Lara’s nursing journey and the impact of a mental health problem

Lara McDonald, 2nd Year Student Mental Health Nurse (@lara__mcdonald)

Being a student nurse in itself is a huge undertaking; juggling university and placement alongside daily life complications such as money issues and childcare, is not an easy feat. Everyone brings their own experiences with them into this profession, and I, alongside many others, bring an experience of mental illness.

I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition which some people can develop after a traumatic event. This resulted from me witnessing an accident in which my Uncle died, and the grief and PTSD ended up with me developing negative coping mechanisms in order to deal with the flashbacks and nightmares. Some days I would be on edge 24/7, hypervigilant to any and every noise, fearful that another terrible event was about to happen. Other days I was too depressed to move, in and out of sleep all day, struggling to eat and get dressed. I was placed under the care of the community mental health team and had somewhere around 10 hospital admissions before truly understanding what I was going through and engaging in specific trauma-focused therapy.

This has allowed me to bring a unique perspective to my nursing career. The anxiety I felt when seeing new staff that I didn’t know on the ward reminds me to always introduce myself to every patient, and the overwhelming feeling I experienced when I thought that I did not have a say in my care ensures I always try to engage people in creating a collaborative care plan they are satisfied with.

Most recently, I undertook a 6-week placement at an acute ward close to the one I was previously inpatient at. Although I anticipated I would feel like I was on the wrong side’, it was actually a time where I realised true growth in myself, and as it turned out, there were indeed even some benefits to having been on the other side once upon a time. For instance, I was certainly familiar with the names of medications being prescribed, the multi-disciplinary team meetings were rather familiar, and I definitely found myself not as surprised by some things that happened on the ward compared to my peers. I have felt the sheer loneliness that a person can feel, surrounded by a swarm of nurses, but having no actual conversation. One thing I always endeavour to be, if nothing else, is someone that a person feels comfortable enough to talk to.

I have been able to see the development in myself since the start of my student nursing journey in 2018. I live my life in a recovery focused manner, always trying to be aware of how I am feeling and how I can keep bettering myself, both personally and professionally.

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