Your alarm sounds at 6am – it’s time to get up, feed the cat, get dressed into your scrubs, brush your teeth and walk to work in the frosty winter morning. You cross the road and tell yourself that ‘today is gonna be a good day’ – hoping that your repeated affirmation will somehow make the entire shift magically bearable. Your power-of-positive-thinking bubble has been burst as you arrive to find that there are staff shortages, and that woman who keeps actively harming herself on the ward is back. Immediately you are anxious and you want to go home back to your warm little cocoon of a bed and just stay there until your mind feels at peace again. 7 hours and 45 minutes to go though. But who’s counting? You put your bag in your locker, pop an alarm on your shirt and throw your unbrushed hair back into a bun that resembles a birds nest, and is in fact a suggestion of how your life is at the moment: a mess.
Welcome to my life as a new graduate nurse
Throughout my four years at university I would never have predicted I would end up here. Living on my own in the countryside away from my family, friends and everything that is familiar to me. If anyone had told me I was going to be a mental health nurse I would have stared in disbelief and said that I wanted to work in ICU, and never mental health because that’s for thick skinned people and I am sensitive and emotional and cry easily. However, here I am. In a town that doesn’t feel anything like home, feeling mostly isolated and forever anxious that I’ve overdosed a patient or said something that’s going to trigger them. Taking it day by day and trying where I can to take care of myself as much as I take care of anybody else.
Sometimes I come home and cry because I’ve had a bad day and I don’t know how else to cope with the things I have seen. By bad day I mean I’ve witnessed someone repeatedly self harm. I’ve been called a bitch, a whore, a mole a see ya next Tuesday (you know what I mean) and have had threats against my life. I’ve had to restrain someone who has come in with a drug induced psychosis and is kicking, spitting and attempting to punch myself and my colleagues. I’ve had to give four injections while they’ve been held down and are screaming and crying. I’ve admitted people who open up about their sexual assault experiences and are so traumatised that they have slashed both arms with a broken mirror in the hope to end their life by bleeding to death. After most of these cases I have had to lock myself in the bathroom for five minutes so that these people don’t see me cry. This is the biggest rule in nursing: never let anyone see you break.
Sometimes after days like this I come home and I contemplate phoning someone. But in truth most of the time I feel that nobody would understand, and I don’t mean that in a preadolescent hormone-driven-emotional-dyresgulation-phase kinda way. I mean that while my family and friends are loving and supportive, it will take too long for me to explain, and to be honest I wouldn’t even know where to start.
When people ask how my job is a say that it’s good, and then I change the subject – for I don’t have the mental energy to explain that most days I feel like I’m underwater drowning, and then when I do have days where I feel like I’ve finally bobbed up for air and can feel the sunlight peeking through the crowds and my lungs don’t feel so tight anymore and I think I have caught my breath and that tight feeling has gone from my chest and I feel like maybe, just maybe I have a chance at making it to shore – I’m still exhausted from trying not to let the sea swallow me under every other day.
Truth be told, this is the most difficult thing I have done in my life. I never imagined myself here, and so of course there was a sense of personal disappointment when this is where I ended up. ‘You should be grateful you got a new graduate position’ people say. And I am grateful, absolutely. It’s quite a transition to make it into the big wide world when you went to a school where the people around you never left the circle of poverty. It feels strange, and I mostly feel like an imposter. Also, sense of routine has it that my brain is still convinced I get paid on a Thursday (bloody Centrelink). It’s a good feeling being independent and knowing that every thing you have is a product of your hard work. It’s great to be able to buy yourself things just because you can – for example the super soft toilet paper or the good brand of orange juice because hey it’s actually not going to break the bank and for the first time in your life you have more than $13.70 to last you for five days until the next pay. Life is good.
But what about the other stuff like my mental health, or the fact that I’m homesick and I feel lonely. I miss riding my bike and seeing the horizon lounging upon the ocean. I miss impromptu dinners with friends and loose plans and late nights – I miss everything before this; this isolation and loneliness, the constant fatigue and lack of energy. I miss not feeling both mentally and physically drained. I miss having a normal sleeping pattern and being able to make events instead of having to say ‘sorry I can’t, I’m working.’ If I’m invited to anything these days, I usually say ‘I’ll get back to you.’ which means I’ll have to call you in a day or so when my body has readjusted to it’s usual sleeping pattern after four consecutive night shifts and I can actually process a very simple question without difficulty or hesitation.
I miss having energy for the people I care about. I miss being around. I miss being able to pick up the phone and say ‘hey what are you up to?’ – and feeling like I am an active person in my family and friends lives. I don’t hear much from anybody anymore. Aside from the generic ‘how’s work’, I don’t get much contact from anyone and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve become dull and boring and tired as a result of full time work or just because I’m no longer involved in the social life I once was so am now considered ‘out of the loop’ but whatever the reason – it sucks. The ‘what did you do this weekend’ question is always quickly answered with ‘I worked’. When people ask what I’m up to, it’s usually something along the lines of ‘I’m just in bed with the cat watching Netflix’, and on the occasion I’m asked how my week was I gleefully reply that it was fantastic because I binge watched two seasons of Orange is the New Black my favourite ice cream was half price at the supermarket – and also because I don’t want to say that I had a rough few days and work and so feel the need to curl up in bed with my laptop just to take my mind off things.
I’ve grown tired of the Saturday night snaps where the music is pounding and bodies are squished together in a dirty club that smells of sweat and vomit – for this sparks a rage of jealousy within me when I automatically think ‘how dare they not invite me!’ – this is of course, before I realise that a) I am two hours away and in the middle of nowhere, and b) I have to get up at 6am tomorrow morning anyway. So I return to aforementioned Netflix binge and load up my bowl with another few scoops of ice cream.
All I know is that I am doing the best I can. And sometimes my best is making sure I eat enough and sleep enough. Even if that does mean I’m having a bowl of ice cream for dinner.