It’s OK not to be OK

Welcome to a guest blog written by Dr Leanne Atkin, Vascular Nurse Specialist, Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust. Lecturer University of Huddersfield

“It sometimes feels like I am in a parallel universe!  Society around me seems to be having extended holidays, family BBQs, street parties and days out at the beach. I am rather sick of seeing peoples’ social media posts about having time to take up a new hobby, getting fit and spring cleaning their houses. For me (and many of you) working life continues. Our Vascular Service is quieter than normal but never has it been so emotionally challenging.

In the initial weeks when COVID-19 first started to impact the NHS, I was fuelled by adrenaline:

  • Rearranging services
  • Preparing staff for redeployment
  • Building safety nets around all our current patients.

But as the adrenaline trickled away, the true nature of this terrible pandemic is starting to take hold.

During these lockdown weeks, I have not seen any of my friends, I have become a ‘carer’ for my normally able parents as they are shielded and I have lost many loved patients. One of my close friends lost her dad to the virus and all I could do was stand at the edge of the drive to the crematorium trying desperately to absorb some of her pain. A very dear nursing colleague lost her battle to cancer – her passing was not the huge celebration she planned but a silent affair. This virus has taken so much from so many!

Over these weeks I recognise I have changed, become more withdrawn, a little quieter, have a feeling of ‘I can’t be bothered’. I am fortunate, due to my job, that I am able to recognise the start of mental health issues and, as much as I am lucky enough never to have experienced anxiety or depression, I recognise I feel emotionally flat!

Daily nursing care during COVID-19 is difficult and I am not on the front line. I have not been re-deployed to ITU like some of my very brave colleagues so feel a ‘bit of a fraud’ that this is all ‘getting to me’ but it is!

I realised this last week after walking from a clinic where I saw a patient I have known for several months and he was dying. My last interaction with him was shouting at him so he could hear me through a mask and a visor saying “if we don’t take your leg off you are going to die”. Communicating to a patient in this alien fashion seems so uncaring and it makes my nursing core shiver. The only support I could offer him was a gloved hand!

All of this simply does not feel good enough. Walking across the car park my phone rang and a friend said ‘hi, how are you?’ and of course my answer was ‘Great thanks how are you’. The staple answer to that question but as soon as I said it I literally laughed out loud – laughed at how far from the truth that was and what I huge lie I just told!

In everyday nursing we deal with emotional events, but in normal times there is an outlet for this from coffee with the girls, nights out for dinner with other couples, weekends away, family holidays – always something to look forward to. But COVID-19 has taken all these away.

Many of my colleagues are also feeling this ‘flat’ mood, and we feel this is due to the fact that our essential emotional outlets have been restricted and life feels that there is little to look forward to. All of this really makes me wonder how on earth those nurses working in the front line services are coping with all this – I have no idea!

But what I do know is that many of us are feeling this way and we need to call this out to support each other and protect each other. YOU are allowed to tell the truth! To answer that question of ‘Hi – how are you?’ with how you really feel. I am writing this to encourage you all if you are feeling a little low please find your voice, tell others how you are feeling, gain that support you need through family, friends, colleagues, NHS services or even using a blog as therapy – because it is OK not to be OK”.

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One comment

  1. I’m feeling very emotional and exhausted. Some days and cry and some days I answer with I’m fine. My team have been lovely and very supportive with me, I feel very lucky in that respect. I’m have some annual leave coming up and I know I can’t go anywhere or do anything but I’m looking forward to just being home and contacting my family. Thanks so much for sharing, it does help to know your not alone xxx

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