Tag Archives: nurturing

Phatic Chat: embiggening small talk.

Small talk is a big deal.

Small talk is the oil that keeps the machinery of interpersonal relationships running smoothly.

Small talk even has its own name. It’s called “phatic chat”.

Phatic chat has been described as “A type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words”  by Bronislaw Malinowski (no relation to Barry Manilow). This is why I think it’s important that us health professionals be intentional about phatic chat.

Every, “Hello. My name is…” and “How are you today?” serves to create a working relationship between people. Health professionals rely on working, therapeutic relationships.

Academics (god bless their cotton socks) have even gone to the effort of researching and naming 12 functions of phatic communication (source):

(1) breaking the silence
(2) starting a conversation
(3) making small talk
(4) making gossip
(5) keeping talking
(6) expressing solidarity
(7) creating harmony
(8) creating comfort
(9) expressing empathy
(10) expressing friendship
(11) expressing respect
(12) expressing politeness

When we think about phatic chat in the health care setting, it’s not just a social lubricant, we can also see it as a stand-alone form of therapy. Think of phatic chat as the nonspecific factors of psychotherapy

BTW: “nonspecific factors of psychotherapy” an actual thing, let me google that for you: here

Phatic chat/the nonspecific factors of psychotherapy show the person that there is someone who is interested in them and their concerns. It helps people feel understood, accepted and respected. In my current gig – providing mental health support in the general hospital – I often get told by patients how good it is to be nursed by someone who is good at phatic chat.

It’s easy to imagine, isn’t it? Who would you rather attend to your vital signs, IV antbiotics, wound dressings, and pain relief in hospital: a friendly person who chats and listens, or someone unfriendly and officious who just goes about the tasks at hand? There’s more than one way to prime an IV line.

It sounds simple, and (to my ear anyway) pretty patronising. However, it’s clear that many clinicians do not routinely engage in phatic chat.

You may already know the story of Kate Grainger. Briefly, for those who don’t, Kate was a doctor in the UK who tweeted her experience of living with a terminal illness. One of the many observations she made was that it was refreshing, but actually pretty unusual, for hospital staff to introduce themselves by name and role when they came to see you in your hospital bed. That observation lead to this tweet:

That simple idea has been one of Kate’s greatest legacies (she died in 2016).

If you’re not familiar with the #hellomynameis story, I urge you to visit the hellomynameis.org.uk website for more info.

#hellomynameis = a very successful campaign promoting phatic chat in healthcare

I live and work a long way from the UK. Although I don’t wear a #hellomynameis badge, I borrow heavily from the idea that phatic chat is important, and toss-in a few more Aussie-fied ways to go about using it in the hospital setting. As argued above, phatic chat is important for building relationships and can be therapeutic in and of itself. Sometimes to be culturally safe you need to try a little harder to facilitate trust and rapport. With that in mind. here’s 4 ideas that usually (not always) work for me:

One

“Are you Cyril? G’day my name is Paul McNamara, I’m a nurse with the psych team here at the hospital. Is it OK if we sit down and have a bit of yarn?”

Two

Shaking hands is a respectful thing to do. I always offer a handshake when introducing myself to patients (they’re often surprised!).

Don’t worry infection control peeps, I’ve got that covered: meta4RN.com/hygiene

Three (this is my second favourite: I stole it from Professor Ernest Hunter)

Make a cup of tea for the patient. Even if they say “no thanks”, let them know that you’re making one for yourself anyway, so are happy to make them one while you’re at it. Take instructions on how the person likes it . Apologise if you make it too hot/strong/weak or spill it. Sip yours when they’re talking: if for no other reason, it let’s them know you’re not about to interrupt.

This might be the best journal article ever written by a psychiatrist:
Hunter, E (2008) The Aboriginal tea ceremony: its relevance to psychiatric practice. Australasian Psychiatry, 16:2, doi: 10.1080/10398560701616221
Despite the paper’s title, the same demonstrations of humbleness, politeness and respect work for whitefellas too.

Four (this is my favourite: I made this one up myself)

I nearly always use when Google Maps when introducing myself to people who have come to the hospital from out of town. “Oh you’re from Aurukun? I’ve been to Wujal Wujal, Laura and Hope Vale, but I’ve never been there. Do you mind if we use this map on my phone to see where you live?” It’s nearly always a great way to break the ice, especially when meeting with someone from a different culture. It sets the right tone of showing that you’re interested and approachable.

I’m lucky to work in a place where I meet with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people all the time. By getting the Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander person to show me around their community on a map, I’m acknowledging/demonstrating that they know stuff that I don’t know, and I’m prepared to learn from them. Sometimes I’m a bit more skilled at using the Google map app on my phone, so I get to show the person how I can be helpful, in a kind and respectful way. It probably doesn’t hurt that we’re both looking at the map together and working on the same task (it demonstrates that we can work together, and you don’t want to rush into making a heap of eye contact with someone you’ve just met). While we’re using the app to find their house, the local school, favourite fishing or camping spot, and other landmarks we’re getting to know each other a bit. I’m not left in that clumsy position of being accidentally too pushy, too intrusive, too task-orientated.

Spending a few minutes establishing rapport is what phatic chat is all about. The phone/map app is just a prop, but it’s a great prop.

In Closing

That’s it.

A while back I had a gig educating uni students. One of the best tricks-of-the-trade when in a uni lecturer role is to introduce people to words they have not heard before. This makes you look cleverer than you really are, and lends an illusion of credibility.

So, with that in mind, my call-to arms for health professionals is this:

Let’s embiggen phatic chat!
It’s a perfectly cromulent thing to do. 🙂

Acknowledgement

The phrase/notion of “phatic chat” as a defence against the forces that seek to turn nurses into unempathetic box-ticking robots came to my attention via Professor Eimear Muir-Cochrane’s keynote presentation at the ACMHN 39th International Mental Health Nursing Conference, held in Perth, Western Australia, 22nd-24th October 2013.

Storify of the keynote here: storify.com/meta4RN/zero

Follow Professor Eimear Muir-Cochrane on Twitter here: @eimearmuirc

End

As always your thoughts/feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 12th October 2017

Short URL https://meta4RN.com/phatic

 

 

First Thyself

First Thyself – Surviving Emotionally Taxing Work Environments

On 28th April 2017 I’ll be presenting a session at the Ausmed “Breaking Point: Ice & Methamphetamine Conference” in Cairns. More info about the conference here: https://www.ausmed.com.au/course/ice-methamphetamine#overview

The nature of nursing will mean that we are likely to be are exposed to a range of challenges.

Feeling unsafe, witnessing violence, tragedy and dealing with trauma are some examples.

This emotionally taxing environment can result in tension with colleagues, family and friends.

This session will begin day two of the conference by creating an opportunity to discuss the following:

What are the professional implications of working in challenging areas of nursing and healthcare?

How can we maintain unconditional positive regard?

Why self-care matters and how to practice what we preach!

What’s all this then?

“First Thyself” is planned as an interactive session accompanied by visual cues to give the discussion a bit of structure. Consequently, the transcript/dialogue of the presentation can not be included here.  The visual presentation itself doesn’t use powerpoint slides. It uses the prettier (and free!) platform Prezi instead: prezi.com/skmu0lbnmkm5/first-thyself/#

This page serves as a one-stop directory to the online resources used to support the discussion.

I’m recycling and combining a lot of old ideas for the session (there’s that self-plagiarist vs groovy remix of favourite old songs thing again).

Here is the online presentation: Prezi

Here are the resources and references used in the presentation:

Emotional Aftershocks (the story of Fire Extinguisher Guy & Nursing Ring Theory) meta4RN.com/aftershocks

Football, Nursing and Clinical Supervision (re validating protected time for reflection and skill rehearsal) meta4RN.com/footy

Hand Hygiene and Mindful Moments (re insitu self-care strategies) meta4RN.com/hygiene

Lalochezia (getting sweary doesn’t necessarily mean getting abusive) meta4RN.com/lalochezia

Nurse & Midwife Support nmsupport.org.au  phone 1800 667 877
– we have specifically targeted 24/7 confidential support available

Nurses, Midwives, Medical Practitioners, Suicide and Stigma (re the alarming toll of those who undertake emotional labour) meta4RN.com/stigma

Nurturing the Nurturers (the Pit Head Baths and clinical supervision stories) meta4RN.com/nurturers

Spector, P., Zhiqing, Z. & Che, X. (2014) Nurse exposure to physical and nonphysical violence, bullying, and sexual harassment: A quantitative review. International Journal of Nursing Studies. Vol 50(1), pp 72-84. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0020748913000357

Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance (a reframing of reducing aggression) meta4RN.com/zero

It’s OK if you forget everything about today’s talk, just don’t forget that there is 24 hour support available via 1800 667 877 or https://nmsupport.org.au

End

Please have a play with the pretty Prezi prezi.com/skmu0lbnmkm5/first-thyself/#

Thanks for visiting. As always your comments are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 30 March 2017

Short URL: meta4RN.com/thyself

 

 

Hand Hygiene and Mindful Moments

Nurses and other health professionals are expected to attend to hand hygiene about eleventy seven times a day. The WHO and HHA recommend 5 moments for hand hygiene: before touching a patient, before clean/aseptic procedures, after body fluid exposure/risk, after touching a patient, and after touching patient surroundings. 57.4% of Australia’s nurses/midwives are hospital/ward-based [source], they’re doing A LOT of hand hygiene. 

On top of that, while they’re going about their business and busyness, ward-based nurses are interrupted 10 times an hour [source]. Yep, every 6 minutes there’s something or somebody distracting us from our tasks and thoughts. Dangerously disorderly much? Hopefully that doesn’t happen to neurosurgeons, commercial airline pilots, tattoo artists or Batman.
Especially Batman. 

batman

Pro-Tip: most of us can not do this at work. Only respond to distractions with face-slapping if you are Batman.

So, here’s the idea: if you’re going to do hand hygiene dozens of times a day anyway, don’t just do it for your patients: do it for yourself too. We’re not cold callous reptilian clinicians, we’re educated warm-blooded mammals who do emotional labour. We need to nurture ourselves if we are to safely continue to nurture others.

poster1

5 moments for hand hygiene & head hygiene!

Turn the 5 moments of hand hygiene into mindful moments. Make the 5 moments for hand hygiene 5 moments for head hygiene too. Yes, clean hands save lives – let’s not forget that clear heads save lives too!

Come up with a process/script that works for you, maybe something a bit like this: 

Mindful Moment (The 30-Second Handrub Version) 

  1. Step towards the pump bottle with intent. This is my mindful moment. I’m taking a brief break. 
  2. Squirt enough to squish. 
  3. The rub is slippery at first. Frictionless fingers feel fine.
  4. Feel the product texture and temperature. The rub is cooler than the air. The rub is cooler than my fingers. It feels nice. 
  5. Start with cleaning. The first half of my hand hygiene routine is about rubbing stuff off. Let the stuff I want to get rid of float away. 
  6. Move on to restoration, healing. The second half of my hand hygiene routine is about rubbing in resilience and health. Let the stuff that sustains me seep into my skin. 
  7. Check in on the breathing. The slower and deeper the better. If the breathing or the brain are running too fast, slow down and repeat steps 5 and 6. 
  8. There’s no rush. Slowly scan the surroundings. With any luck someone from infection control is watching. 
  9. Smile.
  10. Breathing slowly, its time let the air rinse off the residue. 
  11. One more slow breath. Its time to get back to work. 

Mindful Minute (The 60-Second Handwash Version)

  1. Step towards the sink with intent. This is my mindful minute. I’m taking a brief break. 
  2. Let the water flow.
  3. Feel the water flowing over both hands. The water’s warmer than the air. The water’s warmer than my fingers. It feels nice. 
  4. Add soap. It’s slippery. Frictionless fingers feel fine.
  5. Start with cleaning. The first half of your hand hygiene routine is about washing stuff away. Let the stuff you need to get rid of flow down the drain. Let it flow away. 
  6. Move on to restoration, healing. The second half of my hand hygiene routine is about rubbing in resilience and health. Let the stuff that sustains me seep into my skin. 
  7. Check in on the breathing. The slower and deeper the better. If the breathing or the brain are running too fast, slow down and repeat steps 5 and 6. 
  8. There’s no rush. Slowly scan the surroundings. With any luck someone from infection control is watching. 
  9. Smile.
  10. Breathing slowly, its time rinse both hands. 
  11. Breathing slowly, its time to thoroughly dry both hands together. 
  12. Throw the towel in the bin.
  13. One more slow breath. Its time to get back to work. 
poster2

Clean hands save lives. Clear heads save lives too!

Acknowledgements & Context

This is not my original idea. I first stumbled across the idea of combining hand hygiene with head hygiene via Ian Miller‘s November 2013 blog post “mindfulness during handwashing”: http://thenursepath.com/2013/11/18/mindfulnurse-day-8/. I’ve been using the idea myself and suggesting it to colleagues and students ever since. When I left the clinical environment for a few months, I found myself really missing intentionally punctuating my day with mindful moments. Since returning to clinical practice I’ve come to appreciate the strategy even more than I did when I first started using it 3 years ago.

So why am I blogging about it too? Why now? Well, on Monday I attended the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control 2016 conference to chat about Twitter [link to that presentation here. Also, check-out the #ACIPC16 hashtag here and here]. Luckily I was there for the opening plenary sessions, and was pleasantly surprised at the emotional/psychological literacy that was being displayed and advocated for. The opening presentations by Peter Collignon, Mary Dixon Woods and Didier Pittet all went to some lengths to emphasise the importance of emotional intelligence, constructive communication and building relationships. It was really impressive stuff; giving the hand hygiene and mindful moments idea a remix is my way to give recognition/thanks to the #ACIPC16 conference delegates and organisers.

How to win friends and influence people: https://twitter.com/emrsa15/status/800495292642508801

How to win friends and influence people: https://twitter.com/emrsa15/status/800495292642508801

Just so you know, a quick google search reveals that others have also thought of using hand hygiene as a mindful moment, eg this paper:

Gilmartin, Heather. (2016) Use hand cleaning to prompt mindfulness in clinic: A regular prompt for reflection could reduce distraction. BMJ 2016; 352 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i13 (Published 04 January 2016)

and this video:

There are others too. Do you think using hand hygiene as a mindful moment could become mainstream?

5mindfulmoments

End

That’s it. As always your comments are welcome via the space below.

May you hands be clean and your head be clear! 🙂 

Paul McNamara, 26 November 2016

Short URL: http://meta4RN.com/hygiene

The Broken Leg/Psychosis Metaphor

Preamble

Below is a metaphor I heard in 1994 via an impressive man called Greg Holland. Greg is retired now, but when I met him he was a CNC with a public community mental health service. Even after all the years that have followed, Greg remains one of the most skilled communicators and mental health nurses I’ve ever worked with.

Greg was talking with a couple of young fellas who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Greg was explaining the importance of trying to avoid relapses of psychosis. The key messages for these young blokes was to keep taking the prescribed medications, and stay away from things that make psychosis more likely: things like cannabis, amphetamines or heaps of alcohol. That’s when Greg used this metaphor (his verbal version was shorter than my written version, but the general story is the same):

The Broken Leg/Psychosis Metaphor

If you accidentally broke your leg skateboarding or playing football, you’d have to have your leg in plaster for about 6 weeks. You would have to be really careful with it during that time, and it would probably get really uncomfortable and itchy most days. Then, if there were no complications, after 6 weeks you’d be able to get the plaster cast off, and start building up your strength in that broken leg. A physio might recommend some exercises, but you probably wouldn’t get back to playing football or skateboarding for a few months. Rehabilitation takes a bit of time and effort, but as a young fit man you’ll make a full recovery. No worries.

If you broke the same leg again, it might be more of a big deal. You might need surgery, and they might need to strengthen the bone with steel plates or rods and screws. Sometimes people need to have external fixation: metal devices that are screwed into the bones, but sit outside the body, above the skin to stabilise the fractures. It will be messier, more painful, take longer to get out of hospital, and your leg muscles will get pretty weak. You’ll probably make a full recovery still, but it will just take more time and effort.

If you break your leg a third time, the orthopaedic nurses and doctors are going to think you’re either really unlucky or stupidly reckless. They’ll suggest that you stop skateboarding and playing football altogether. Your leg will get operated on, and the fractures will get stabilised, but the recovery will be really slow. You could end-up with a bit of a limp.

If you keep on breaking the same leg over and over again, say five, six, seven times, you will definitely end up with a limp. Might need a walking stick or something.

If you break the same leg often enough and bad enough you’ll probably end up lame: permanently disabled and unable to walk. You’ll wish you’d listened to the orthopaedic nurses and doctors, and had never gone back to skateboarding or playing football.

It’s kind of the same with psychosis.

If you lose touch with reality once or twice you’ll probably make a full recovery.

But if you keep on having psychotic episodes your brain might develop a bit of a “limp” – it will still work, but not as good as it used to work.

If you have lots of psychotic episodes you might end up disabled and unable enjoy life to the fullest. You’ll wish you’d never gone back to smoking gunja or getting pissed.

That’s why I’m working with you to prevent or cut down on psychotic relapses. Does that make sense to you?

End

I really like the broken leg/psychosis metaphor. I use a shortened version of the above script a fair bit at work, and people usually respond well to it. I’m very grateful to Greg Holland for introducing the analogy to me. It’s a good metaphor that I hope that others will find useful to use/adapt in their clinical practice too.

As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 17th November 2016

Short URL: meta4RN.com/leg

When it’s illegal to be ethical

Australians have rated Nurses as the most ethical and honest profession each year for 21 years in a row (1994-2015) source. Whether nurses deserve that reputation or not, I’m pleased that the other stereotypes of nursing (eg: selfless angel, sexy nurse, Nurse Ratched, subservient nurse, murderous nurse, zombie nurse, etc) haven’t overwhelmed the public perception that most of us are honest and ethical.

“Ethical and honest” is a pretty good reputation for the nursing profession to have. A reputation to be proud of. A reputation worth defending.

These organisations are cosignatories to a media statement calling for amendments to Australian Border Force Act 2015 https://meta4rn.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/150620-joint-statement-australian-health-groups-call-for-australian-border-force-act-to-be-amended.pdf

These organisations are cosignatories to a media statement calling for amendments to Australian Border Force Act 2015 https://meta4rn.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/150620-joint-statement-australian-health-groups-call-for-australian-border-force-act-to-be-amended.pdf

As per media statements released over the last few days [here, here and here], it may soon become illegal to be ethical and honest for nurses, doctors and allied health staff working in Australia’s immigration detention centres.

Australian Border Force Act 2015 acts to silence honesty and to out-trump ethics with a threat of two years jail for advocating for patients. This is very dangerous territory.

Toni Hoffman Australian of the Year Awards 2006. Image source: http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au

Toni Hoffman Australian of the Year Awards 2006. Image source: http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au

Less than a decade ago a nurse in Bundaberg, Toni Hoffman, was commended in a Queensland Public Hospitals Commission of Inquiry thus:

I would also like to pay tribute to certain people whose care, passion or courage was instrumental in bringing to light the matters covered here. First and foremost of those is Ms Hoffman. She might easily have doubted herself, or succumbed to certain pressures to work within a system that was not responsive. She might have chosen to quarantine herself from Dr Patel’s influence by leaving the Base or at least the Intensive Care Unit. Instead, and under the threat of significant detriment to herself, Ms Hoffman persistently and carefully documented the transgressions of Dr Patel.

For being ethical and honest Toni Hoffman won some praise and copped a whole heap of flak. Only Toni can tell us whether her personal costs were offset by the public benefits. However, if a nurse working in any of Australia’s detention centres is faced with comparable ethical concerns, speaking honestly about it could cost them two years in prison.

That’s a high cost to pay.

What’s the sense in making it illegal to be ethical?

End

As always, your comments are welcome below. If I’ve totally misunderstood the legislation and you can explain to me how preventing health professionals from advocating for their patients is a good idea, you’re VERY welcome to leave a comment.

Paul McNamara, 20th June 2015
Short URL: meta4RN.com/ethical

 

 

 

Humanity to Man

The Cairns Post, 29th March 2003:

cairns post column 290303Man’s inhumanity towards man has been getting plenty of coverage lately – it might be time a good time to be reminded of men who demonstrate humanity.

Not quite 10 percent of nurses are male (please don’t call us male nurses – we’re nurses, but happen to be male).

Like our female colleagues, we’re spread across all aspects of health. Blokes nursing in Cairns include Stephen in Intensive Care; Adrian and Denis who work with elderly people; Bill the midwife; Andrew in orthopaedics; Colin who runs a medical ward; Sean who visits new parents and their babies in their homes; Greg and Clif who work with people battling mental health problems; Andy does mostly policy and administrative stuff; Steve and Scott on the local crisis team, and Nick who has spent a fair bit of time nursing out bush and is currently back in town.

There’s plenty of blokes nursing locally not mentioned (sorry fellas), but you get the picture – we pop up everywhere.

So, why nursing? I won’t presume to speak for other nurses of either gender, but I can tell you what I like about the profession – I like being useful.

It’s a peculiar privilege being a nurse. Peculiar because, for all its different guises and specialities, the basic job description is the same – try to be useful to people. It’s a privilege because nursing offers an amazing level of responsibility and intimacy.

It might sound more convincing if it wasn’t coming from a bald bloke with a bit of a beer gut, but nursing is a nurturing profession. The nature of our relationships with patients is therapeutic, but first and foremost it’s a human relationship.

We often have the privilege of being with people at very important stages of their lives, and we get the opportunity to show that nurses can be professional, skilled and caring.

I’m sure it’s not unique to nursing, and it’s certainly not unique to nurses who are male, but let’s not forget that there are daily demonstrations of man’s humanity towards man.

Final Notes

Back in 2003 a journalist from The Cairns Post invited me to submit an article for the My Say column (a daily feature presenting the views of a cross-section of the community). The article’s reference to man’s inhumanity to man is in the context of current events at the time – it was published during the second week of the war in Iraq.

As I was identified as an employee of a local hospital, at the time of publication the content of the article had to be approved by the hospital’s media department. The media department approved the article without changes to content.

In 2003 I should have used the phrase “man’s humanity towards mankind” instead of “man’s humanity towards man”. Sorry. I was tempted to correct it in this 2014 version, but decided it was more authentic to leave the original unaltered.

Anyway, I stumbled across the very-low-resolution JPG version of the article today and thought it might be worth reprising. Man’s inhumanity towards mankind is still dominating the mainstream media. This is a tiny, inadequate bit of counter-balance.

As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 26th October 2014

Short URL:  meta4RN.com/men

Originally:
McNamara, Paul (2003). Humanity to man. The Cairns Post, 29 Mar 2003, pg 19.

 

These words have been in my head and they needed to come out (a blog post about suicide)

Trigger Alert – this blog contains info re suicide which may be unsettling for some people.

Guest Post: Stevie Jacobs has contributed this guest post to meta4RN.com

StevieJacobsStevie Jacobs is the pen name of a newly-minted Enrolled Nurse. The person behind Stevie is smart, experienced in life and has some awesome insight into the world of the student and new graduate nurse.

You can follow Stevie Jacobs on Twitter: @SJWritesHere

Stevie has contributed to other nurse blogs, including the excellent site Injectable Orange, by Jesse Spurr.

These words have been in my head and they needed to come out
(a blog post about suicide)

I am ‘Pro choice’.

I am a patient advocate.

I am a person advocate.

I support euthanasia.

I am pretty much of the opinion that if you have all the facts, figures and feelings figured out then you can go ahead and do pretty-much whatever you like. Even if it’s ‘bad’ for you. I can provide you with action plans and phone numbers and personal support, however ultimately, the choice my friend, is yours.

So when someone wants to kill themselves/suicide/take their own life (however you want to put it) what does my head feel about that? I’m not talking about obligations as a Health Care Professional, I’m talking about obligations as a human being. I can provide you with an ear to bend, a shoulder to lean on, I can find you professional help if you want, I can tell you that I don’t think you’re in a safe space and I want to get more support. For both of us. I can do all that. What I am stuck with is that if euthanasia is assisted suicide and I’m OK with that (OK meaning I won’t physically stop you nor judge you), does that mean I am ‘OK ‘ with someone’s suicide? Both have the same ending:, the removal of pain through the death of a person. I don’t know how my heart or my head feel about that.

Robin Williams was 63. That’s a long time to be living in pain. Yes, there are medications and therapies and support groups, but what if that starts to feel just all too much? That living is just all too much, a bit like ‘diabetic burnout’, where the person with diabetes basically gets fed up with ‘managing’ their diabetes and becomes unwell. That can happen with all chronic diseases. That can happen with mental health issues. Yes, some people have a depressive episode, it’s self-limiting and then they never have another one. Wonderful. For others, it just keeps on coming back, more painful than before.

To someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, suicide I can seem to be a rational method of pain relief. It’s the ultimate pain reliever for the person experiencing the thoughts.

For those left behind it can be devastating.

I can’t make up my mind. Do I have the ‘right’ to stop someone from suicide? I’m on the fence. The boundaries get blurred. I’ve experienced anxiety & depression, I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts & been ‘suicidally depressed’, I’ve had a family member suicide and I’ve known someone I followed on Twitter suicide. Which is a really fucking weird experience, quite frankly. Grief for someone who you ‘know’, but don’t ‘know’. 101 ‘What ifs?’. I could ‘see’ that something wasn’t right, but aside from checking in and offering an ear what else could I do? I’m at peace with those choices now, no longer haunted by ‘what ifs’. I’m sure that is not the same for their family and friends. I realised that what has stayed in my head is a photo of themselves they posted shortly before it happened. It’s their eyes. Their eyes haunt me. I can see something in their eyes I’ve seen time and time again. In my face. In the faces of others. I know those eyes so well. However good your mask is it’s in the eyes.

So, what to do? Who am I to tell anyone what to do? There isn’t really a clear answer. I think it’s really important to keep checking in on people: RU OK? I have RUOKed a few people and I will keep doing it. If it’s a ‘No’, and they express some ideas that worry you, it’s OK to ask “Do you have a plan?” If it’s a ‘Yes’, what then? Especially if you just don’t believe them. That’s trickier ground to navigate. I’m no expert on this. There are links at the end of this from people who are.

RU OK? It’s just a simple question. A simple, lifesaving question. I was on another planet from OK, and someone who barely knew me asked me that question.

It was like a thunderbolt.

It made me stop and think and choose to get help to make living less painful. Choosing to get help is hard. Getting help can be harder. What’s even harder is acknowledging that choosing to live is a conscious effort. It’s an effort. Accepting that medications and therapy and exercise and diet changes and avoiding triggers are now part of your life is an effort.

In time I hope that life will once again become effortless, but it might not.

Finally, after years of effort, I now think I am OK with that.

.

Post Script 1:

I wrote the above post a little while back. Normally when I have said all I have to say on a subject it doesn’t pop back in to my head. This post did. If I am honest, I have only scratched the surface. I have more to say. The way I write usually is like a good vomit on a night out: it all comes out in one go and it’s done and dusted and you’re up and dancing again. The other way I write is a bit more like a gastro bug: on and off with a bit of dry retching when you just can’t get it out. Then you’re done and you feel better.

Paul told me the ‘meta’ point of meta4RN is ‘talk about what you’re talking about’. So I guess that’s what I’m doing here. Rereading the above, reflecting on it and trying to work out quite what it is that I still feel I want to say.

We need to talk about mental health. We need to talk about suicide. We need to do it in a safe, appropriate and open way, but we do need to talk about it. Talking about it is hard. Talking about it can be terrifying for anyone. Talking about it when you’re a health professional is really damn hard. There are so many ‘what ifs’. What if they ‘lock me up’? What if they don’t? What if they think I’m not fit to practice? What if I lose my job? What if my colleagues find out? What if I have to be treated in the same hospital that I work in? What if…

I want to talk about how it feels to have suicidal thoughts. I want to talk about how it feels to be suicidally depressed. I’m not sure how to do that. I know that there are media guidelines for discussing suicide. As someone who is trying to describe a ‘lived experience’, I decided the best way for me to write was to let it all come out uncensored, and then give it to Paul to edit it using some of those guidelines and make it ‘safe’. I am in a safe enough space now to be brutally honest about how those suicidal thoughts feel, and far away enough from those thoughts to be able to talk about them without feeling ‘triggered’.

I can only speak for myself. For me there is a distinction between having suicidal thoughts and being ‘suicidal’ or ‘suicidally depressed’, as I have referred to it in the past. The thing about ‘suicidal thoughts’ is that the longer you have them the more rational they seem. For me suicidal thoughts are more of a hypothetical notion; it’s not something I am going to carry out. It’s an icy calm IF. IF things don’t get better, IF that was to happen, IF there isn’t another way out, IF the pain becomes unbearable, IF.

I know exactly how I would kill myself. I know exactly how I would spend the jackpot from a lottery win. I know exactly what I would get done if I had free access to plastic surgery. It’s all hypothetical.

It’s hypothetical. Until it’s not. Until I am suicidally depressed. Until I am in pain. Until the self-loathing I carry around with me every day takes over. Until I truly believe that the people in my life would be better off without me. Until I can’t see any way out aside from that way. And that place is not icy calm. It’s a messy, clinging on to something, anything to get through hour after hour, painful, emotional swamp. I feel emotionally swamped. I can’t think in a straight line. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. The anxiety eats at my stomach. The panic attacks feel like I am dying of a heart attack. The after effects of which last for days. And nothing, nothing stops the pain. That’s how suicidal feels like for me. I know, however, that it is not what it looks like to other people. People see what they want to see. Even people who are trained to see more. I am brilliant at hiding it. I know how to put on my mask and polish up my armour. It is exhausting.

There are cracks in my armour, sometimes the mask slips. My fellow walking wounded can see though them, but for the most part the people I see every day wouldn’t know. I can make people feel so good about themselves. I can make people cry with laughter. Then, the second I am alone, the pain floods over me and I can barely breathe. I keep coming back to pain. It’s about pain. Not control, nor attention seeking, nor escape; in that moment it is about wanting that pain in my heart to stop. To. Stop.

It’s a horrendous place to live to be honest. It’s a half life. I had to choose to live better. To live for me. To get help – medications, counselling, CBT, exercise, diet. It’s a conscious choice. And what helped me make that choice was being asked ‘RU OK?’

.

Post Script 2:

So, turns out it’s not a verbal gastro bug. It’s verbal C.Diff. The words just keep coming out.

I think I need to make it clear that I am talking about a period of over 10 years. I need to make it clear that I am talking about the past. I might write ‘I know’, but I suppose really it is ‘I knew’. Deciding to share this is a decision that has been easy, but it is a decision that I have made because these words have been in my head and they needed to come out. There are more things I could say, about specific attempts, specific feelings. However, I don’t want to share them. I think that’s OK.

I need to make it clear that I support ‘RUOK’ & WHO suicide prevention strategies. I need to make it clear that if you judge me negatively based on what I have written or if it changes your opinion of me, then that’s your thing, not mine. I’m not asking for agreement or understanding, but I do ask for kindness.

I was asked recently what the best thing in my life is right now. Aside from Nursing, the answer is the people in it. I know that my people love me, and accept ‘me’, and that’s enough.

Black Dog Institute Healthy Living Study is a program to help those experiencing suicidal thoughts manage them: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/research/participateinourresearch/index.cfm

Black Dog Institute Healthy Living Study is a program to help those experiencing suicidal thoughts manage them: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/research/participateinourresearch/index.cfm

End.

Short URL:  meta4RN.com/guest02

Many thanks to Stevie Jacobs for sharing this gutsy piece of writing. Your sensitive, constructive feedback is welcomed in the comments section below.

It’s also important to acknowledge that talking and thinking about suicide can be distressing. People in Australia can access support via:

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467

MindHealthConnect www.mindhealthconnect.org.au

phone_hotline-40Outside of Australia and not sure where to get support? Google usually displays a red telephone icon and your country’s suicide support phone number when searching for a suicide-related topic.

This guest blog post has a companion piece, which I have imaginatively called “A Blog About A Blog About Suicide” – the link is here: meta4RN.com/mindframe

Paul McNamara, 23rd September 2014