May, Mental Health and how are we all feeling

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, apparently. So as much as I like to focus on all things beautiful, I thought I could spread some awareness about mental health for a change. Our mind is a beautiful thing- even when it turns on us.

Trauma hits us in different ways, and at the most unexpected times. Therapy and counselling, hitting the sleeping pills and alcohol to get a decent night of sleep, sudden episodes of crying out of nowhere became, I think, the new normality for a lot of my colleagues and myself. Again, I can only speak for myself and my experience BUT- a lot of colleagues came talking to me about their mental health after my post back in November.

Let me tell you a little story......

I was working a night shift last month. For whoever doesn’t know, a satellite ITU was created to accommodate the patients during the second wave of COVID. Firstly, it was an added 30 beds. And as the number increased, it became, 60, then 90, the 120. As the number fortunately started to decrease, we were able to close some of these units, which have now been cleaned and look ghostly new and shiny. It so happens that if sometimes you ran out of a particular stock item in the main ITU, you can pop upstairs to the satellite one where a lot of leftover stock from the pandemic is still there. As I was missing some particular blood bottles, I popped upstairs to look for some.

As I walked into the ex-COVID unit- a normal action, that I have done many times without thinking about it twice, it hit me. Flashbacks of the patient I treated, and lost. All the human suffering that happened through those walls. The monitors, the incessant alarms, now silenced and asleep in a corner. The gas machine, too often telling the story of yet another patient deteriorating.

I sat for a minute trying to compose myself. Really trying to factor in what, as nurses, we have witnessed. What we have gone through.

As I went back downstairs, I started having a severe gastric pain that didn’t leave me for a few days.

I finished my night duty and spent two days in bed. And I suddenly had an epiphany- which is now so obviously self explanatory I felt stupid for having ignored it for so long. I had ongoing gastric pain since January, when here in England we were in the midst of the second wave. Went to my GP, taken some bloods, but everything looked normal.

Like every woman in a fertile age with sort of unexplained tummy pains and nausea I then thought “well, could be a pregnancy?”- it wasn’t.

The pain came in waves, so that I wouldn’t particularly notice or take action. Then two weeks ago, I couldn’t finish a night duty and ended up in A&E. Again, taken some bloods- and nothing.

If I sit down and I think about that empty unit, I can sort of see myself there, in flashbacks- and the pain comes back instantly. It was my body, all along, telling me, this is enough.

Most of us turn up for work because we care. We care that there is a huge backlog of cancer cases. We care that vital surgeries haven’t happened. We are in this profession because we care.

To colleagues reading this- take a break (or even not colleagues, really just fellow human beings). Phone your GP and take time off. I honestly did not realise how unwell I was feeling until it took me three days to shower. Remove yourself from the environment that is causing the trauma.

A literature review was published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing and it was concluded that 6.7%–95.7% of nurses had at least one symptom of PTSD and 8.5%–20.8% met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. That's almost 96%- that is, pretty much all of us. And this was pre-COVID.

I am very aware that with my blog and my IG I strive to send out the message that if you love yourself, be it with clothes, makeup or whatnot you'll feel better. Something as simple as wearing a bright colour, or a bold lipstick can make us instantly feel better and in control. And while I find this very very true, take the book 'why I wore lipstick on the day of my mastectomy', I also find that somedays you can' I just spent ten days in bed not wanting to get up, not wanting to get dressed, wash, or do anything else that would involve me moving from a position of safety. The only thing I did was some gardening and stare at the walls, or the fence outside. And whilst at least I got a tan out of it, it has not been pleasant. When the mind decides it is time to switch off, it really does. Unforgivingly so.

Oh, and another shocking truth: you will NOT magically snap out of it by sheer willpower. I am literally the strongest person I know, and I broke.

Personally, I called he Samaritans, then my GP- who prescribed therapy and antidepressants. The tablets I picked up and had them on my bedside table for a few days before deciding that things were actually too bad to ignore them further. There is still such a sense of shame in taking antidepressants, it is frankly ridiculous. If I fractured my leg I would't think twice about taking time off and meds for it, so really why shouldn't it be the same with your mind. Also, read this: you can live without your leg, less without your head in the right place. So yeah- no sheer willpower, but aimed treatment; like everything else really.

Whilst we are on the topic of mental health, I would like to quickly touch on eating disorders- of any kind. I am quite open talking about them, which again is why I think some friends and colleagues have come to me saying that they are struggling with diet and exercise. I have pretty much always and forever struggled with weight and body image, and more so in the last year where I felt the only thing I could truly control were my weight and what I was eating. In 2020 I started a super strict ketogenic diet, and that coupled up with stress made me lose about 8-10 kg. I can now see how much it was controlling my life, and also how actually unhappy it made me feel. BUT to eat properly is still a daily exercise. If you are struggling, please do reach out for help- because to obsessively think about what you are eating and the exercises and weighing yourself will take a toll on you. It may be later, it may be sooner. But I promise you now, it will.

Again, you can call your GP and get referred for talking therapies, if this is something you think you need (and we can all use some to be honest)- or you might just need a dietitian to point you in the right direction. Either way, your GP can direct you. Another source of informations is the "I weigh" podcast hosted by Jameela Jamil- again, I love everything she does so I might be slightly biased. But she's great.

Sorry about this long and heavy post, but I feel like some awareness needed to be spread :) And if you need any advice with style and fashion, you know where to find me :)

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