“You’re studying Nursing?”
“Wow…good for you”
*Is it?! I don’t know! Have I fucked up? HELP ME!*
The thought of this particular period of anxiety still sends a shiver down my spine. It was by far the darkest, scariest and most panic inducing time. – The time I moved to London to studying Nursing. – Harmless right?
At seventeen – when I made the mistake of applying – I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I was scared to leave school with no plan. I couldn’t bear the uncertainty. I panicked. I was too anxious to plan any travels or time volunteering abroad. I did consider applying to do an Art Foundation (I’d loved Art so much at A-Level) but the thought of being stuck for inspiration was too unsettling. I didn’t want to stay at home and work whilst all my friends went off to University. I didn’t want to be left behind. – In hindsight this would have been ideal for me; working, volunteering, giving myself some breathing space to figure out what I really wanted to do. – Ah the precious gift of retrospection.
I had so many fears and they all led me to apply to study Nursing. – A course that led straight into a job. A certainty. A plan. Instead of following my creative instincts and pursuing art or drama or writing I went for the option with some job security. I rushed into it because I was fed up with the uncertainty of life, and the anxiety it had caused me. I know the irony of this is ridiculous. (I’m still learning to accept and embrace uncertainty as something scary but amazing).
Everyone reacted very positively and being someone that fed off others’ reactions, I thought well maybe this will work out. I knew I loved helping people, I knew I’d enjoyed Biology and Psychology and I knew I wanted to be in London. “I’ll be a Nurse in London!” I think the only thing I really knew was that I wanted to be in London. I really hadn’t thought through the Nursing part, my fear of needles or the fact I suffered from stress and anxiety, I just revelled in the excitement of moving out and to this big city. A wondrous dream turned nightmare.
I’d been so nervous in the weeks prior to moving; I should have really seen the warning signs as they arose. I couldn’t sleep, and mistook this insomnia for excitement when really I was petrified. I refused to acknowledge my fears (that I’d chosen the wrong course, that I wouldn’t cope living in London) and thought that once I’d got there and was all settled in it would all be fine. It wouldn’t. I was in denial.
I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. – The feeling of being out of control, almost manic. I tried to stay positive. I’d put up photos and posters in my room, joined the gym and made lots of friends. But it was as if the more I tried to pretend as if I was okay, the more I knew I really wasn’t. I wasn’t home sick; I didn’t miss my Mummy and Daddy. I got on well with the people in my flat and they included me in all their outings and night time antics (the two occasions I actually agreed to go out with them). I had two main problems:
1.) I wasn’t well. I rarely felt hungry, couldn’t sleep or concentrate, and had constant negative thoughts. (To name a handful of my symptoms).
2.) I didn’t want to be a nurse. – I came to this conclusion not long after sitting through a lecture on back problems. The statistics were not pleasant, something like 70% of nurses suffer back problems at least once in their career. I already had a bad back from all the anxiety and tension, I soon realised it was only going to get worse. After the seminar on lifting patients with a hoist, I was pretty much done. This decision was re-affirmed when I went to get my vaccinations -ready for working on the ward- I started crying and panicking when she got the needle out, I just said “sorry I’m a little anxious” (not that she needed to be told), her words were something like “Are you sure you’ve picked the right career?!” *NO WHY DO YOU THINK I’M CRYING?! I’M GETTING VACCINATED FOR NO REASON, I KNOW I WONT BE HERE LONG ENOUGH TO MAKE IT TO THE F****** WARD!!!”*
I just kept going, day after day, thinking if I could just get a good night’s sleep, everything would get better. Some days I couldn’t even decide what to wear – not in the fun sense- it was more: “I literally cannot decide what to put on my body. This is ridiculous. Can someone please help me choose which bit of fabric to put on. I know it doesn’t matter, but this is torture and now I have a headache.”
Sleep deprivation is a killer, and it killed every rational thought available to me. I wasn’t me. I couldn’t think clearly, I couldn’t hear the voice of reason or see what was really going on. My reality was black and white, all or nothing. To me, if I left, I’d be going home to a whole pile of nothingness and uncertainty and fear and everything I wanted to get away from. I had no plan. Leaving wasn’t an option. I’d have to stick it out, hope the beta-blockers the doctor prescribed would work and in three short years become a nurse. (They didn’t, they helped me to relax but I was still a constant weeping willow.) Somewhere in the realms of my messy-fearful-sweaty-confused head I knew I wouldn’t last much longer, the battery would run out eventually.
I knew I had to leave before I was asked to leave. We’d had a couple of assessments during the first few weeks and one of them – a CPR training session- my little anxious sleep deprived brain simply could not cope with. I couldn’t retain any information so when it came to performing CPR on a dummy, I was dumbfounded. I felt like such an idiot. A monkey could perform this exercise. I just sort of looked at the teacher and apologised. (I did a lot of apologising for myself during this period). I literally couldn’t remember even a short sequence. It was excruciating.
I wanted desperately to stay there. I’d made some great friends and loved the idea of being in London. – I was at Kings College; I could see The Shard being built from my bedroom window. But the reality was a world away from what I’d imagined months before. I was having daily panic attacks. Some days I just found myself on the train home without really realising how I got there. I would run away thinking it would make me feel better but it didn’t. I couldn’t run away from myself. London was no place for an anxious insomniac. – Not that there is an ideal place, but it certainly wasn’t London with its go-go-go craziness. Those four weeks really took the life out of me. I was being suffocated.
I felt like a fraud. How could I walk into those seminars on topics like well-being and helping others with stress taking care of others, stress and well-being knowing full well I was the one in need of help?! The final straw came one afternoon in a lecture theatre in St Thomas’ Hospital. I was sat restlessly trying to listen to a lecture on the heart. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding. The thoughts of panic became unbearable. I couldn’t stay in the room any longer. Feeling like a mad woman, I told my friends I didn’t feel well and I’d see them back at the flat. (Already planning which train home I was going to get, I knew that no, I would not see them back at the flat. What I didn’t know at this point was that this was the last lecture I would attend as a Nursing student).
I rang my Mum in tears and a nurse found me – mid panic attack – sat me down and gave me a drink of water.
“Do you want me to walk you out?”
I was quite literally shown the door. I made my way home with a sense of relief mixed with dread. What exactly was I going to do now? Go home and party? I sensed things would get harder before they got any easier. I was not wrong.
What happened after I finally came to my senses and returned home is another mountain of sentences altogether.
Long dark days, mainly spent in pyjamas, it took months for me to accept what had happened, for me to comprehend that I was not in fact a giant failure. Those months were the darkest I have ever experienced. – An endless anguish.
But the anguish did end. And I know I came out of it a different person.