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Your Mental Health Matters

This week’s post is going to be different. I will not be sharing a story of a patient. Instead, I will be sharing a story about myself.

I have anxiety. I have depression.

And that’s okay.

While it has tried to hold me back, I’ve pushed through and have succeeded.

I still struggle. I have days where I don’t want to talk to anyone at all. I have days where getting out of bed is like trying to run a marathon when you’ve never even ran a mile. I have days where I shut people out; people that I love. I have days where I doubt my greatest efforts; did I try hard enough?

But, I have a lot more good days than bad. I will share with you all my entire story, but not today.

Today, I am writing this as this week’s blog post because I am mad. And I know that I am not the only one.

This pandemic has ruined so much! We are allowed to be mad! Birthdays. Holidays. I haven’t seen my family in six weeks. Six damn weeks! I haven’t left the house in six weeks except to go play outside with my daughter and go for walks on the sunny days, which we all know here in Ohio, they are very few and far between.

When this started, I’ll admit, I wasn’t scared. I’ve been a nurse for seven years and I’ve taken care of some realllly sick patients with realllly contagious illnesses. I’ve been more scared of bringing home bed bugs or scabies or lice after being in a patient room who has them than I have been of bringing home a contagious disease. Wash your hands. Take off your clothes in the garage before coming in the house. Sanitize everything. I know how this works!

But the more I heard, the more I questioned everything I thought I knew. Is this real? Are this many people actually dying from this virus? Should I be scared?

Yes. The answer is yes.

The uncertainty of this virus should be worrying us, but it should not keep us from living our life. We just have to adjust to living it differently.

Before I say anything else, I have to take a second to say thank you to my amazing nurse friends who are working frontline, fighting to save so many lives. Risking their own life to save another, as nurses always do.

I think that I realized the severity of the situation when they actually canceled all of our clinicals. How could they even do that?! I graduate in less than three weeks and I don’t get to finish my hours? I’m about to prescribe medications to patients who will put their entire trust in my ability to do so. Am I ready? Can I do this?

Yes. Again, the answer is yes.

I was pretty pissed about this at first, but I only needed 40 more hours and in hindsight, I knew that I was feeling more than prepared to start my career. After I calmly realized that the canceling of clinicals wasn’t that big of a deal, I received an email saying that our graduation was canceled and we would have a virtual speaker that day instead.

I cried. A lot.

Eight years! I have spent eight years in school. I have sacrificed so much. I’ve missed birthday parties, family gatherings, time with friends and families. Every vacation my husband and I have taken over the last eight years, I’ve had to spend time doing lectures and studying. I’ve had to leave holiday parties early or completely miss them altogether so that I could go home and study.

Because I wanted to! I wanted this.

Let me take a step back and tell you about the start of my college career.

I knew that I always wanted to work in pediatric mental health, but I hated the thought of college. Literally hated it. But I knew that I had no choice if I wanted to actually become a mental health nurse practitioner. And so I went to college and was on a waitlist for four semesters before I was able to get into the nursing program. I hated the classes I had to take in the meantime. History of western music? European history? Ancient theology? Why? Why was I taking these classes? What did this have anything to do with me being a nurse?

So I’ll be honest, I didn’t try very hard. I passed with B’s without even trying. I don’t think I ever opened a book in some of those classes and if I ended up with a few C’s, I didn’t care. I had a 3.3 GPA when I got into the nursing program and I’ll admit, by the time I got into the nursing program, I wondered if this was really what I wanted to do. All of the bullshit classes that I put no effort in had really made me despise college.

I failed my very first nursing exam and I cried for almost two days. I had spent so much time waiting to get into the program and taking these bullshit classes just to fail my first exam that actually mattered?! I wanted to quit.

But I didn’t.

I realized that nursing school was not like those other classes. This was real. And so I threw myself into studying and aced every exam for the rest of that semester.

I studied all day, every day. I had sticky notes all over my room of things I knew I needed to remember. I read every nursing book cover to cover, some of them more than once. I listened to lectures over and over again. And then again. I had a dozen or more notebooks full of notes that I read every night before bed. Thousands of flashcards were scattered everywhere; in my purse, my desk, my car, my bed. I lost friends during this process because I simply quit hanging out with them. I knew I had to succeed in school. This was what I wanted. And I wanted to make sure I achieved it.

And I did.

Fast forward to today.

If you would have asked me ten years ago if this is where I thought I would be, I would have laughed in your face. I was an anxious bundle of emotions that questioned every single thing about myself. I remember one of my nursing clinical instructors in undergrad who hated me! She was out to get me and I have no idea why. But she made me cry more than once and during our last meeting together, she looked at me, in front of everyone else, and said, “you’re such a pushover. You care too much. If you don’t get a backbone you’ll never amount to anything.”

I’ve never been so thankful for a hurtful comment in my entire life.

Because she wasn’t wrong.

I will never apologize for caring too much and quite frankly, I don’t believe that’s a thing when you’re a nurse. A good nurse, anyway.

When I started my first nursing job, I was scared and quiet and she was right: I needed a backbone.

And, boy, did I get one.

After years of practicing and advocating and standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, I’ve found a faith in myself that I didn’t even know I had…and didn’t even know that I needed.

When I applied to grad school at OU and did not get accepted, I cried. A lot. Was this all for nothing? My ultimate goal was to become a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner and now I didn’t get into the program?

I took a year off from college and then decided to apply again. This time to Ohio State University.

And holy shit! I got in!

I was out to lunch with my best friend when I got the email that I was accepted and I remember calling literally everyone of my friends and my parents to tell them the great news. I knew it was going to be hard, and my God, it was, but I continued to push through.

Between getting married, struggling with my health issues, buying a house, selling a house, buying a new house, quitting my job, getting a new job, quitting that job, having a baby and now this fabulous pandemic (insert eyeroll here), I wondered if I would make it through.

With one week left of school, I’ve made it.

But now I have to wait.

Wait for this pandemic to stop controlling our lives. Because it is. It’s controlling everything that we are doing and it’s not fair. So many innocent people are dying. People are losing their jobs. People are losing their sense of safety. People are losing their sanity.

I’m mad.

I’m sad.

I’m scared.

I’m frustrated.

I’ve worked so long and so hard for this and I don’t get to walk at graduation!? How is this even real life!?

I’ve allowed myself time to cry and vent and be pissed off. I’ve also allowed myself time to reflect. If this has taught us anything, it’s that life is unpredictable, short, and sacred. And while I’m hurting, I’ve never felt more blessed.

I have been blessed during this time to spend everyday at home with my daughter, watching her grown and learn. I have been blessed to be safe in a beautiful home that I love with my husband and daughter. I have been blessed to have food in my cabinets and plenty of toilet paper! I have been blessed to be able to facetime friends and family and have meaningful conversations with them all. I have been blessed to have time to read something other than a school book…which hasn’t happened in over two years! I have been blessed to have time to exercise…finally down eight pounds and counting! I have been blessed to have the time to slow down. These past eight years of constant schooling in between all of the other craziness of life has been draining, mentally and physically. This has forced me to focus on what is really important and to breathe in what truly matters.

So while we are all allowed to feel what we are feeling during this crazy time whether it be scared, worried, anxious, or sad, I ask you to take this time to reflect.

If you’re struggling with your mental health right now, I can tell you that you are not alone.

Please reach out! To me, a friend, a family member. We might not be allowed to be together, but we are not alone.

Take time before bed tonight to write down three things that you are thankful for during this time. Read them when you wake up. Take a deep breath before getting out of bed and remind yourself to take this one day at a time.

Because this too will end and life will go on.

I am so grateful for my family who is healthy and I pray for those who are not.

If there is anything I can do for any of you during this time, please, let me know!!

We are in this together and your mental health matters!

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