oh nurse…

I didn’t always want to be a nurse. When I left school in the mid 1980’s with no qualifications, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, but my interests were firmly in the arts – drawing and writing. “No-one in Real Life does that, though” I thought. I remember going to the careers office aged 16, and telling them I wanted to be a window dresser in a department store.
It took me til I was 20, working in various shops and going nowhere near the window displays, before a chance opportunity saw me change direction completely. I started working in the Occupational Therapy department of the hospital, in Stroke Rehab. This was on a government scheme, and at a time when retail jobs were few and far between, I thought I had nothing to lose.
I loved it, and was fascinated by the myriad of ways in which a stroke can affect someone. I discovered a thirst for learning, far removed from my school days when I quickly got bored, and was told I’d never amount to anything. At the end of the year, there was no budget for an OT Helper, so I decided to go to college and try doing some O levels while I figured out what to do next. I didn’t think I had the brains to go to university to do OT, and the Head OT in the department had mentioned that there weren’t many jobs about anyway. I loved working in the hospital, I loved helping people, so I made a decision. I was going to train to be a nurse.
A year later, I had five O level passes, a student handbook and application form for nurse training. The process was not a quick one, so bearing this in mind, I started another government training scheme. (I tried going down the route of being an auxilliary nurse on the nurse bank, but there were no vacancies at the time). This time, I ended up on the Day Surgery Unit. The Sister and Charge Nurse were both fantastic – knew I wanted to do my training, and tried their level best to make sure I had both a good grounding in basic nursing skills, and a wide variety of experiences. It is something I shall always be grateful for.
I eventually started nurse training in early 1994, under the new Project 2000 scheme. I learned because I wasn’t afraid to ask, and because I already had that groundwork, I really think the ward staff appreciated my previous experience, and not having to teach me the basics.
In June 1995, disaster struck. Two weeks before an important exam (CFP, if you’re interested), my beloved Grandma died. I was devastated. She had more or less raised me as a child, and we were incredibly close. I sunk into a deep depression and contemplated suicide. I started having panic attacks (although I didn’t know what they were) and I stopped caring about myself or what happened to me. It happened during a placement on children’s ward, and I guess in that respect I was lucky – at least I wasn’t looking after old ladies…
Back in college a week or so later, my heart sank when I looked at the timetable – Wednesday morning, “last offices and bereavement”. This certainly was a case of bad timing, and I asked the tutor if I could sit out. She said no. The college was well aware of the situation. I’d sat in with my personal tutor a few times, in floods of tears, trying to explain how important Grandma had been. Now the college ignored that. I sobbed silently through the lecture, and eventually walked out, unable to listen to any more.
The following week, I was to sit the exam. I blundered through it, was referred, resat it the week after with similar results. I appealed to the university, and after hearing my heart wrenching plea, they said I could take it again. Three days later.
I was in no fit state to sit exams, and inevitably, I failed again. My nursing career was over. I found out several months later that I could have taken six months out and joined the intake behind ours, but this was never suggested to me. In all, the support from the so-called “caring profession” was frankly shit.
In the coming months and years, I found myself frequently regretting what had happened. As time went on, I became interested in new things and considered new careers. I still wondered one day whether I would go back. Later, when people asked, I said no – I wouldn’t go back partly because of my health problems, and partly because my interests have moved.
I still maintain an interest in the medical profession, being a fan of Tom Reynolds, Dr Crippen and Mental Nurse, but when I read this post by Dr Crippen about an email from a student nurse, I felt glad that (even though traumatsing) I’d got out early.
Now, if I’m asked if I’d go back into nursing, I’ll refer them to that post, and say “not on your nelly”.

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Let’s hope Mr Hutton doesn’t read this…

don’t get any ideas, Mr Secretary of State for Work and Pensions…
Granted, this is based in the US, and the person in question told her disability company about her blog, but it’s still something to think about. I’m quite proud of this blog, and the fact that I did a lot of the coding myself, and it wouldn’t take a genius to work out that it’s neither updated with great frequency or full of comments that could make me look like a fake, but you never know. Just look what That Doctor thought in December…
Good luck to “Madrigal of Agony”. It’s shit enough having a disability without having to prove it all the time…

They’re off again…

Yesterday morning, I caught a snippet of BBC Breakfast News where a guy was talking to a nice lady who’d been on disability benefits then retrained as an AA repair person. I didn’t see it all, so I apologise if I’ve missed something crucial in this. Later, I searched the BBC website for the story. It took a while, but there it was, nestled on the side of the page. Unfortunately, it seems to be a rehash of something that was published a few months ago, and contained little further information, aside from “it’s happening”. At the time, I wrote about it, and got a couple of emails from people who were scared that they would end up losing benefits because their health meant that they couldn’t attend training etc.
Yet again, the government is trying to pidgeonhole people with disabilities who are on benefits. Making everything black and white, accountable, measurable. As I’ve shown previously, even just looking at people with mental health problems throws out a myriad of symptoms that cannot simply be assessed with yes or no answers. This whole idea of work based training means that there is every chance that someone who can’t manage that training because of their health problems will be seen as not even trying. They can’t even get doctors who correctly assess benefit eligibility, so who exactly is going to assess the appropriate-ness of a particular training course? How will that assessment be made? Will it count that I’ve managed to teach myself html, css and the like? Or would I be sent to do some basic mundane thing, because the general impression of mental health clients is that they’re stupid? Will it make people’s health problems worse, because the Benefits Agency can’t possibly be expected to understand all the little nuances of their claimants mental health condiditons, and could technically send someone with OCD to work in a dirty garage?
Plus, would job based training end up being like the vocational training courses of the late 1980’s and 1990’s? I did one of them – I got paid my unemployment benefit plus £10, and worked full time for a year. I did it to get work experience in the field that I was interested in at the time, but when my colleagues were getting paid three and four times as much for doing exactly the same things, it seemed that many of my VT peers were doing this because “the dole office said so” or as a last ditched attempt to regain some of their employment dignity at a time when jobs were scarce.
We shall see. I have often said that if the government put more money into mental health services, and accepted that healing from past traumas etc takes time, it would be much better. People can wait up to two years to see a clinical psychologist, and getting to see someone you ‘gel’ with, and learning to trust that person can take a hell of a lot of time In the meantime, my experiences so far of dealing with the Benefits Agency have left me feeling incredibly anxious about all this. I have already proved that it isn’t the case that “genuine claimants needn’t worry”…
More info on epolitix. (which I can’t look at, because I just want to smack Hutton’s smirking face, and might break my monitor…)

Cripes…

Hello, I’m still alive I promise, my head’s just not where it should be right now. Again.
Here I am, at 6am on a Sunday morning, unable to sleep, and I read the news on the BBC. It seems that yet again the IB and DLA Personal Capability Assessment is coming under fire:
“Almost 80,000 sick and disabled people a year are being wrongly denied benefits…”
Disability Minister Anne McGuire has said, “What I think ought to be recognised is that we are responding positively where those criticisms are made.” which is nice, because I feel even more empowered to be able to complain to the Paliamentary Ombudsman.
I especially like the bit that says:
“Atos Origin doctors send their reports to civil servants who make a final decision about a person’s entitlement.”
Which is interesting, because if the points are awarded based on a certain section of questions on the report, it makes it incredibly easy for the examining medical practitioner to lean either in favour or (more likely) against a claimant getting benefit.
I still chew over in my mind why the doctor made such blatant errors in my case. The article highlights that “the relationship between a private contractor – Atos Origin – and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has often been to blame” which makes you wonder. I had imagined a top secret memo to EMP’s about Mr Hutton’s plan to get 1m people off IB, and subliminally feeding them right wing propaganda, but then my imagination sometimes works overtime…

A Little Understanding, Please?

Yesterday, the BBC reported on the benefit reforms outlined by the government – namely the reforms regarding Incapacity Benefit. The benefit I happen to be claiming.
My first reaction was one of fear. The proposals outline a basic benefit, topped up if the claimant attends “job related assessments” and rehabilitation. I had flashes in my mind of my husband having to take time off work – again – to take me to these things, the panic attacks, the judgement from Benefits Agency officials because on the outside, I look ‘normal’. My fear soon turned to annoyance, and I clicked the link to “have your say”. I did, and clicked “submit”. Waiting for my comment to be reviewed by the BBC staff, I started to read some of the previously published ones.
I suppose it’s only inevitable that there are people out there who think that Incapacity Benefit claimants are a bunch of scroungers who don’t want to work, but I found myself yet again feeling judged. The BBC says it publishes comments that “reflect the balance of opinion [they] have received so far”. If this is the case, there are some very bigoted and insensitive people out there, who are content to make sweeping generalisations about people in my situation. It boils down to the same thing, over and over again. People who haven’t experienced mental illness, or have watched a loved one suffer, will simply not understand the complexities and the utter helpessness that these diseases effectuate.
My illness is very complex. Last week, I walked to the end of the street by myself, to ask a builder for a quote to fix my roof. Three days later, I was panicking over absolutely nothing in Sainsbury’s. No trigger, nothing. Just an inexorable feeling of drowning in fear. I can’t explain why.
Maybe the problem that many people have, is that mental illness is not a black and white thing. If I broke my leg, you could look at x-rays, see the cast. There’d be something tangible to give reason to my inability to walk. Mental illness isn’t like that. I look fine, if you saw me in the street, you probably wouldn’t give me a second thought (unless I was having a panic attack!). There’s nothing physically stopping me from leading a normal life.
I guess this is why my condition angers me so much. I’m in between. I’m not severely disabled, yet I’m not functioning ‘normally’. Healthcare provisions in this area mean that I’d have to cross town to get therapy. As I said to my GP, if I can cross town, I don’t need the therapy. In effect, I am stuck on my own, in a situation where I am having to make my treatment up as I go along. That’s what makes it so hurtful when people refuse to try and empathise.
The full list of comments can be read here.
footnote: I am aware that I have used the word ‘normal’ in this entry. It’s a word that I hate using, however in this case, I am referring to the ‘normal’ me – the me without fear, depression and panic.