Is it possible for a Bipolar person to become a psych nurse? - page 3

Hi Everyone, I was diagnosed as bipolar, on the depressive side, about 3 years ago. I've been hospitalized several times in the past, the last time being about 1 year ago. (which is a HUGE step in... Read More

  1. by   Psych CNS

    I am a bipolar psychiatric nurse. Like you, I have been on all the meds and was a frequent flier with several suicide attempts. I am currently taking Lamictal also which is working wonders.

    I probably had "depression" for over 20 years. Started nursing school several times and finally managed to pass my LPN and RN boards. (Hated psych at that time.) I spent some time in Germany and when I returned, worked on a med-surg unit until the psychiatric unit needed nurses (liked psych then).

    After about 18 mos., I started working in a private psychiatric hospital on the Adult Unit. Shortly after, I became manager of Adolescent's and Children's Units. That is where my "depression" flared and suicidal thoughts were common. I started on Prozac and things got a little better. At the same time, I was working on a Bachelor's in Community Health.

    I then went to work at another private psychiatric hospital on the PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). 3 months later, I was hired as the evening supervisor. During this time, my meds were changed multiple times.

    I worked as the supervisor for ~6 mos. Then became manager of the Adolescent Unit and Children's Unit. I graduated with my BS and started working on a Nurse Practitioner program. This is where I really ran into trouble. Increased suicide attempts, & hospitalizations. More med changes. Beside school, which was 225 miles away, I had also become manager of the Adolescent RTC, did infection control, employee health, employee staff trainer and was responsible for being the RN on the RTC. As a sideline, I did on call for Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) at the local county hospital. Don't even ask how many hours a week I signed up for!

    As you can tell, when I am manic, I am a workaholic. I transferred
    universities to one in town and switched my major to MSN in Psych. My psychiatrist insisted I cut down on everything I was doing guessed it! Stop school. That was not an option for me so I started decreasing my work hours.

    Things remained bad, but I would not give up school. I finally quit the private hospital and PES under duress. I worked as a Psychiatric Nurse for a Home Health Agency, but again was hospitalized for the usual. I again quit my job under duress.

    In the last 4 years, I have continued to have my meds changed and 2 more hospitalizations. My longest stint not being hospitalized was 2 1/ years, just before Chrismas 2001. After that hospitalization, I promised myself a new vehicle when I had remained out of the hospital for a year which I managed to do. I was also working as a Psych RNC (since 1989) and finally finished my Master's with a 3.75 and passed the ANCC boards to be a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Practitioner with prescriptive authority.

    Oct. 2001, I realized my meds were again not working. I was again working at least 80 hours a week, and attempted for 2 mos. with the psychiatrist and therapist to get it back together. However, I spent Christmas and New Year's in the hospital with more med changes.

    But I really feel really WELL for the first time in years with the Lamictal and am glad I am a "role model for psych patients" according to my psychiatrist.

    Pretty long to say, If this is what you want, DO IT. It takes time and persistence, but you can do it. As far as a person diagnosed with Bipolar working with psychiatric clients, consider what seems to be a standard (around here) that you can't be a addiction counselor unless you have been addicted.

    Knowing from personal experience where my clients are helps me to understand what they are trying to see even when they don't have the words to express what they are feeling. And the "you know!" looks and expressions of relief I get from them is something others will never experience.

    Please, examine why you want to be a psych nurse. These patients aren't a substitute for your psychiatric team. It could be compared to the adolescent view of having a baby because you want someone to love you. When in actuality that doesn't happen.

    Good luck with your future and remember, whatever you put your mind to, with persistence it will pay off. I know.
  2. by   eddy
    One of my very good friends is bipolar and a psych RN. She says it's been the best "therapy" ever. She's a great nurse, and in many respects I believe that her own difficulties in life have made her a more caring and effective psych nurse.

    GO FOR IT!

  3. by   spyrogeist
    Magaroon --

    I logged on to this site to ask the same question -- and I found your post. I am thrilled to read all the support these nurses are giving you. I myself have had some trepidation in my own career considerations. Here's my story, and a request for some advice:

    I too am taking my nursing prerequisites at a local community college, and am looking for a second degree BSN program to transfer to. Before making the decision to go into nursing, I spent 15 years as an art director and set designer in live theatre, film, TV and commercials, and I also practiced architecture. My first degree was from Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA.

    About a year-and-a-half ago, I was faced with the reality that I no longer loved the work I was doing, no longer liked the lifestyle, and realised that there was a lot of instability in my field, and that I was sick of freelancing and all it entails. I increasingly found myself drawn to psychiatry, which coincided with my getting a DX of BP II. My nutritionist sent me to a psychiatrist on a hunch. I'm sure it's very rare for a euthymic person to go in for an assessment! I also have associated anxiety, OCPD and trich, BTW -- but none to a debilitating degree. It's interesting, actually, as much of the research being done on BP II as a discrete phenotype makes what I thought was a unique dx look not so. I am taking LTG, like you, and I augment w/ lithium, which I actually love. I'm sure I'm in the minority there. Like you, I have been on 14 meds -- in a very, very short time. My first doctor pretty much defines malpractice. I also do CBT, social rhythms & interpersonal therapy. I only cycle every 5-8 years, and have the typ. MDI longitudinal course of illness, but had subsyndromal hypomanic symptoms 24X7 for years. My last manic episode lasted 6 months (brought on by meds), and was followed by an MDE that lasted almost 6 months, put me on disability for a year, and who knows if the meds brought me out of it, or if some spontaneous recovery was involved. I ha<K 0t we shall see....

    I have had one obsession or another since I was about 2 -- psych seems to be sticking (at least now that I'm in school, I can't live on MedLine). As I revealed my illness to friends and acquaintances, people were so eager to talk about their own experiences, and those of their families. I soon found that I was connected to almost fifty people with mental illnesses, most severe, many dual diagnosis, most with coexisting/comorbid DX. Almost 30 of these people are BP, and several are schizophrenic. Three of them have disappeared, two have died, one is institutionalized, many are not working or are underearning. Some of these folks are quite disabled, can not afford treatment, and have had little success with public services, as they don't want to consider SSI or GR -- they want to continue to work and to be productive. I became heartbroken for them, and frightened for what this might implicate in my own outcome. I began to do a lot of research, to try to get some of my friends into treatment programs, and to help them stay on their treatment and become educated about their illnesses. I also decided I wanted to devote myself to this field, and to work eventually as a NP.

    I thank God every day that I am fortunate to receive the excellent care that I do, and that my treatment works very well for me. I also worry a great deal that my illness will at some point interfere with my employment or licensure. I have read of cases of students with disabilities of lesser severity, like ADHD, being denied entry into nursing programs. I know two professionals who refuse treatment to keep a DX off their records. And I know that there are loopholes in the ADA with regards to health care practitioners, because patient care must be the first priority. My disability is invisible. It does not affect my ability function effectively. I have been told to 'not disclose', because then I will become not Cara the student or Cara the nurse but Cara the woman with BP. We all hope never to make mistakes in our work, but when someone who is disabled does make a mistake, others often point to their condition as the cause -- and things rapidly unravel from there. I have also been told that if I do not disclose at some point, in confidence to a supervisor, that if I have an episode, there will be problems. My employer will want to know why this information was kept from them.

    Personally, I do not want to live a closeted life. Almost everyone I know is aware that I have this illness, and I consider myself an advocate against stigma. My openness has encouraged others to bring their own concerns to me when they need someone to listen, when they need resources.

    I would love input from anyone here. I am sort of stymied with this one. I would like to know what I might expect in school and in practice. Any advice/information would be so greatly appreciated.

    Best regards -- CTH
  4. by   Orca
    One thing you can expect is that nursing school will dominate your life during the time you are going. It is not an easy course of study, and it will require a lot of time outside the classroom in preparation. You can count on 2-3 hours of outside preparation for every hour in the classroom. I worked 40 hours per week during the entire time I went out of financial necessity. To this day, I am not sure how I survived it. That said, the rewards can be endless.

    One of my best stories of personal reward comes from, ironically, a bipolar patient. The first time I encountered this man, he was in a physical struggle with the offgoing shift as I reported for work one morning. The first time I approached him, he tried to take my head off. Eventually the doctors diagnosed his bipolar disorder, regulated him on meds, and he went home, much improved.

    About six months later, I received a telephone call on the unit from this man. He said, "I just wanted to thank you for giving me my life back. My wife and I are able to do things we haven't been able to do for years because of my behavior. I never knew what was wrong before. I know that I will be on the medication for the rest of my life, but it's well worth it. Please pass my thanks along to everyone there." This conversation took place almost five years ago, and was brief. I still remember it almost word-for-word. It stands out as one of the highlights of my career.

    Psychiatry can be a very rewarding field of practice. Unlike many others, your personal experiences (and, indeed, weaknesses) can be a valuable asset to your patients. You will have a unique perspective on bipolar patients' illnesses that no amount of textbook study could ever provide you with. Nothing gives you more empathy than having been there yourself.

    Best of luck to you.
    Last edit by Orca on Feb 14, '03
  5. by   spyrogeist
    Orca --

    Thank you for your kind reply --

    The experience you you had with that patient, which you so vividly render, is exactly that which inspires me to enter this field. I want so badly to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people with mental illness.

    I know that school will be a lot of work -- I am already putting in 20-30 hrs./week for the 10 hrs. of instruction in my anatomy course, so it was good to get a confirmation from you that this is not unusual (I thought perhaps my brain wasn't functioning up to par!). I am getting excellent marks and enjoying the material. Honestly, though, I don't know how you worked and went to school. That truly is dedication. I know people do this and raise children, too! I just know what that level of daily stress would do to my neurotransmitters...

    One thing I have noticed in the posts here is the high degree of commitment many of these nurses have to their careers and patients. I have met several disgruntled nurses, and read posts of others. People have warned me to avoid this field! But none of these people were working in mental health. Those in psychiatry have reported a higher level of respect/collaboration with MDs and greater reward accrued from patient care. That's what I want to hear.

    Thank you again for helping to make my day -- CTH
  6. by   Orca
    I have been blessed to work with many caring and competent psychiatrists (one of whom was entrusted with the psychiatric evaluation of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing trial). Unlike many of the medical doctors (some of whom I find insufferable to deal with), psychiatrists are generally a calm and understanding lot. This may have to do with the nature of the specialty.

    As I often tell my staff, in psychiatry we cannot hide behind medical procedures and never have a meaningful interaction with a patient during the shift. We also save lives all the time, we just often don't know it. Something you say to a patient in distress, which may seem insignificant at the time, can have a profound impact. I have been told after the fact several times that something I said, or a conversation I initiated at just the right time, made a difference in how a patient perceived his or her situation. Experience will teach you how to proceed.

    Psychiatry is as much art as science. It is one specialty in which you can have two patients with essentially identical diagnoses and symptoms who require entirely different treatment modalities to help them recover. It is also a specialty in which you have to truly give of yourself, apart from your medical skills.
  7. by   Glad2behere
    I am not a psych nurse, but just from experience, some of the best in any profession are the "been there, done that" crowd.

    Reformed alcoholics and addicts have the market cornered for counseling those wishing to start new.

    You would be a natural!
  8. by   spyrogeist
    Orca --

    Good to know your experience with psychiatrists has been positive. I originally wanted to go that route myself, but, after careful reconsideration, chose nursing instead for several reasons. I want to know that I will be valued and respected.

    So many of the people that I know who have been hospitalized, both with mental illness and other challenges, have talked about the differences nurses have made to them. I feel that any patient, and psych patients doubly so, are, when they are hurting, so like little children. It is so true what you said about distressed patients -- not only your words, but how they interpret your delivery of information can catalyze a week's worth of perseveration! Patience and self awareness are indeed key. In fact, I'll be having this very conversation with my psychiatrist next week...

    Thank you for taking the time to share your passion for your work. That is such a rare thing in any endeavor. I'm sure you are a gift to your profession.

    Glad2behere --

    You mention "Reformed alcoholics and addicts have the market cornered for counseling those wishing to start new." You know, I hadn't thought of that -- but my uncle manages a men's group and an old boyfriend of mine runs a residential treatment center. Both of them are recovering adicts. They are almost religious about their work, and are well loved by the people they serve.

    Thank you to both of you for providing inspiration. It makes such a difference. You can send me a bill.... ;-)
  9. by   Orca
    Thank you for your kind words.
  10. by   sixes
    Keep plugging away. You'll make it. Dreams are meant to come true. I was told by my teachers that I would never make it. I was a terribly abused women with 3 very young children when I started I also suffered terrible panic attacks. That was 1991. I am now the mother of 5 teenage boys and yes I am a regestered nurse. I became addicted to ativan from 1991 until 2001. I am now drug free and my anixiety seems to have disappeared. So no matter what palgues you keep trying. Best of Luck
  11. by   Orca
    Wow, talk about somebody who has been there! You are to be commended for all you have overcome.
  12. by   spyrogeist
    Sixes --

    What an inspiration you are! Thank you for sharing this story - I hope your life is peaceful now (well, with five teenagers...) I often forget how relatively fortunate I am. Gratitude is important.
  13. by   Coytoy
    I was in awe to see the support and honesty from the members of this discussion. It is great to see that many nurses who have had mental health issues are willing to share their stories. This will help stop the stigma of mental illness. I am lost in admiration to all of you. Magaroon, go for it. Your past experience will probally make you a more empathatic nurse. Just remember that there are many choices and fields to work in when you become a nurse. Take your time and find out which one is right for you.