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Nurses struggling with mental illness

I was just wondering if there are any other nurses who struggle with mental illness. It seems to be one disability that is met with little tolerance and support in the medical field. I do have major co-morbid mental illness, Major depression/PTSD/DID, and have had many problems in my career. I have been in therapy and on meds for a long time and have worked very hard to be functional, and I have suprised myself by what I have been able to achieve. Currently, I am a hospice nurse in a residential setting and it seems that I have found my niche. It doesn't aggravate my illness too much. I am very busy at times and most of my job revolves in much cognitive thinking and decision making about the best ways to respond to a patient's emerging or existing symptoms, and in assessing patients to see where they are in the dying process, plus lots of educating to patients and families. My extensive personal trauma background has made me able to have a different perspective on death and don't see it as the scary thing that is SO SAD, that a lot of people do. Plus, because of the things that I have been through, I am more able to be compassionate and understanding of patients and their fears. I especially do well with patients with existing mental illness or lots of anxiety. I notice that a lot of nurses have little tolerance for a patients anxiety and are not willing to take the extra time to walk them through things and provide the extra reassurance that they need.

Yes, there are some nursing jobs that I don't think I would be able to do because of the fast on the spot life and death action necessary. ER and Trauma/Burn are pretty much out for me. But thats OK. A lot of nurses couldn't handle doing what I do either for their own reasons. We are all suited to certain things.

Having mental illness doesn't automatically make you unsuited for the nursing profession. Even though I have heard many times, "what are you doing here?" "Shouldn't you be doing something else, less stressful?"

I am here and am doing the thing I am suited for. Yes sometimes I have to take time off due to my illness, but its no different than somone who has flare ups of a chronic physical illness like lupus, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia.

I would like to know how other nurses have coped with their own illness and their nursing careers.

Severina

Severina, it sounds like you've done an amazing job of finding your niche. You're a perfect fit for your job AND it's compatible with your illness. Your doctors/therapists must be so proud at their (I mean YOUR!) success.

I deal with major depression, "delayed sleep syndrome" which worsens my depression, anxiety, and a touch of SAD living in the frozen northeast. It has its ups and downs. ICU nursing wasn't good for my anxiety at the beginning, but now that I trust my skills it's good that I have a low threshold for noticing changes in pts. I am going to CRNA school and I'm sure it will be hell on wheels for a while, but I'm not going to let my condition stop me from doing what I want.

Liddle Noodnik specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep..

I would like to know how other nurses have coped with their own illness and their nursing careers.

Severina

Hi Severina! Thanks for writing!

I'm an RN (since 81) and have had difficulty with depression, anxiety, and bipolar illness. Many times I've had to take extended "vacations" and I wish I could have considered it like a "flare up" of any other medical condition! I have to say that all things considered I have done very well. I have found my niche in geriatrics and when I am well it fits pretty well.

Anyway, I have been out of work since Oct 03. Tried several meds and nothing seems to be getting me out of the depression! I am so sick of it!

Doc is now talking about ECT which scares the living .... out of me...

Liddle Noodnik specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep..

ps What is "DID"

What is "delayed sleep syndrome"?

Oh and I do also have PTSD. Lovely :(

Congratulations Severina.

Also well done Apais RN for coping.

I don't think that I have a personal mental challenge, but I have worked with a lot of people with mental illnesses as a psychiatric trained nurse and have grown to understand a lot about different ways of coping with mental problems. Unfortunately too many tend to 'give up' and by virtue of their illness they are unable to reverse the situation without lots of support. Some even then with hospitalization and lots of support (includuing medication) still are unable to function well. Good luck to all you nurses who have found a position where you can cope. You can give a lot of hope to others by your example.

God bless.

Mister Chris :specs:

Hello Everyone,

I have been viewing the different threads at allnurses.com for the last 2 years. I've learned alot about the nursing field and some of the in/outs and gripes that accompany and field, not just nursing. Right now I'm in my last semester of pre-nursing classes, before clinicals. I have hoped and prayed for the last 2 years for someone (above) to give me a "sign" that I should pursue nursing for my career. The thought of being a nurse almost give me "chills", in a really good way. My mother, 2 grandmothers, and aunt are all RN's and I look up to them so much. My husband thinks I have a "calling" to be a nurse, as he would put it...and my family thinks its the best career fit for me. I am currently an administrative assistant (A.A. Business Admin) for a large company and am miserable.

Which brings me to the reason for my post. I also have severe anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, and suffer from panic attacks, which are treated with Ativan PRN (yeah, my first nursing term!!!!)...I have taken SSRI's etc.. before...none seem to help enough to override the side effects (weight gain, lack of desire for intimacy) to keep me on them....but I wonder if I will be able to "keep" it together in the nursing field. I also have a hard time sleeping...I take 3 mg ativan to go to sleep....I worry about having to work 3rd shift and being really out of sync with reality. I would LOVE the 3-11 shift or any combo of 2nd shift..i just don't think i could do the overnight thing..i mean physically..without being so "out-of-it" i would probably end up in the hospital or worse....

So basically, I'd great to read this post and it's what has prompted me to finally register and post a reply myself. I know from reading your posts that some people take ssri's...which one's work and do you notice the side effects?..And do you think "condition" would interfere with my career as a nurse. Do you really have to be tough as nails?....Any information from anyone interested in helping me on the quest would be appreciated in the utmost. I think becoming a nurse will do wonders for my being..I want to find my niche' , too!!

Hi Severina!!! My mom is a nurse with severe depression, and bipolar disorder. I am really worried about her becuse she won't take her meds and she is really just in deial about her situation. The board of nursing took her lisence and she hasn't been working since then. She has a desire to go back, but I know she wil never last because of her mental state. She just doesn't think she is ill. I just don'tknow what to do. I see you are from the Detroit area, as me and my mom are too. I don't want to get too personal but could you offer some advice? Anyone that wants to reply can. I want o become a nurse too, I am not finished with my prereqs yet, and eventually I would like to be a crna, so I have been reading posts from this site for a long time. I just would like a little more insight on this and some suggestions that I could do for my mom. I know that I can't force her to get herself some help but, I can atleast try to lead her to some help. Thanks for reading!!!!!

lovingtheunloved specializes in LTC, home health, critical care.

DID=dissociative identity disorder. Used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder

Hi Severina!!! My mom is a nurse with severe depression, and bipolar disorder. I am really worried about her becuse she won't take her meds and she is really just in deial about her situation. The board of nursing took her lisence and she hasn't been working since then. She has a desire to go back, but I know she wil never last because of her mental state. She just doesn't think she is ill. I just don'tknow what to do. I see you are from the Detroit area, as me and my mom are too. I don't want to get too personal but could you offer some advice? Anyone that wants to reply can. I want o become a nurse too, I am not finished with my prereqs yet, and eventually I would like to be a crna, so I have been reading posts from this site for a long time. I just would like a little more insight on this and some suggestions that I could do for my mom. I know that I can't force her to get herself some help but, I can atleast try to lead her to some help. Thanks for reading!!!!!

I am currently a nursing student and I have Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. I grew up with a Father who is Bipolar and still doesn't take his meds. I wish I had some great news to give you but like you said you can't force someone to get help if they don't want it. I do my best to talk to him and make him realize that the illness doesn't just affect him. My personal experience with Bipolar Disorder is take your meds, see your counselor, and fight it with everything you have. It's like anything, if you give up it's over. As for your situation I would learn as much as possible about the disorder and I would let her know that you are there for her and empathize with what she is going through. Also, let her know how this affects you and everyone else around her even though she doesn't realize it. Hope this helps a little.

Delayed sleep syndrome is a fancy name for lazy . . . no, seriously, it is a real diagnosis where your internal clock wants to shift forward. Left to myself, I stay up later and later and sleep later and later, and can't sleep in sync with the rest of the world. It was disastrous when I was working evenings. For me it's just a matter of staying on top of it, getting to bed at a decent hour and having things I HAVE to go to, like work and class, that keep me getting up before noon. Occasional Ativan for sleep is good too. It's not that I'm a night owl, per se, I don't LIKE being up at night. My brain just wants me to.

Do you really have to be tough as nails?....Any information from anyone interested in helping me on the quest would be appreciated in the utmost. I think becoming a nurse will do wonders for my being..I want to find my niche' , too!!

Hi Macy - I used to describe myself as "tough as nails" (to myself) - and what I meant was that I was willing to accept any situation, to always help and do as much as possible, no matter what the circumstances of the patient - even if this meant taking as much extra time as necessary to do what was needed, or to understand. I just came to accept this about myself - that this is the way. To never turn away. I did not feel stress because I had made this decision. I felt satisfaction in my work. And I know that many of the patients appreciated this. I wouldn't change it - unless that I could do even more.

And Severina - thank goodness for your compassion, and your willingness to take the extra time.

And Dixie - I like your approach to "fight it" - I agree - cultivate your will and strength to overcome.

Liddle Noodnik specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep..

DID=dissociative identity disorder. Used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder

I knew it would be something obvious, LOL!

I don't know how much ground that covers, I'm a ptsd'er and have been dissociated at least half the time since my last relapse with anxiety/bipolar, it really sucks being "present" sometimes.

My doc wants me to try ECT (Electro convulsive therapy) I yi yi, as it is I only have half a brain LEFT!

Liddle Noodnik specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep..

Delayed sleep syndrome is a fancy name for lazy . . . no, seriously, it is a real diagnosis

Man, I thought it was just ME!

I have always been a night owl though. Part of it is the desire to isolate, usually I am up later than anyone else, and I am also asleep when others are moving.

I try to break that by doing what you suggested (going to bed at a decent time, stuff to do...) but the more depressed I get the harder it is!

Thank you for answering that! I had no idea it was a "real thing"!

hello, severina. i hope to graduate as an rn in eleven months.

i too struggle with mental illness. major depression, but it's in remission. like you, i have contemplated hospice care for the same reason, i do not see dying as the worst thing that can happen to a person. psych is another area in which i hope to be functional and valuable.

"yes sometimes i have to take time off due to my illness, but its no different than somone who has flare ups of a chronic physical illness like lupus, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia."
thanks for your constructive perspective! i'm going to keep it in mind and pass it on.

(edited for clarity)

perfectbluebuildings specializes in Pediatrics.

Hi you all,

I have a very good friend who was recently diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and she is starting her first year of nursing school and she really enjoys it- she says as she takes her meds and sees her doctor it really helps; she seems to be doing a lot better. It is good to read about so many of your all's successes and gives me even more hope for her. I salute all of you who manage to do nursing with mental illness- nursing is hard enough on the mind and emotions for anyone. I admire your spirits.

Wow, thanks for all the replies. I guess there are a lot of nurses out there with these problems. It just seems that in nursing there is a lot of pressure to be "tough" and perfect.

To ARPN: I admire you for pursuing this career, and funtionality and wholeness. In order to do though, you have to work hard at internal communication and cooperation. I lost a really good job in an onc/hem/BMT unit because I had recently found out about the DID and didn't know how to deal with the emerging alters. Many of them (young ones) were terrified of being in the environment and of "doing things to people". I also wasn't on the right meds, although I was in therapy. One day I was dissociated and was walking around like a zombie, being slow and my preceptor picked up on the difference with me. I tried to be vague about it, but she and other higher ups pushed me further for what was wrong. I ended up breaking down and divulging my abuse history and diagnosis to them. They gave me one week to have a psychiatrist write an official letter stating that I was safe to work there. This was impossible. I did get in to see a psychiatrist who put me on the right meds to manage my condition at the time, but it wasn't soon enough and I lost the job. After that, I hit bottom. My parts were rising up in anarchy and saying that they didn't want me to work. I thought that my career was over and all of the hard work that I had done to get my BSN and my BA were for nothing. I wound up in the psych hospital for a few days.

After a while, I got a job in homecare, mostly doing private duty, and some visits. I had a lot of panic attacks and anxiety before going to a home much of the time, but I pushed through it. Slowly, through the next year, I did things one at a time. I showed myself that I could do things that I thought I couldn't. I also had a genuine disability, so I went to the Center for Independant Living where they helped me gain more confidence. Gave me job hunting and keeping skills, supported me and we tried to find options for me. There just wasn't much out there for RNs besides clinical hospital, or homecare work. I started reading books on death and dying and watching video series' etc. and felt more and more that I would be suited for that kind of work. So, in Nov. 2003, one year after my hospitalization, I took the step and applied for the job that I have now. They loved me and wanted me in right away. The HR person, said she had never seen so much enthusiasm from the nurse managers about an applicant. I was floored.

So, I started and luckily was well supported in the learning of the job and got a gradual increase in patient load as I was ready. Pretty soon I was up to carrying a full load (10 pts) and handling it. I couldn't believe it. For a long time, no one knew anything about my mental illness. I wanted them to get to know me without seeing me through a filter, just seeing me as a person and my clinical skills.

Of course, a couple months into it, I did encounter a highly triggery situation with a patient and had to go to someone. I took a risk and told my supervisor about my history, and she was very supportive. She has become one of my greatest advocates.

Of course, during this time I was on meds for depression (wellbutrin & zoloft), anxiety (klonapin), and for switching/dissociation (zyprexa). As I became more confident of my skills and handling of the job, I realized that the zyprexa suppressing my alters was getting in the way of me making any progress in therapy and I made the decision to stop it and work on my relationship with my alter systems and to resolve the trauma. I told a couple of people at work about my PTSD/DID, which was stupid and I guess it got around the rumor mill, because now most people know. Mostly, I don't mind them knowing because as long as people like me hide in the shadows, our illness continues to be "rare" to the gen. public and the misconceptions and stereotypes get perpetuated. I want to be an example of somone with DID/MPD who can succeed and isn't a basket case.

The bad thing is that there have been two really bad incidences where I have gotten triggered badly. The first involved getting yelled at and lied about by an aide, which sent me into a panic and made me switch into a little person. The DON of all people found me on the floor huddled behind the lockers. I thought that now it was all over. But, she was supportive. She encouraged me to take time to do what I needed to do to get myself together, but she also encouraged me to pick myself up and keep going. I took a while, but after a couple hours, I was better and went back and resumed my duties.

I felt really supported until recently when I had another "freak out". I saw something that really triggered and terrified me on a patients TV. I left the room and totally fell apart. That time, I couldn't continue and had to go home, however, I never abandoned my patients and duties. I made sure that what was undone, got done and finished paperwork later.

However, one nurse who is a drama queen and a trouble maker, went to the DON the next day and told a skewed story of what happened, making it sound much worse than it was, like I basically freaked out and walked off the job, which wasn't the case.

The DON talked to me and said that if I have another episode where I cannot finish the shift, she would have to let me go. I told her what really happened, and she talked to my supervisor who corroborated my story, and she said that it made a difference. But all I heard was the threat of termination. I felt like I was under a microscope. The DON was watching everything about me, my clothes, makeup. She told my supervisor that she noticed the changes in amounts of makeup and colors etc. and wondered if that was my switching personalties.

The thing is, that other than this, I have done a stellar performance in this job. I have never had a complaint from a patient or a family, in fact the opposite. Never been written up for any reason. No serious med errors. Good attendance etc. I talked to HR and told them I felt like I was discriminated against because of my disability. She talked to the DON who then talked to me and didn't know that I had been living in such fear. She said that after she heard the whole story, the matter was settled in her mind, and we both agreed that the safety and care was foremost and I promised her that whatever state I found myself in, I would make sure my patients needs were attended to.

Lately, I've been going through some real rough stuff and a whole new load of trauma material is trying to surface and so I rally all of the energy I have to do the job and am pretty much a mess the rest of the time. I have missed some days because of it.

So, thats basically my story surrounding my career issues. I want to encourage people not to hide in the shadows like they have some nasty secret, but to let people get to know them for who they are and see that we can be capable, sane, contributing members of society. Only then will the stigma of mental illness start to be lifted. Yes, there are risks and predjudices, but I think its worth it. We can overcome.

Severina

I knew it would be something obvious, LOL!

I don't know how much ground that covers, I'm a ptsd'er and have been dissociated at least half the time since my last relapse with anxiety/bipolar, it really sucks being "present" sometimes.

My doc wants me to try ECT (Electro convulsive therapy) I yi yi, as it is I only have half a brain LEFT!

I think I would get another doc if I were you. I ECT is sometimes helpful for people with intractable depression, but for bipolar people it can be dangerous. It also messes with your memory, so if you are already dissociative, it will just aggravate the condition. I would also revisit your diagnosis, specifically looking at dissosiative disorders. Many people with a dual diagnosis of PTSD/Bipolar are misdiagnosed. That was what I was diagnosed with for years. Try to find someone with experience/ knowledge in dissociative disorders, and get second and third opinions. And please, its vital that you read this book

Stranger In The Mirror- The hidden epidemic of dissociative disorders, by Dr. Marlene Steinberg.

http://www.strangerinthemirror.com/index.shtml

It is highly readable and not dry and clinical. It was a huge eye opener for me. I checked it out from my local library.

I believe everyone should read this book. Its not just about DID, but there are a whole range of disociative disorders. Its on a continuum. Please read it.

Severina

wow, severina. you are very brave. my hat is off to you! :bow: i sure would like to be your workmate and start a support network for us and other workers in our situtation in the workplace.

my disorder has been in remission for about a year and a half. the last time a memory surfaced, i had some trouble concentrating but still got good grades in school. guess i should have mentioned that i found a good med combination. and been in therapies for a total of ten years. it has been quite a hill to climb, but it can be done an i want others to know.

we will overcome the stigma and our own troubles.

Hi! I'm trulie.julie and in the summer I will start taking my prerequisites for nursing school, hoping to attend next year. I'm glad I found this place and I have a very serious question. I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life and have been medicated for the last 20 years. The meds I'm on are Wellbutrin, Effexor, Klonopin .5 and Ambien. When I go to take my drug test are these going to show up and disqualify me from even trying to become a nurse and if I tell the testing nurse what I am on, will that also disqualify me? If necessary I would get off the klonopin and Ambien but they have literally been life savers for me and I'm at the most "normal" I've ever been in my whole life. No one in my life even would have a clue I'm on psych drugs. Sorry this post is so long..I was just wondering if anyone here has any advice. Thank you so much in advance

My heart really goes out to everyone brave enough to post their stories here. I have found a lot of the 'perfect nurse' pressure out there too...not just psych wise, but physical wise too, and its so sad. Once we have suffered ourselves we only grow in compassion for our patients IMHO.

The fear of failing a drug test, being stigmatized, 'witch hunted' victim, being fired in at at will state, denied a job has kept me from facing my own psych issues for years. I had a mother and an aunt in and out of psych facilities throughout my childhood so I know this is hereditary. I've been 'a rat running on a wheel' for years and just flat out 'hit a wall', had a panic attack at work and now am afraid to try again...not until I deal with my issues.

Those of you who are dealing are a great inspiration to me. Thanks for posting, you've really touched my heart today. :)

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