Ending the Stigma: An LPN’s Viewpoint
Some days I wake up and everything feels calm, my vision is clear, the world is mine to conquer. I dance upon the ashes of my past and I have a sense of overwhelming joy. Other days I have a hard time twisting my scars into lessons. My bed feels like the safest place on the planet, hiding me from the harshness of the world. The place I am trying to escape is not outside of me, but within.
Mental illness is not an exaggeration. We fight a war inside of our minds each and every day, and that alone is exhausting. In addition to coping with what plagues our minds, we who suffer often have to be confronted by ignorant outside assumptions. There is such a stigma with mental illness yet so many individuals suffer. I guarantee you know at least one person, whether it be a family member, friend, or coworker. Why is it so disturbingly difficult to be open about these legitimate disorders and illnesses? For so long I was ashamed of my own battles with mental illness. I know now, especially as a nurse, I have to stand up and be a voice for myself AND my patients.
Why is it so easy for people to call us ‘crazy’ or judge us so harshly about a diagnosis we cannot control? We cannot choose the cards we are dealt, we just have to accept them and make the best of our situations. Even in the medical field, I have seen staff crack jokes about an individual with a serious mental illness. That being said, I am not a perfect human, I judge people without even realizing it. I try my best to fix my thoughts or words and understand what they are going through. I have seen the looks and heard the words spoken by people who surround me. I know exactly how my patients feel as the world cracks down on them. This is exactly why I knew I should write something about this.
I made one of my first attempts to be open about my struggles by getting a couple tattoos that relate to me. People ask what they stand for and this is the perfect chance to quickly explain and attempt to help someone understand, even just a little bit. It is slowly getting easier to be open and to talk about these things, but it is still utterly terrifying especially being a nurse. Having a mental illness does not automatically make you unsuitable for the nursing profession. I have heard so many times “Why are you doing this?” or “Shouldn’t you being doing something different..you know, less stressful?” I find it almost insulting. I can’t find any evidence to say that nurses with mental health disorders cannot do their jobs. However, there are always circumstances that make this statement untrue. Alcohol or drug addiction that has not been rehabilitated or unmanaged/unstable treatment can, without a doubt, interfere with patient care. I would like to believe that in these cases, they can recover and become stable enough to continue on into the career they started. I find myself able to communicate so much better with my patients at Elite due to the simple fact that we share common ground. They may not know it, but I do. I understand and I can empathize. Even if they do not know my very own struggle, my patients seem to be at ease talking to me… even while I am drawing up their monthly injection with a big 2-inch needle. I quite enjoy getting to know them more and more each month. I firmly believe as long as you stay proactive in your mental health journey and take care of yourself, you can and WILL still be a fantastic nurse. I know my limits when it comes to my mental and emotional well-being. I know now when I should take a few minutes to catch my breath before I get too overwhelmed or when I should vent a little bit to Mrs. Becky, the receptionist out in my office. (Let’s give her a big round of applause for listening to me, judgement free!) Even on the rough days, I get a few encouraging reminders that I am pretty great at my job, regardless of what my mental illness is. Being in the nursing profession has actually helped me with a lot of my anxieties like talking on the phone, for example.
We live in a world where if you break a bone, you get it x-rayed and a cast put on, and everyone runs to sign it. If you’re dealing with a mental illness there are no radiologic or laboratory results to go off of, no casting to heal your wounds, and nobody running to sign your non-existent cast. That is the stigma. People don’t see it in the same light. This is a generation that does not understand completely about mental illnesses, they romanticize it and use various mental disorders as an adjective. I cannot place blame on my generation alone, though. Too many people of all ages do not understand. What we are feeling or struggling with does not define us. You cannot always know what is going on with a person internally, so no judgments should be made by the way the outside seems. We, as nurses in mental health, should be advocates for our patients. Help them not feel so ashamed so they are more open and willing to get the treatment they need instead of hiding behind a curtain, scared of what the world might say.
As a friend, family member, spouse, coworker etc you might ask, “well what can I possibly say or do to help?” That answer is not an easy one, but telling someone what they feel is valid is a pretty darn good start. I may not have spoken much about my own battle because frankly, we’d be here all day, but I am with you. Someone is searching for some kind of reassurance or guidance out there like I was. Someone to relate to. A nurse dealing with the struggle in fear of judgment about her capabilities, unsure of how to ask for the support she needed, and wondering if anyone surrounding her will see her differently. Share your battle and better yet, share your success. It doesn’t end here…you made it this far, right?