I can honestly say a significant part of my deep anxieties stem from a fear of never belonging at all. I’ve never felt like I’ve truly fit in, at school, work, or with my group of friends. And since that sounds like a classic teen romance novel cliché, I can assume that other people have felt the same way.

Simply put, I’ve always worried that I’ll never belong anywhere. Or to someone. It’s like being stranded in open water, never knowing if you’ll find something to anchor you. In this case, I’ve never felt anchored to my own life.

I’d taken the role of a passive observer, collecting experiences but not truly being present in them. The goal was to just get through. Day by day, week by week, until one day, years of biding my time would result in some sort of epiphany and I would just suddenly know – this is where I belong.

At the start of the school year, I had fairly low expectations of what was to come. The goal was to get through, like I always had, and hope that I’d one day find something of meaning. I didn’t even truly enjoy nursing until last year, when I was working in maternal and child health. (Loved working with babies, typical.) I was lost and had no idea what my future as a nurse would bring.

The only thing I was sure of was that I didn’t want to spend my days counting the hours until I could go home from work.

This year, that changed.

My winter rotation was in acute inpatient mental health at the hospital. I was apprehensive and on edge my entire first week. In fact, I told everyone I knew that there was no way in hell they would ever catch me working in a unit like that once I graduated. I came home emotionally and physically exhausted, my heart hurting for the situations my patients found themselves in.

But as the weeks wore on, I realized that this was an area where I could really make a difference. My greatest tool would be my own self, and I could use it to to motivate the patients to take control over their lives. I could be there to listen, demonstrate how they were valued as people, and encourage them to battle their illnesses by seeking help.

It wasn’t all sunshine and happy endings. I saw and heard of multiple behavioural escalations, witnessed conflicts between staff, and saw how administrative constraints negatively impacted patient care. People were discharged who shouldn’t have been. People were neglected when they shouldn’t have been. People weren’t given the opportunity to be as active in their own health as they could’ve been.

But that can change.

I can help change it.

I don’t have to protest and tear apart the institution. But if I can make a difference by providing the level of care I would want my loved ones to receive, maybe I can inspire others to do the same. Mental health and mental illnesses have become a trending health concern with a growing demand for awareness. While I agree that awareness is a necessary step towards improvement, it’s now time to take action. Talking about it is great, but we need to do something that will make a difference.

We need community resources like harm reduction from substance use, safe bed programs for people to escape threatening environments and crisis outreach teams that can intervene and bring people to get the help they need. We need to advocate for anonymous hotlines that people can call to have someone listen when life gets overwhelming. We need to seriously evaluate the pressures on our youth and promote safe stress management habits. We need affordable housing and employment assistance. We need to take action.

There’s so much work that can be done. And I think I’d like to be a part of it.

– S.

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