Going back to university for the second time to study mental health nursing wasn’t an easy decision – not only for the financial side of things, but also because I’ve experienced my fair share of battles with mental illness.
Without trying to sound bigheaded, I knew I was destined to be a mental health nurse. I’ve always been passionate about fighting the stigma that mental health problems are greeted with.
Not only that, but I realised that if I was recovering from mental illness I would appreciate a nurse like myself to help me on my road to recovery.
When I was younger, my grandad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I remember thinking: “That’s a long hard to spell word, it sounds scary” – I didn’t understand it. Besides, I was too young.
I vaguely remember my grandad picking me up from school. Every day we would walk the short journey home, which would take us up a path with a gate. One day my grandad walked straight past the gate and began pushing at the fencing, trying to figure out where the gate was.
I remember being so confused, thinking “What is grandad doing? The gate is right here”. Then began the chain of events and deterioration that would lead to my grandad being in placed in care.
Eventually my grandad lost his mobility and his speech. No matter how much I sat in front of him, talking to him, his eyes never met mine. It tore the family apart and even created fallouts and tension between us.
Every time a new university placement came up, I would think to myself “Please don’t be a dementia unit, please don’t be a dementia unit” and then my fears became reality – a nine-week placement on a dementia assessment ward.
It wasn’t that I felt nervous about this, but I am ashamed to admit that when I went to visit my grandad in care, I completely shut down. I just didn’t know to deal with it, I didn’t know how to deal with my family being upset and I switched off my emotions so easily.
This would make me feel so guilty and angry at myself: “Why can’t I cry?”; “Why can’t I do more?”; and “How am I going to be a good nurse when I’ve shut down my emotions?”.
”I want to ensure that all my patients receive kind, understanding care”
The day before I was due to start my placement, which landed on my birthday, my grandad passed away. In a way I felt slight relief through my pain that he would no longer be suffering as he had suffered for so long.
I waited a few days to go into placement. I was scared of not keeping it together, worrying about the patients and crying in front of them, but I was honest with staff who showed me endless support.
I went into my placement doing it for my grandad. I want to ensure that all my patients receive kind, understanding care and am determined to do that for my grandad.
In some ways things that hit close to home can shape us to reach our full potential and not give up. While I always try my best to leave my personal life at home, I believe in using experiences to get the very best out of yourself. I know my grandad would be very proud.
Faye Rayner is a second-year mental health nursing student at the University of Huddersfield.