The magic of good nursing : don’t let our NHS burn out

I spoke to a nurse recently about the increasing burnout of mental health staff. About the number of nurses that are becoming disillusioned and leaving. Some come in to nursing believing that they will single handedly cure the countries current mental health crisis, an act that is sadly very unlikely, the disillusionment comes when they see the same patient twice, but, honestly, some fairly down to earth nurses are going home feeling similarly because they struggle to see that they are making any difference whatsoever. They are over-worked, under- paid and exhausted and it becomes difficult for them to see the changes that they are making. It made me think, quite a lot actually, see the nurse I was talking to stated that nurses just don’t don’t change lives the way they think they will on their first day. And maybe that’s true for some, but the power of a good nurse should never be underestimated. In short I have done a fair bit of growing up in psychiatric hospitals – spending a long time cooped up at a young age brought that about. My ‘whole life’ has not changed because of the nurses I’ve met – good or bad. I’m not ‘cured’ and I’ve been in more than once. But I’ve had days change and improve through good nursing. And those days? They add up – they are my life. Every single chat that’s taken my mind off something hard, every board game played and colouring completed has given me time away from the terror in my head. It adds up. More than that, sometimes nurses have been the only barrier between myself and another attempt on my life ( maybe even a successful one) or another slice out my arm. It’s rarely appreciated, particularly at the time and I have shouted and pleaded and cried, trying to defy their advice. The good ones reason and soothe, do whatever needs done to keep me here and in one piece and then they come in the next day and treat me with the same unchanging dignity and respect. No grudges held, no past issues dragged up. And that is a skill. And I hear each day someone refer to them self as a “towel folder” or make a joke about working elsewhere and I wish I had taken time to say something but, sadly, my words often fail me and I just laugh. But those “towel folders” have made me laugh through seemingly endless sobs, held my hand as I was being stitched back together for the god knows what’th time – the frustration of that not showing on their face and have helped me through long and really difficult days. So yeah, I’ve yet to be cured, but I have been soothed, encouraged , supported and cheered up. The jokes and walks and late night chats. The times they’ve not let me go when it’s all I’ve wanted – each of these things – they changes days, hours, minutes, one more smile, one hour passed, fifteen less stitches needed – it is my life. It is changing it.

And it makes me sad the idea of these people questioning their self because whether it was said at time time or not, my life has been different, better, because of them. In reality, sometimes, my life has only existed because of them.

It really is an underrated power – the magic of good nursing and something needs to be done before they burn out completely.


Dear me six years ago (SH awareness day)

You feel beyond the realms of hellish. You are angry, sad, frustrated. You just don’t feel right and you just don’t know why…

But please don’t do what you’re about to do – you don’t know this now, but I do, you are about to start a six-year battle to stop what you just started. And trust me you are making the wrong decision. It might feel like a release, like it’ll make things better but in reality you can’t imagine the states it will get you in.

Once you start you just can’t stop and it’ll feel like it’s your friend and that’s it’s helping you. You say to yourself it’s not a problem and you are in control. It’s your little secret that “gets you through” the days. But deep down you will know these are days of misery and loneliness – you are keeping a horrible secret from those around you and it’s a weight on your shoulders.

Time goes on and now you know it’s a problem but you just can’t stop. You rely on it. You’ve stopped trying to find other ways to cope because this feels safe. But let me tell you it’s anything but safe – you are risking your health every time you do it. There is no safe way to do it.

You become so ashamed and socially isolated. You can’t sleepover because you won’t wear short sleeves, you wear jumpers in the summer and you are bloody sweating. That dress you love? You are too embarrassed to wear it in public. Swimming? That’s a no go too.

You end up spending money on harmful things and things to cover up the result. I guess you aren’t getting new lipstick.

It’s school photo day – time to take your blazer off and fix your tie. You escape out of a fire door and run through muddy fields to avoid it.

Now it just keeps getting worse – doesn’t it? And you can’t keep it secret forever. Your family see and they are worried. They shout. They cry. But you can’t stop – you’re addicted and you don’t know how to cope without it. It’s hurting everyone around you but it’s too late for you to care.

Soon they hospitalise you but you still fight to come back to it – you argue, lie and plead. You are desperate. This is not Emma anymore.

You give yourself scars that will never completely fade and for years you are so ashamed of them.

Six years later six years – you are still having to fight every day to keep a lid on what took a minute to begin.

Please put it down. I’m not angry – you are fragile and scared and that is ok. It is ok to feel whatever you are feeling but choose another path – talk to someone, draw, run, cry. In reality you may still feel low for years to come but you can make this one thing more bearable – treat yourself with care not harm. Be your own best friend and advocate not your own worst enemy.

The struggle I’m telling you about has shown me the love and strength of those around you – use them now. Don’t wait for things to get worse.

Today is self-harm awareness day. It’s six years too late to tell little me all of this. But it’s not for some people. And even if it’s too late for you to stop it beginning – it is never too late to stop. I have learned to replace self-harm with self-care and you can too. There is help out there – childline, Samaritans, your loved ones. You have the strength in you – please use it. You are not alone.


Throughout my time in hospital I have met countless young people suffering from eating disorders. I’ve witnessed dips in the road and triumphs but there is one girl I’d really like to tell you about:

I met her in an adult ward around this time last year and she was a ray of sunshine that brought a little light to a dismal time. She showed me incredible kindness and tried to keep me distracted from how rubbish I felt. Over time I learned how much she had suffered -she had spent little of her teenage years outside of hospital and had been sent out of the country, away from her family, for treatment. It seemed that professionals had given up on her. That she had almost given up on herself.

Professionals were only treating the physical aspects of her disorder – condemning her to ongoing mental torture – at times they were downright cruel. To these doctors she was just another patient and it seemed they couldn’t be bothered trying to help.

Well, let me tell you, she is not just another patient. No one is. She is beautiful, hilarious and kind. She loves the bones of her family, as they do, her. She makes jewellery and donates the profits to charity and is an incredibly talented nail artist. She made me smile when no one else even tried.

Ultimately through her family battling her team at a tribunal she is now getting specialised treatment and those doctors that gave up better eat their words. She is fighting the fight of her life and, finally, she is winning. She is becoming more of herself and less anorexia every day and it is a beautiful sight. So many people are incredibly proud of her – myself included.

These illness’ are cruel. They twist the thoughts of amazing people and make them feel like they need to change and be thinner or different. They mascaraed as a friend when they are anything but. They ruin lives and end them. Rapid access to appropriate  treatment is essential. Whatever weight or situation someone is in – they need to be able to access support.

No one is a hopeless case – recovery is always possible. I know that my friend will triumph. I know that one day we will sit and have a cute costa date. What a beautiful day that will be.



Tragic beauty? There is no such thing

Anyone who has ever been on Tumblr or seen skins will have the misfortune of knowing exactly what I’m talking about when I say tragic beauty. Somewhere along the line, between TV, the internet and god knows what else, a section of society has taken the acceptance of mental illness one step too far and now portrays it as something desirable. Depicting that being troubled equals being more beautiful or special than others. That a knight in shining armour will fall in love with you and change your life. And it needs to stop.

This is not the reality of mental health problems. There is nothing enjoyable or desirable about going through something so soul- destroying. It is never quirky or cute – it is a solitary, burning pit of hell with seemingly no way out. It takes your sense of self, your independence and your happiness. It destroys lives and ends them.

My illness never made me beautiful. In the depths of my illness it made me neglect my self- care – I had greasy hair and leg hair longer than on my brother’s head. It left me covered in scabs from skin picking and bruises from banging my head. It took the light from my eyes leaving just hollow pits of sadness.

It didn’t make me quirky or special. I was angry and paranoid – I lashed out at my loved ones. I was overly emotional and difficult to reason with. I was pedantic about ridiculous things and nobody thought it was cute. I lost my sense of humour and never had anything to talk about – a result of never being out of my hospital room.

It was never fun. Instead it was lonely – I isolated myself and stopped doing things I loved. I couldn’t make people understand so I stopped trying. I lost my ability to think clearly, concentrate and hold a conversation. It left me bleeding, vomiting and crying. I spent years in hospital, away from my family, with no freedom. It took away my privacy and dignity – there is nothing fun about having a supervised shower.

Nobody suddenly fell in love with me because I was unwell. In fact, it made more people avoid me. I lost friends and I hurt my family. The people that stuck by me and continued to love me did so despite of my illness not because of it.

My experience is not an exception – my time in hospital forced me to witness many people struggling to cope with a variety of illness’. I met amazing, strong people but none of their situations were desirable. Far from it.

Maybe the people who idolise mental health problems are ill in some way themselves but that is not an excuse. It is not fair to glamourise illness’ that can destroys someone’s will to live. Just because you use a negative coping strategy, whatever that may be, doesn’t mean you should advertise it to others. Illness is not a competition and it never should be – there is no reward for being the most unwell. There is only misery.

I am entirely supportive of raising awareness of mental health and I think it is amazing and brave for people to speak out – but it has to be done carefully to avoid having the opposite effect. So by all means talk about it. But don’t spread bullshit. So many of us are sick of it.

Why anybody is not better than nobody

So, it’s valentine’s day and there are rows of cards in the supermarket, seemingly happy couples everywhere and an increasing sense of panic rising in people who don’t have a partner. I know plenty of people who don’t fuss at valentine’s day but I know plenty more who do. In fact, I know quite a few people who fear being alone at any time of year and I think that’s really sad. I see amazing girls and guys go for mediocre partners who don’t treat them right or who they actually don’t even like. I see people drag out relationships that aren’t making them happy because they fear being alone.

It all comes down to the feeling that anybody is better than being alone – it doesn’t matter that you’re unhappy because you still have someone to rely on and spend time with and who you can call yours. But, honestly, I would rather be alone than force something that just isn’t working and I think more people would realise that if they gave it a chance.

Just because I am not in a relationship does not mean I am alone – I have great friends and an amazing family and I genuinely enjoy spending some time on my own. I don’t want to force myself to go on an awkward date with some guy from tinder when I could be having a cocktail night with my friends or a movie night in my jammies.

I’m not saying for a minute that people should stay single forever or that my only dream in life is to spend every night for the rest of my life watching eastenders with my mum. It’s about respecting yourself enough to wait for someone who you like and who treats you well. It’s about realising that you are fine the way you are and you do not need someone to make you complete. It’s learning to love yourself first and foremost and if that means spending valentines night watching eastenders with your mum or watching funny cat videos online then do that!

One day you may well find yourself surrounded by a spouse and three kids. You might spend next year in a fancy restaurant with a Brad Pitt impersonator. You might not. But respect yourself and be kind to yourself – whatever your situation this valentine’s day!

Random acts of kindness week :12th-18th February

What is a random act of kindness? It’s literally what it says on the tin – doing something kind for someone whether you know them or not for absolutely no reason! However big or small the idea is just to bring a bit of sunshine to someone’s day and I really think it works. The power of kindness is often underestimated but it can make a massive difference. A small gesture might not change someone’s life or fix their problems but it can make them smile even for just a minute and that should be enough reason to go for it!

I don’t come from a particularly touchy-feely family but we’ve always been pretty good at RAOK – surprise flowers, a nice dinner, my dad even tried to learn how to crimp hair once (who knew you could crimp a fringe!?). I feel lucky to have learned this from a young age because it comes naturally to me now and I genuinely enjoy doing it. Making someone smile is one of the best feelings in the world.

During my time spent in hospital I was on the receiving end of many, very appreciated, acts of kindness – a letter slid under my bedroom door, a magazine brought in when I wasn’t allowed out and even just someone trying to make me laugh when I felt crap. These gestures would really make me whole day when I was feeling low and I still have a lot of the bits and bobs I’ve been given. Sometimes it seems the people most likely to perform RAOK are people who have at some point really needed some kindness themselves.

So, this week I’m challenging you to take part in a random act of kindness! It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done it before or have no money – It’s the thought behind it that counts. So, let that elderly lady on the bus first, write someone a kind letter or be there for a friend for a late-night chat. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it more than you know.

Twelve underrated self-care ideas

  1. Star – gazing – there is something really soothing in looking out into space and realising how small you and all your problems really are. The whole earth with all seven billion of human kind is tiny in the grand scheme of things – it really isn’t significant that you said something stupid yesterday!
  2. Getting dressed up and going absolutely nowhere! That really nice make- up you keep for special occasions? Put it on – take your time. Fix your hair the exact way you like it and even if you’re sitting in your jammies you’ll feel much better about yourself!
  3. Go a walk ( safety permitting!). Even if you don’t feel like it – fresh air and endorphins can all really lift your mood! Nature can be pretty peaceful and even ten minutes might be enough to boost your mood!
  4. Do something kind for someone else! However small or insignificant it may seem it’ll make a difference to their day and that is a great feeling!
  5. Tidy up – I always find sitting around in a cluttered messing room makes my brain feel similar, just picking things off the floor or re-arranging a shelf can help.
  6. Write. Scream into your pillow. Don’t try to brush over your feelings – they are real and valid. Let them out. Feel them and express them however you want. And then move on as best you can.
  7. Treat yourself – a new bit of make-up, a bar of chocolate. Literally anything that will lift your mood – you are worth it!
  8. Looking at old photos or memories – but only happy ones! Look at photos from great nights out or family holidays and think of all the good times you’ve had and the ones you will have in the future!
  9. Do some arts and crafts even If you’re not good at it. It could turn out better than you think and if not – no one has to see it! Paint a picture, make a card , decorate a box. Anything! You’ll feel you’ve been productive and hopefully have something nice to show for it!
  10. Imaginary conversations – we all have them. That comeback you thought of two hours too late or something you wish you could say but can’t – do it in your head and feel powerful even if it’s just imaginary!
  11. Do nothing. Fuck that essay that’s due tomorrow and you’re greasy hair. The food shopping can be done tomorrow! Take a day totally for what you want to do and not need to do.
  12. Spend time with children or animals – they are so innocent and can’t comprehend all the things we worry about. Let that simplicity rub off on you even just in the short term.


Why am I embarrassed to wear my “this is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt in public?

Emma Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch even Obama – they all have one. Feminist t-shirts became a real “thing” during summer of last year. An amazing campaign challenging the usual feminist stereotypes of over- sensitive, angry women with unshaved legs and instead showing that feminists are truly just anyone who believes in the equal rights of all humans! It seemed every politician wanted a photo opportunity posing with their T-shirt but what I noticed a real lack of was seeing people wearing them in everyday life and why was that? Why is feminism still a dirty word?

But when I thought about it – I didn’t have a T-shirt either. But it’s only a t-shirt and it certainly isn’t some weird kind of feminist entry criteria! However, I also realised that I was quite often embarrassed to openly speak about my opinion and support for feminism in certain social groups. This is not a good thing and it is certainly not something I am proud of! I have benefited massively from feminist run groups such as Rape Crisis in the past and would struggle to describe in words how invaluable their input into society is, I donate to woman’s rights causes, I march for reclaim the night, I sign petitions and I like to think I help as much as I can. But sometimes in a social group when something inaccurate or inappropriate is said – I am guilty of not speaking up and afterwards I feel angry at myself for it.

I live and study at an agricultural college and a large amount of my social life is spent with student farmers and others studying similar courses. Many of these young people come from small countryside towns and most of them are not particularly open minded. A lot of inappropriate remarks are made and I frequently cringe inwardly for them but more often than not – I don’t say anything. There was once a conversation round my college flats kitchen table that touched on feminism and it became glaringly obvious how uneducated people still are and how some people find admitting to being a feminist akin to admitting to being something awful like a white supremacist. The consensus seemed to be that feminists are woman who think they deserve better than men and that think its ok for women to assault men but not the opposite – one boy joked about hitting women while shouting feminism. I listened to all of this and in my head I wanted to say something. To tell them all they had the complete wrong end of the stick. To tell that isn’t feminism but just another brand of ignorance. But my words stuck in my throat and I walked away. To this day, I wish I had said something.

It’s not the only situation of that kind I’ve been in – many a time I’ve heard young women saying that they’re not a feminist because they want everyone to be equal. I should have said that this is the exact principle feminism is built on. I’ve heard people say we don’t need feminism because woman have rights now – I wish I had asked them about the wage gap, the glass ceiling. I really should have told them that although in the UK we have made massive progress in recent years – women in many countries have not been so lucky and we still need to fight for these women to have their human rights. We owe them at least that. But I didn’t. And I am ashamed for that.

All of this has made me realise that I am in such a fortunate position to live in a country where progress continues to be made but I also realised that this luck has to come with responsibility – to use my voice and free speech to educate the people I can and to make whatever difference I can regardless of others reaction. I should not be ashamed to admit to believing in the rights of myself and others and I should not be ashamed to wear a bloody T-shirt. So, I am going to buy one and I will wear it with pride. I hope you will too.