I’ve now been a university student for six years. Six whole years. I’ve been a student nurse, however, for just a year and a half. It feels like I’ve been so for so much longer though. Not only do I go to university though; I also work as a healthcare assistant on the bank, a phrase which here means that I work at all of the wards in my trust on a flexible bases, which can vary from dementia assessment, to acute mental health, to forensic services. I love my job, but it can be incredibly stressful, especially when doing a double shift (fourteen and a half hours…). Two in a row is even worse (oh, roll on next week… not).
I’m a mental health nursing student, which comes with its own unique set of challenges. We’re constantly self-analysing, reflecting and evaluating ourselves. We often sit in lectures about specific illnesses, then come out for lunch thinking, ‘have I got that?’. Not to mention, many of us have horrendously dark senses of humour. I’ve become much more sardonic since starting the course. Jokes about which mental illnesses we’ve gained since commencing the course? 100% the norm in my house, since I live with two of my coursemates, though I think it’s more our way of dealing with seeing incredibly emotional, heartbreaking things on a daily basis, than genuine humour. I had a truly bizarre conversation with one housemate the other day about our hypothetical chosen methods of suicide, which was a morbidly fascinating discussion to say the least. I’ve come to realise that, for us at least, it’s a way to cope. Of course, I’d never repeat anything like that in front of my service users, and keep discussions such as that private. However, my poor non-nursing housemate often gets psycho-analysed, and has to put up with our ‘insight’ 9 times out of 10 when she has her own difficulties. On the one hand, she always has someone to turn to when she’s struggling. On the other… she even has that when she wants us to bugger off (we know best, I promise… heh).
An average day for me is, well, less than average. It can range from half sleeping in a lecture about the pathophysiology of the cardiovascular system (yawn), to discussing the merits of the mental health act, to deciding on placement whether somebody needs to go into hospital or not (not on my own, of course!). It can also include days out to the park with my partner, in an attempt at ‘normal’, a day at work in which I comfort somebody in their lowest moments, or a lazy pyjama day in bed, watching endless episodes of cheesy Netflix shows, complete with an almost endless supply of popcorn.
Sometimes, I feel like my life is consumed by nursing. When I feel like that, I make sure to do things to remove myself from that way of thinking. I love to cook different recipes, and I’m also a keen baker. I recently started going to the gym, and swimming again, something I genuinely enjoy, even when I’m pushing myself in a painful Boxfit class. I love a spot of retail therapy, though I’m not sure my bank account agrees. I’m also a huge home bird, and try to get home to see my family as much as possible. Despite the stress, and the struggle to find a balance, I feel like I’ve really grown as a person in the last year and a half; I’ve become less selfish, and more observant. I’m more thankful for what I have. I try to live each day to its fullest.
The things I’ve learned from being a student nurse;
- It’s important to check in on yourself as much as possible, and reach out for support when needed. It’s a hell of a course at times, and it really pushes you through your paces.
- Hobbies are important; my brother’s fiance recently qualified as a general nurse, and she said it took her while to remember what her hobbies were, having been so focused on her training for three years.
- Leave work at work. I’ve gone home so many times and found it really difficult to switch off. I’ve even had dreams about being at work (which, by the way, feel like you haven’t slept at all, funnily enough).
- Nursing’s hard. It’s stressful, and overwhelming, and you’re constantly questioning yourself. But you know what? I absolutely love it. No matter how much I complain, the majority of my shifts, whether on placement or at work, leave me with a huge smile on my face, and feeling like I’ve actually made a difference. It’s an incredible feeling.
I’m glad I went into mental health nursing. I’m hopeful for the future. I want to change things for people, I want to help destroy the stigma surrounding mental health.
I can do it, with a little help from my (other nursing) friends.