Often, lecturers, nurses and friends say things like ‘I don’t know if I could have done my nurse training with children to look after’ or ‘I don’t know how you do it’.
I have two girls and I’m a carer to my mother who is a voice hearer.
I am a busy woman; I clean, I wash, I try to understand when my girls have had a bad day and, not always successfully, I pick my arguments with my 13-year old who has a tendency to think she is far older than she is. I do my best for my mum, who at times is acutely unwell and needs my care and attention.
My mum has been mentally stable for nearly a year. She was placed on Section 3 of the Mental Health Act last year and was on the ward next to the one I was learning on. At the moment she is supported on a Community Treatment Order, but for my mum, stability comes with a price tag.
She suffers from akathisia, a side effect of the anti-psychotics she is prescribed which cause her to relentlessly pace; can you imagine not being able to stop walking, or sit still in order to get a moment of peace?
I have to admit that there are times when I don’t know how I manage it all. However, for me, organisation has been the key.
A recently newly qualified nurse once told me that you become a master of time management when you are a student with kids. My girls give structure to my life. I have to get up and take them to school. I have to wash and clean. I have to be there for them. I am grateful for the routine they give me; on study days, or if I am working on a late shift, I am keenly aware that I need to use my time wisely.
This is precious time, not only for me to get my work done (and on rare occasions do something for myself), but also for them; it means that I can maximise the quality time I can spend with them if I get done what I need to.
The time management skills I have honed since having children further mean that I can be a better daughter and carer to my own mum.
She has always heard voices. She brought up my brothers and me in what was a sometimes volatile and frightening environment and always did her best. Being organised means that in return I can do my best for her, which means going into town and having a coffee with her, doing her shopping or cutting the grass.
My mum has no insight into her problems so she is utterly bemused my decision to be a mental health nurse. I know that deep down however she is as proud of me as I am in admiration of her.
I admit that studying with children in tow and a parent to support can sometimes be a struggle, but I often smile when people ask me how I do it because I actually wonder how I would do it without them. It is not just the gift of structure that my children give me; my girls provide me with motivation to be the best I can be and I strive to do the same for them in return.
Sometimes I take them to university with me at the weekend which they think is very cool - well, there is a hairdresser, a shop that sells sweets and a book shop where nice pens and notebooks can be found so what’s not to like?
They often tell me they would like to go to university one day and I’d love to help them get there. Perhaps the most touching motivational moments happen when they tell me how proud they are of me.
As parents, we are just proud of our children for being; it had never occurred to me that they would be proud of me.
When people say ‘I don’t know how you do it’ they are recognising and being empthetic to what they perceive to be a testing situation. And often I smile to myself, because in fact I couldn’t do it without what they give me. The pride my children have in me is everything, and being the daughter and carer of a voice hearer is inspirational and has placed mental health issues at the very heart of my being.
If you have caring responsibilities whilst studying to become a nurse you might just wonder how you do it, but like me you’ll manage, hopefully with a proud smile on your face that tells of where you have come from and anticipates what you will achieve.
Helen Croft is a current mental health nursing student at University of Derby