My struggle with depression and anxiety. And how it changed me as a nurse.

My struggle with depression and anxiety                     

Depression is something I have struggled with since I was a teenager. At the time, I really didn’t understand that it was depression I was struggling with. It wasn’t until I was 20 years old, that I finally realized that there was something wrong. After the birth of my first son, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression. I remember when I heard the words leave my doctor’s mouth, “You’re struggling with depression.” I felt relief and ashamed. I was relieved because there was finally a name for what I knew was wrong. Unfortunately, at the time, I felt like I had caused the depression. I felt weak and worried about the stigma that would be associated with my new diagnosis. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time other than my husband and close family. I didn’t want anyone to know, which just added to my shame.

When I went to nursing school, I was worried when people found out I suffered from depression, they would think I couldn’t care for clients. Most people with depression care too much, and therefore they get so overwhelmed. Many put others before themselves, which causes them to lose themselves, and depression can sneak in. So, I never really spoke about it in nursing school either. I looked forward to my psychiatric rotation to learn more about the illness that had inflicted me. Attending nursing school made me realize that depression was not my fault. In fact, it runs in families and is considered a disease, illness, or condition, depending on who you talk to. It is not that your weak or caused it in some way. That was probably one of the biggest reliefs of my life. I finally understood that I have an illness that I need to manage.

Depression and its symptoms have been searched on Google so much, that Google has partnered with the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), to make depression screening a part of your Google search. It is important that symptoms are recognized and reported to your doctor. When I finally wised up myself as my post-partum depression lingered. I was told I had clinical depression. This meant I was faced with a lifetime of symptom management. In the beginning, I didn’t really understand this. I would take my medication for a while. Then I would think to myself, “I am feeling so much better so I might not need these pills after all!” So, I would stop taking them. Then life would happen, and I would find myself struggling again with the symptoms of depression.

Eventually, through therapy, I found out I had terrible coping skills and learned some more appropriate ways of coping. Basically, I had no coping skills. I also learned how to spot my symptoms early. This helped me so much because my biggest fear was hospitalization or worse, death. I wanted to be able to understand my symptom’s and be able to manage them before they were out of control. I finally submitted to the idea that I was going to have to take medication for depression all my life. I swallowed my pride on this one and realized it was something my body needed.

I was doing pretty good at managing my symptoms. Like with any illness, there were relapses, but I was prepared for them. Then a perfect storm started to brew in my life. Looking back, I should have seen the storm sooner. I had just graduated nursing school with my Associates in nursing. I was finally a Registered Nurse (RN)! After I graduated from the Licensed Practical nursing (LPN) program, it was a goal of mine for many years. I also wanted to start working in an acute care setting because I wanted the experience. I received an acute care position and was on cloud nine for a while. I soon realized, at least for me, that the acute care environment was extremely stressful. I started to struggle with anxiety. I couldn’t sleep at night before my shifts. My days off were spent dreading going back, because of the stress and anxiety. I kept myself in this position for too long. My health started to decline. My blood pressure was high, and my doctor told me to either de-stress my life or start taking blood pressure medication. So, I finally decided to find another place of employment. I found another nursing job that wasn’t in a high-stress environment. It was more community health/public health nursing and it really worked for me. I went back to the doctor and my blood pressure normalized! I was in a new position and starting to learn a new specialty. For a short while, things were getting back to normal. Then my personal life fell apart, in a huge way.

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Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

My mother became very ill. She had pneumonia, that turned into septic shock. Her infection had worsened, and her blood pressure plummeted. Her organs started to fail as her body struggled with the infection. She went into respiratory distress and could no longer breathe on her own. She was placed on a ventilator, a machine that breathed for her. Her kidneys started to fail. They put her on medications that saved her organs from failing but had the potential side effects of her losing a limb. I watched helplessly as my mother and a best friend struggled for her life. She moved from facility to facility as they tried to wean her off her ventilator, so she could breathe on her own. She ended up with a feeding tube and a trache. Eventually, she had to learn to walk again.

Through all of this, I become the legal guardian of my disabled brother. My brother has down syndrome. He came to live with me. I always knew that this would eventually happen, but it just came a lot sooner than I expected. So, we were adjusting our lives to become a family of 5! Through all this, I continued to work. I tried to be strong and pretend everything was fine, but my body finally couldn’t take the stress. My anxiety intensified, and I started having panic attacks that woke me out of my sleep. I became really depressed and found it harder to get out of bed and complete the simplest task. I ended up having to take some time off work, to help heal. With this was more stress, because I am the main income of our family. So, it wasn’t an easy decision. I leaned on my faith and prayed to God that he would provide. I know I needed the time off, but how bills were going to be paid was frightening!

The time off was really what I needed. Currently, I haven’t had any more panic attacks! It has been almost a year since my mom became ill. We are now looking forward to her possibly coming home. Now we will be a family of 6! I have found my stride again. Rachel has got her groove back! I am playing catch up on bills. For some reason, they didn’t go away, ha! I am back to work and have a new-found passion for nursing!

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Photo by sydney zentz on Unsplash

How it changed me as a nurse

Depression comes with a stigma and many people are ashamed or frightened to say anything. This can cause a delay in treatment and host of other problems. It is important for me to get my story out there to hopefully inspire others to be more forthcoming, and bring down the stigma.  I feel that having depression myself, has made me a more compassionate nurse. I feel through my personal experience with depression, I am a better listener, and my patience is better. It has made me more open and approachable. Most of my patient’s sense this about me and tend to open up to me.

For me personally, as a nursing professional, it was harder for me to really be open about my struggles with depression. I didn’t want others to be judgmental or think it would hinder me from doing my job. It’s no secret among nursing friends and other medical professionals, that depression and anxiety are prevalent. I tell my patients not to be ashamed and to beat the stigma. Yet I never followed my own advice. So, it is time for me to not be ashamed and own who I am. It does not define me. It is only a small part of who I am.

 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

To conclude, I hope anyone who suffers from depression and anxiety is to know your not alone. Our story isn’t over because of an illness. We must manage it and grow from it. I took my illness and found the positive. It has made me a better nurse, more understanding, compassionate, gave me patience, and I became a better listener. There have been dark times and suspect there will probably be a few more in my life. But now I understand more about my illness and have reached a point in my life, where I am more mindful and understand the importance of taking care of myself. This has helped me to be better equipped to care for others.