I just got discharged from an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. I see a therapist once a week. Every Monday and Thursday, I spend an hour in group therapy. Then I change into my scrubs and drive to work.
I’m a psychiatric nurse. I’m also a psychiatric patient.
“You don’t know about bipolar disorder. You can’t really know unless you have it.”
“I wish I could be normal like you and not have to take all these medications.”
“Wow, I feel like you really understand me. Do you have bipolar disorder, too?! Just kidding.”
These are just a few words I’ve received from patients.
When I tell my patients that it is possible to overcome their feelings of depression, their self-harming behaviors, their suicidal thoughts, I am speaking from a place of experience. When I tell them that I know it is hard and I know they might want to give up, I tell them because I remember those feelings. When I tell my patients they are not alone, it isn’t only because they are surrounded by others who struggle just like them in the hospital, it is also because I, too, struggle with mental illness just like them. When I tell my patients about the side effects of their medications, part of the education that I provide to them is from my own experience because I’ve experimented with so many medications myself.
When I tell them I know it must be scary being in a hospital and that I can’t even imagine how scary it is, I actually can imagine the fear, because I lived it too.
Sometimes, I believe the words of hope I tell my patients. Sometimes, it takes everything in me to push those words out because I feel hopeless myself.
Sometimes, I’m working with a patient to use positive coping skills to combat her urges to hurt herself while internally fantasizing about hurting myself. Sometimes I’m telling a patient how he needs to keep fighting because life is worth it, even though that earlier that morning I was crying in my car texting the Crisis Text Line before I clocked in. I have sat and talked with patients at the hospital and thought about how I should probably be a patient at the hospital myself because I felt so incapable of living.
I felt a unique flavor of shame when I introduced myself as a psychiatric nurse in my mental health intensive outpatient program. I hated disclosing to my health care providers during my recent inpatient hospitalization that I’m a psychiatric nurse at the hospital a town away. I felt like I should know better.
However, I do know that many people in the mental health field struggle with mental illnesses themselves, pulled to serve those who struggle like them. I do know that one of the most valuable lessons I learned while I was battling depression back in nursing school was that you can’t take good care of someone else if you can’t take good care of yourself. I do know that when you’re sick, you should seek health care, and mental illness is no different. I do know that it’s easy for us to have hope for others, but when it comes to ourselves, we often hold higher expectations.
I have to remember that changing into my scrubs is not the same as revealing an “S” on my chest. Nobody is superhuman. I’m allowed to have a mental illness. It’s okay for me to struggle, and I certainly don’t have to have all the answers.
We all have the right to our own feelings. We are entitled to our own pain. No matter your gender, race, age, or profession, there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Illness is illness. It does not discriminate. If you’re in the mental health field like me or if you’re not, if you are afraid of how others will view you, remember that at the end of the day, you are human and we all feel pain the same way.