Thursday, 9 January 2014

Both sides of the story.

I started having depression in my 20’s I imagine; and most certainly medicated with whatever mind altering substance that I could get my hands on. In my 30’s I decided to go to nursing school. By 32 I had divorced, had a relationship, and attempted suicide, but I was an RN. At that time I was specializing in Oncology, which isn’t exactly uplifting. I had a steady worsening of allergic reactions to the latex on the unit that lead to anaphylactic shock and that kind of got my attention. I needed to work in nursing, but I needed to work in a less invasive setting, with less tubing, and gloves…. I had a friend who worked at a Psychiatric Hospital nearby and she recommended that I apply. I did and I never looked back. Over 20 years of Psychiatric nursing I still am fighting my own demons. My story is one of working on psychiatric issues from both sides; as a nurse, and as a patient.

My first years in psych I was full of wonder. It was the early 90’s and Psychiatry was still in its infancy. Drugs like lithium and Thorazine were commonly used and I was witnessing positive results in my patients. My groups were focused on medication compliance and hygiene. It is difficult to have a comprehensive group in the hospital, because all levels of mental illness are housed together. So those with depression are right there with those who are actively hallucinating. At that time those who were withdrawing from opiates of alcohol had their own unit because drug and alcohol addiction was still considered an illness, so insurance companies still reimbursed for rehab. 
During this time I still genuinely felt as if I were helping people. I enjoyed listening and talking to them 1:1. As on any psych unit, there were sudden acts of violence; physical and verbal, which were dealt with according to “unit guidelines.” I’ve been trained in several types of physical management classes always focused on the safety of the patient. I saw several of my coworkers injured, and it wasn’t unusual for me to have to pop a Xanax at work, so I could adrenalin down enough to do all the mountains of paperwork that follow any hands on incident. A Psych nurse always goes to work knowing she may get hurt. I would find myself praying for a shift that did not require the use of leather restraints.  

As with any job, some of the workers were there to help people, and others who were there to show who the boss was. There is always the nurse who has to have it her way or she is “getting the needle.” These persons with control issues were particularly difficult to deal with and at times as much a problem as the patients themselves.

Divine intervention:

The first time I tried to kill myself. I thought it out very carefully. I brought a tailpipe size potato, and plenty of sedation. I drove out into the middle of nowhere. I parked at a church. It was the middle of the week and there was nobody around. I plugged the tailpipe and backed my car into a snowdrift. And I went to sleep. If you have depression, you know that this seems totally rationale at the time. That feeling of “I just want to take my ball and go home.” Well, as fate would have it; that night they had church and I was found and taken to a hospital. I’m not sure why I chose that place to park, but I guess 
I was lucky I did. And suddenly I was a patient.

My first inpatient stay, I was placed in a room with a woman who was having a full blown manic episode. She paced the length of the room constantly and talked nonstop. She had rapid mood swings and accused me of wanting to fuck her. I asked for a change of room but learned early on that being a nurse does not win you any favors when you yourself are a patient. The counselors charted that I was superficial and in denial. I was placed on medication and unlike most psych patients’; I did as I had suggested in many a group. I got a Mon – Sun pill organizer and filled it up each week and then I actually took them each and every day. I learned a lot of things that I swore not to ever do again. Like: ignore a patient that is standing at the desk and appears to need something. Like: making so much noise on night shift that the patients couldn’t sleep if they wanted to. And treating all patients like they are med seeking, especially if they are a nurse. My main goal was to get released and put it all behind me.
I went back to work and changed jobs a lot. I would work until I got bitter at my employer and then quit. I worked with children who had behavior disorders. I worked with adolescents that hated everything and everyone. I became so used to being hated that we would kid about it. We would get kids back on track and then send them home to the same shit that drove them there in the first place. Around the time Kurt Cobain killed himself; it became cool to want to die. Lots of kids tried and some did. Cutting became mainstream, and the Emo’s began to dress in black and Goth was born.
I guess I’ve always felt like it was my job to fix things. My parents were alcoholics and I learned to be a good little people pleaser at a young age. I was constantly taking on other people’s problems, especially family. I took my sister from a nursing home and moved her in with me. I tried to make life worth living, if only for those around me. But in the back of my mind there was always a thought that would pop up saying, “nobody cares about you.” I was still very depressed, and it was only a matter of time before I made another attempt to take my own life.
Sometimes while at work at night doing paperwork; I would try to figure out a foolproof way to kill myself. I considered insulin overdose seriously. We saw so many patients try so many things that failed. I had heard and seen it all. Few people are ever exposed to what goes on behind locked psychiatric ward doors. It is a world all its own and you have your own set of keys. Many of the staff have some kind of mental problems of their own. Most are on some type of medication. This is where I first became aware of the fine line between being a patient, and being a staff person.

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