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Talk to yourself like you would talk to your friend; taking my own advice.

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Some of you will know that I’m a Mental Health Nurse, I work with adolescents within the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services within Bristol. I recently had my last shift on the hospital ward I’ve been working on for over a year and I’m transferring to a community team on secondment next week.

I love working with young people, don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy! As well as the usual teenage angst and hormones doing god knows what, there's also mental ill health to contend with. It’s not easy, but my goodness, it is rewarding.

Of course, you’re not meant to have favourites and I don’t think I do. However, I know there are young people I gel with so much more than others. The same with teachers in schools, some you get on with, some you don’t. That’s life and that’s ok.

My last shift was a night shift and I did an evening check in, through facetime, with one young person who I really did gel with. She’s unwell with an eating disorder and is really stuck. Eating disorders are so toxic and leak out into all areas of life, the family environment was particularly difficult for her.

During this check in we were discussing how tough the past few weeks have been (the Christmas period is often excruciating for those with eating disorders) and I reminded her of what I always try to teach young people: to be kind to yourself. If you wouldn’t say it to your friend, don't say it it yourself. She smiled a sheepish smile and shrugged.

I know she finds it hard to be kind to herself, they all do, scrap that: we all do!

I asked her to name one thing she liked about herself. She sat quiet for a while, then shrugged her shoulders. Unable to come up with one single teeny tiny thing she liked about herself. It's almost always this way when I ask a young person what they like about themselves and each time it breaks my heart a little bit.

So, I tried a different tact; "what would your siblings say about you? What do you think they like about you?" She shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t know, but she’d like to know and I said perhaps she could ask them tomorrow (her family were all having a family games night and she had not wanted to be a part of it at all) and her face lit up and she replied “no, I’m going to ask them right now” and she carried the phone downstairs and interrupted them all (particularly proud of her for doing this) and she asked “what do you like about me?”, they swarmed her with lovely words “you’re kind!” “You’re the best big sister” “you're so funny you always make me laugh” “you’re just so lovely!” “you care so much” ... As they shouted all their responses at her I could see her bottom lip starting to wobble and she started sobbing, full blown tears streaming down her face, sniffly nose, shoulder shaking crying. They all swarmed around her and gave her a massive group hug (and I’m just hanging out on the video call in amongst this lil moment!).

She went back upstairs and cried some more. She explained that they were happy tears. She thanked me. I’d helped her feel better.

I asked her if she believed what they had told her, she shrugged and said "I don't think so, but I want to, I will one day". I told her to remember their words when she’s struggling. Repeat them back to herself like she believes them. And one day she will.

I told her to talk to herself like she’s a friend.

She thanked me repeatedly throughout this conversation (such a grateful young lady) and said "you've really changed my life". Now, I’m not sure about that, but I do feel like I’ve had an impact. And that’s hard for me to say to myself.

But, I’m going to take my own advice and talk to myself like I’d talk to my friend and what I want to say to myself is:

You’ve worked really hard with these young people

You've genuinely cared so much and given so much of yourself to them

You've made them smile when they’re feeling their worst

You've helped them see a lil glimmer of hope, that light at the end of the tunnel

Maybe some of them will remember you forever, maybe they’ll think of you as the light during their darkest moments

Maybe you have changed some lives

You're a damn good nurse

I always try to treat people how I’d want to be treated, this is particularly true within my job as a nurse. If my own mental health took such a turn that I needed help, how would I want the nurses and staff to work with me, talk to me, care for me?

I've done that with these young people, I've treated them with respect, I've valued their thoughts, I've listened to them and believed what they've told me, I've tried my hardest to bring a little bit of joy in the shittiest of times, I've worked with them through the really rubbish, uncomfortable, difficult stuff that they have to work through to recover, I've never held their words or behaviours when they're at their most unwell against them, I always try to advocate for them, I always try to teach that feelings are temporary and they can be super overwhelming, but they will pass and it is so very ok to not be ok. And I’m damn good at it.

I’m proud of me.

What do you like about yourself? What advice would you give to friend if they were in your position? What would you say to a friend if they were doubting themselves? Talk to yourself like you are your best friend, be kind, be gentle, you're so very important and so worth it.

Amy xoxo

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