So many people ask me, are you okay? I never really know how to answer. I do not think many people do these days, but it is a question that stumps me.
As a child I was told I felt too much. I always remember feeling each emotion so strongly, it would often become all consuming. Fortunately excitement and happiness were often at the forefront. However, when I went to university, anxiety became the dominant emotion. It was nursing that actually helped me through it (and a lot of talking it through). As they say it keeps you humble. It put the world into perspective. It made my worries seem so much smaller, small enough so that I could cope.
This probably sounds surprising. Nursing is emotionally demanding at the best of times. You have to have compassion in everything you do. You have to ooze empathy. This allows us to give the care we need to give. You cannot be a nurse without caring, it is not possible. When you care for someone at a vulnerable point in their life, you have to make yourself vulnerable.
This is tiring. Some people find it more tiring than others. I have to separate myself. There is 'Nurse Hannah', and there is 'Hannah'. 'Hannah' rarely takes home the burdens of 'Nurse Hannah'. They will occasionally slip through, I would not be human if they did not. However I reflect and then quietly take those reflections forward with me into the care I give. Sometimes the impact is big enough, they sprinkle themselves into my everyday life.
I have my coping strategies, and a supportive network around me so I can nurse without it impacting my mental wellbeing. But now there is a pandemic, and the normal emotional demand appears to be on steroids. Nurse Hannah and Hannah are struggling to separate themselves.
I try not to think about it. I take each day as it comes. If I dwell too much on what has happened or if I think too far ahead, it gets too much. I know for many of my colleagues it is the same, and I wonder, when this is all over what it will mean for our mental health. What will the impact be when this pandemic ends?
I am learning to be exceptionally kind to myself during these times. In hindsight it is something I should have always been doing. I have started meditating, which I have never understood but now I am reaping the benefits when I cannot switch off. I started reading poetry, which is kinder for my currently very short attention span. I have also, of course, started writing.
The most important thing I can do however is talk. I am lucky to have the most incredible support network around me.
Firstly, my work colleagues, my ICU family. A group of amazingly talented and supportive people who I have the absolute honour of working with shift in and shift out.
My closest nursing friends who I have known since day one of being newly qualified. We survived the winter pressures together and although we do not all work together anymore, we will survive this together.
My bestest friend and her boyfriend sent me a care package filled with chocolates and facemasks which arrived on my doorstep wrapped in Christmas paper. All I can say is it came at the perfect time; post a difficult twelve hour shift.
And lastly, I know everyone says their mum and dad are the best, but I am afraid I win. Not only are they my number one fans but they are my absolute rocks. Always only a phone call away, if I need to talk. Their love and support is overflowing, and fills me to the brim. It never runs out.
Kindness has been the best outcome of this pandemic. The outpours of kindness to each other has been unfathomable. Everyday I see acts of kindness being shared across social media and they always brings a smile to my face and sometimes a tear to my eye. On the other hand, we need to be kind to ourselves. It is something I am still learning to do and I hope you can all learn too. It does not matter if you are a front-line worker or not, self care is just as important now and when this is all over.
So when people ask am I okay? I answer with, okay as I can be.
If you feel like you have nobody to talk to the NHS helpline provides a telephone support service for front-line staff from 7am to 11pm and an equivalent text service 24/7, phone 0300131700 or text FRONTLINE to 85258.