How Therapy is Making Me a Better Me and a Better Nurse

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Everyone has mental health struggles. This is my story about how seeking help through therapy is making me a better person, partner and nurse.

I work as a nurse care manager for Black Hawk Grundy Mental Health Center, serving people with severe mental illnesses. Most are dealing with multiple chronic illnesses as well and need to see different clinicians across numerous facilities to get care.

As their care manager, I focus on the person. I am their advocate for receiving fair, judgement-free care. A patient’s physical health is only a small part of their story. While clinicians are experts in clinical decision making, patients are experts on what they need for themselves. In my role, I help connect these dots and assure the whole person’s needs are being met. I seek to understand where the person is at and help them get to a place where they are ready to dedicate themselves to a healthier lifestyle.
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My day-to-day work ethic is summed up perfectly by this quote from Patch Adams, “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you'll win, no matter what the outcome.”

During chats with patients, I often share I receive mental health services for myself as well. It’s a benefit my employer offers through our Employee Assistance Program. Truthfully, I think everyone could benefit from therapy. I know it helps me learn about myself, so I, in turn, can help others. During my own therapy sessions, we tend to talk a lot about issues I struggle with from childhood trauma.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was struck by a vivid memory of my younger self running down the road in Lion King underwear. My friend had been sexually abused by an older boy, and I escaped through a window and ran home. I now know I suffered from a defense mechanism called repression, which is the unconscious blocking of unpleasant memories and emotions. However, when that memory hit, a flood of them followed.

I soon started experiencing an onset of symptoms from anxiety attacks to seizure-like (psychogenic nonepileptic seizure or PNES) activity. I remember fainting at school and being taken to the hospital by ambulance. There, school staff told the medical team it was all attention seeking behavior. But really, it was because I wasn’t getting what I actually needed – help. I hid my trauma out of fear I would be judged, I would disappoint my parents or no one would believe me.

Soon after, my doctor prescribed a medication to help with depressive symptoms, but there’s a known side effect of suicidal ideation in young people. I stayed up countless night as terrible thoughts filling my head, but I didn’t tell my parents any of this. Once they found out, we decided I’d be committed for a two-week stay in a mental health institution. Though difficult, this stay is where I began to learn about mental health and how to manage my own feelings and prior experiences.

My journey with medication and therapy has been on-again, off-again over the years, but I’ve kept working at it.

Today, I’ve found the right combination for myself as a young woman working toward advancing my career and developing healthy relationships. I’m taking medication for depressive symptoms, but above all, it’s the therapy that’s changing my life.

Therapy gives me an outside perspective on my thoughts and feelings. It gives me words to explain how I’m feeling. It validates my feelings. It helps me deal with my emotions instead of hiding or ignoring them. It gives me tools to work through problems, big or small. It even helps me talk to my patients.

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I encourage everyone to try therapy – even considering it for young children. Participating in therapy does not mean you’re mentally unstable. It means personal growth is important to you. Therapy will push you to connect with yourself—and others—in a deeper, more compassionate and assured way.

As Albert Einstein famously said, “Once we accept our limits, we move beyond them.”

- Tara Fink, RN

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