Mental Health, University

Flying From ‘Failure’

For as long as I can remember my parents and those surrounding me described me as ‘Nurse Lucy’. My younger self would rough-handily take out my mother’s splinters which she had obtained from her gardening escapades, or heavily dress the cuts on my father’s hands from regular DIY without gloves. ‘Nurse Lucy’ didn’t like seeing others experience sadness or any kind of emotional discomfort. I vividly remember giving my dad a blanket and a hot water bottle because he got an ice cream headache much to the amusement of my mother.

There came a point in life where instead of getting a blanket for my ice cream headache, I would eat more ice cream. I would let myself shiver in the corner instead of getting a blanket. After my operation, I had a very hard time differentiating between how I thought life could be and how situations would actually be. I would create such bizarre scenarios in my head that were neither realistic or healthy, yet these very ideas would keep me awake at night. It was very rare that any of my brain’s irrational productions would become a reality, and if they ever did I had been so concerned I was prepared in every conceivable way. I got stuck in a rut because of my diagnosis.

‘Nurse Lucy’ was not able to nurture herself emotionally. I would label myself as ‘weak’ and ‘defective’ as I was not like other girls my age. I viewed myself as a ‘failure’ and ‘damaged goods’ – I was 14 years old and recovering from major heart surgery. My loved ones would make me cringe as I could not bear human contact because I was so ashamed of my new body. I had post-traumatic stress disorder and postoperative anxiety. My emotional baggage felt large enough to fill a jumbo jet – there was no fuel left in the tank which meant I had been running on zero for a long time. My jumbo jet needed to fly because that is what it was made for.

I learnt very quickly that I would not be able to recover alone. ‘Nurse Lucy’ had become the patient. I struggled to realise that I was no longer a ‘failure’ because I had not failed. This was my new reality. One day a switch was slapped on by the younger ‘Nurse Lucy’. She frowned at me and asked what the hell I was doing, she swatted away my ‘everything is fine’ and wrapped me in a duvet before dragging me to my feet. She said that I needed to remove my own splinters now and disinfect the wounds myself. These ‘splinters’ were not thorns in my hands or cuts from a saw, they were, in fact, the silly thoughts made by the brain of a 14-year-old girl in her hospital bed at Great Ormond Street Hospital. I was not 14 anymore. I was growing up, the jumbo jet was making its final call for passengers.

My father recently said something to me that I have found incredibly useful. ‘Accept it and deal with the consequences.’ Can I change what happened to me? No, I cannot. Can I change the mistakes I made during my healing process? No, I cannot. Can I now use these experiences to grow as a person? Yes, I can. Can I still be ‘normal’ despite what has happened? Yes, I can, and I am. I am just like everyone else. I make mistakes, I am immature and stubborn on occasion but I am also a brave 20-year-old with an ars that won’t quit. I will succeed in life and I will be happy.

I got through intense surgery during my GCSE’s and passed every single one. My life changed very quickly – I went from moaning about my PE kit and carrying a cake from Food Tech at the same time to complaining about my arterial lines and how much morphine I needed in order to stop screaming. In retrospect, I feel that I can observe it was only when I allowed myself to acknowledge the emotional wounds that I was able to put the fuel in the tank of my jumbo jet and take off. 

There is a phenomenal amount of strength in recognising vulnerability – I was finally able to embrace the emotions that I had suppressed for years. By developing a new immunity to what I had previously observed as ‘failures’ I was able to gain a fresher outlook on the new life that I had been given by my surgeons. I could now thrive with the help of my family and friends, and I have never felt more loved as I did throughout that period in my life. It has taken the full 5 years for me to completely accept what has happened back in 2012. Without my family and friends, I would have drowned – despite my selfishness and animosity towards my new life they persevered. Words will never be able to express my adoration for those people.

The dreams and flashbacks that plagued me have stopped, I hug my parents on a regular basis and I no longer spit words with malice. I feel like a strong young woman who is finally getting to grips with the fact that everything can be fine, but it is also okay if everything is not.

What you tell yourself will be your truth. There’s nothing wrong with being honest with yourself and constructively criticising the parts of you that need work because that’s healthy, however, if you beat yourself up on a regular basis or once in a blue moon, every person who has targeted you with negativity will win. Whether these people do it for pleasure, spite or just to satisfy their own ego you must not let them win. They do not deserve the satisfaction. You are worth it. Let yourself have that. Let yourself live as much as you can. You don’t run with a broken leg, you put a cast on and you rest. The same applies to when your brain has a blunder or you suffer other kinds of trauma. Try to learn to nurture that pretty little walnut between your ears, as hard as that may be.

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