you have to do on your own time. The lack of actual classroom time fools you early into the semester into thinking this will be easier than before. Wrong! And from what I understand about the last two semesters, you essentially have no life. Every minute of your free time is now Nursing School Time. Every ounce of dignity you had left is sacrificed to the Holy University in hopes of gaining enough knowledge to pass the Blessed NCLEX. (Oh, and passing grades so that you get the opportunity to even take the NCLEX.)

Needless to say, many of my fellow students (as well as myself) have been ridiculously stressed out at the idea that, as the senior students whispered so eloquently when they thought I wasn’t listening, “If only they knew. It only gets worse from here!” I have heard stories of girls sobbing randomly while driving or eating dinner, or even tearing up in school after a test (“My god, I think I failed! My life is over! They’ll kick me out of the program!”). I have even seen two male students blow up at each other during class because one of them randomly yelled “Shut up” at the other. Madness and book, chair, and door slamming ensued.

Lucky for me, I had a great conversation with my mom and have done my best to be realistic about all of this, as any outsider may consider to be the easy solution. Don’t worry! There are only two more semesters, you can do this, you’re smart, you’ve got this far, take it easy. Easier said than done, but I’m working on it. I am so grateful that for some reason I’m handling this way better than I did last semester. A few weeks ago, I even thought I was becoming depressed again, because I stopped caring and I felt so overwhelmed. That brings me to the main point I wanted to make in this entry.

The people on the psych floor, and the days I’ve spent with them, have changed my life. I have no idea what it’s done for other students, but for me, it’s been huge. Listening to the suggestions made by therapists in group meetings have been helpful things that I can apply to my own life and my own inner thoughts (Step 1: Stop telling yourself you’re stupid, ugly, useless.). Hearing from patients’ mouths how they got over disturbing and horrifying abuses have helped me rethink some of the things I’ve gone through in my life and some of the pent up hatred I have – how you have to either forgive the person, or just literally let it go and not think about it any more. Denial is my preferred coping mechanism, but perhaps I can learn to think like they do.

The patients – they are so strong, and they don’t even know it. They are so brave and beautiful yet feel scared and hopeless. They buoy up everyone else, praising their peers’ efforts with words and hugs, but shredding themselves to ribbons with their own thoughts. The worst part is the guilt and shame most of them feel for being in a psych facility – they, like most of our society, think that the ward is filled with homicidal sociopaths and scab picking schizophrenics. That is the farthest thing from the truth. But to convince the patients that society is wrong, it’s okay to be here, you are so brave and strong for coming here for help – that is practically impossible.

If I could teach ANYthing to any of the people that might come across this blog and read something, it would be about the mentally ill. There is no reason for mental illness to be taboo – really consider it for a moment. Your skin, your lungs, your heart, they are allowed to get sick, but your brain is not? Why should all the other organs be allowed to get diseases and deserve treatment but the brain does not? A person with asthma deserves their inhaler, and the pharmacist won’t look twice at them when they order it. But the shame someone feels when picking up their Prozac – can you imagine how that might impact someone’s treatment and recovery when the pharmacy tech gives them the side eye and lifts their eyebrow in disdain?

My point to the world is this – there is NO SHAME is seeking treatment for mental illness, whether it is inpatient, outpatient, or seeing a therapist. There is NO SHAME in taking medication for your mental illness, even if it is for the rest of your life. It is medicine that keeps you alive, the same as insulin keeps a diabetic alive. Mental illness is no different than any other physical illness, except the unlucky people with mental illness have no physical proof of their pain. Please consider this the next time you come across someone with a mental illness, and do your best to not judge them – they have probably been through hell, and someday you or someone you love could also become a victim of mental illness. Keep in mind – the lifetime likelihood that a person will get a mental illness is thought to be over 50%.


Benedict James said...

I was checking for some pictures of neurological disorders, and I happened to stumble on your blog.

I'm an RN too, and its just funny how we all feel the same way towards nursing school.

Anyway, I really liked what you said about the stigma concerning mental patients. Very inspiring blog you have here.

teeccrn said...

I have read a few of your blogs. You are an eloquent writer, to say the least. A really gifted person with words. I began reading because I was doing a search on nurses praying with patients and found your blog. While I am a Christian, I am not going to surmise that you are an idiot because you are not. You seem intelligent and expressive. I do wish you luck as you become a practicing nurse. Perhaps, one day a patient will touch you in a special way, or something magical will happen as your experience death of a patient and realize that there is something after this life and it can be wonderful.
Believe me, after almost 18 years working in an ICU, I have no doubt.

James said...

As an atheist nursing student in Texas it is so relieving to know I am not the only one out here. Even more coincidentally, I am in my psych rotation and it was very interesting to see the fear on the other student's faces at orientation rather than the optimism that comes with the one on one time a student can have with these forgotten patients.

Atheist Nurse said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I appreciate them all. My only regret is that it's been so long since I've posted anything. To James - if you wouldn't mind saying, which school do you go to? Texas is a big state, but we could potentially be at the same school..

James said...

sorry about the delay. I attend TCU of all places. I doubt we're in the same program but keep it up. You're doing God's work ;)

Atheist Nurse said...

No kidding, James! Let's just say that I go to a school very close to yours. Shoot me an email sometime if you'd like at I can hook you up with some great atheist resources in the metroplex. There are some excellent meetups that I go to that are very supportive of us non-religious people. =)