Gratitude and Work

I was surprised earlier today by the emotional reaction I had while discussing a case with a therapist at work. The most surprising thing about it was that the emotions I was feeling were a combination of surprise, relief, and the acknowledgement of the truth of her words on top of everything else I have felt related to the patient we were discussing.

The patient we were discussing is a particular difficult case. We’ll call the patient Susan. Susan has been a patient of mine for the last year. She has been in the hospital or a residential treatment facility for something like 8 out of the last 12 months, if not more. Most of the breaks between were no more than 1-2 weeks, if that long. She would be in outpatient treatment and after some time without the support of staff 24/7 she would have an episode of high depression and hopelessness and helplessness and attempt to kill herself, usually through overdosing on her medications. After a few weeks in an inpatient setting she would step down to the residential house I work with and be there for months. It was not only hard on Susan, but also hard on all the people who have worked with her the last year, myself included. I have felt so many different emotions regarding her and her case that I do not know that I could name them all or describe them all.

The thing about all of this is that her therapist, someone that I hadn’t met before because she is new to the center, and I met to briefly speak about Susan. Recently Susan had an episode where she felt hopeless and helpless again but managed to reach out to her therapist and myself. Her therapist took the opportunity to reminded Susan about all the people that care about her. Susan’s mother and son were not the only people she was reminded about, but also her psychiatrist and myself as well as all the clinicians at the residential house because her therapist was aware of just how much Susan meant to us and how much we wanted her to succeed.

She told Susan about all the people who care for her and Susan was able to recognize it and even helped her therapist compose an email to the some of her treatment team and her mother. I received that email and thought it was a great step for Susan, but hadn’t fully comprehended exactly why it was so important for Susan to compose it herself to some of the people who are currently helping her.

What made me realize just how much we had impacted Susan’s life was when her therapist told me today that se had recognized how much the people who had been treating Susan truly cared about her wellbeing and that Susan was able to see it too. That was why it was so important for Susan to write that email, why Susan was taking more steps forward in her treatment, why her therapist was working so well with the psychiatrist and myself; They knew that we cared and that we weren’t just going through the motions.

That was when I teared up and felt so many emotions that I could not process them all. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I am usually able to pull back and keep that professional barrier up, but it is rare to get that acknowledgement from someone who isn’t on the residential teams I normally work with. It brought up all the emotions I have had regarding Susan, plus some ones just regarding my work in general all at the same time. Most of all though was gratitude. Because I know that Susan is with a good therapist who can hear more than what is said, which I have found to be a rare talent even within the mental health field.

It was a very unique experience and I hope that I am able to learn from it. Just writing this here has helped me a bit, but I anticipate several more writing/blogging/journaling episodes will come around before I feel like I have processed through everything. I hope I will be able to tell Susan how much she has helped me to grow as a mental health nurse and that she will take that knowledge with her through her life and remember that she can make a positive impact whether she is the one being helped or the one helping. 🙂

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