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Mental health diary: how it feels to be working as a Marie Stopes nurse during coronavirus

This Mental Health Awareness Week, Stylist is sharing mental health diaries from key workers on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus. Here, safeguarding nurse Amy shares a glimpse into a day in her life.

My name is Amy and I’m the named safeguarding nurse for Marie Stopes UK abortion care provider. I support the care of vulnerable clients to ensure they receive the help they need. 

Safeguarding has become even more complex since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Nursing during a pandemic is difficult, but I know my work is more vital than ever.

7am: My first thought when I wake up is always about work and it’s usually my last thought before I go to bed, too. I used to think about specific clients and cases, and I’d reflect on what had gone well, what could have gone better and what I needed to do tomorrow. But now we have so many vulnerable clients and their cases are all very complex. It can be overwhelming, but I get focused for another day.

"Sometimes my job is so demanding that I don’t get my first cup of tea until lunchtime."

I’m on my emails within 10 minutes of showering and getting dressed, in order to see what’s happened overnight (we have a 24/7 call centre and a lot of clients share safeguarding issues here). I like to make sure I’m on top of everything from overnight before my day starts. Sometimes my job is so demanding that I don’t get my first cup of tea until lunchtime, as I get completely absorbed trying to make care plans for the most vulnerable.

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8am: After checking my emails my morning is varied. I deal with safeguarding emergencies in which I get calls from our centres across the UK to create care plans. For example, a client might have been assaulted in a car park, a client might have been brought in by three males and there might be suspected human trafficking, a client might have shared that she is at high risk of abuse, or a client who is at risk from her family might have been escorted in by her brothers.

I’m working from home where possible at the moment and I go to a clinic around two days a week. Alongside my other responsibilities as a strategic lead are writing reports, planning changes for Covid-19, providing supervision for colleagues and attending meetings. 

1pm: My lunch break is usually when I get my first hot drink of the day and some soup or a salad at my desk. After 10 years in the profession, lunch breaks can make me feel guilty because I don’t want to miss an important safeguarding call and if my phone rings while I’m away from my desk, it can make me anxious. I know a lot of my colleagues feel the same as we care so much about the clients we work with.

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2pm: The afternoon is my personal ‘productive period’, when I feel my adrenaline and productivity skyrocket. I make quick decisions, write reports, support colleagues and feel a real buzz. It’s like time flashes by and I often feel great. I love that people come to me for advice and support and that I can help the most vulnerable. It’s a real privilege.

5pm: I try to log off from work completely, and this is when I start to reflect on my day. During the drive home I’ll think about my day and this is the hardest part of my job. It feels like I never switch off. I pride myself on how much I care about the clients I encounter, and I want to do everything I can to try to empower or protect them. But it’s a lot and it almost never stops. Sometimes I remember people’s names from five years ago and wonder if they are OK. And sometimes you can’t stop clients from going back to unsafe situations. 

But my experiences push me every day, and every day I put myself in my clients’ (or their children’s) shoes to make sure what I’m doing as a nurse protects them from harm.

I finish work and get myself exercising straight away because as soon as I sit down, I crash. This is normally a HIIT session with some good music. Cooking is my favorite thing to do, so I put a record on, usually some disco or reggae, and make something relatively healthy. Cooking and music are mindfulness for me so I’m able to switch off. 

I eat dinner quickly and then I launch onto the sofa for an evening in front of the TV, normally watching something like a documentary about safeguarding issues! My other half is great at letting me zone out and forget the day. He’s so laid back which is the energy I need after my workdays. I don’t often socialise mid-week as I’m talked out and tired from my day. 

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9pm: It’s time for bed. I’m usually shattered but this time is difficult for me as everything from the day surfaces as soon as my head hits the pillow. When I’ve worked a particularly tough day with hard safeguarding cases I sometimes struggle to fall asleep – I wish I could switch off but it’s just who I am, and who we are as nurses. Some days I feel so proud of my work and some days the emotional strain is a lot, but throughout it all, I love my job at Marie Stopes UK so much. It’s a part of me. My work safeguarding the most vulnerable in society means everything and I couldn’t do anything else.

My hopes for tomorrow are simple. I hope that none of my clients are harmed, I hope that I can help clients make their choice free from coercion or harm, and that I can support my colleagues and make them feel more in control, too. (Oh, and hopefully I can get a cup of tea before lunchtime too!)

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on mental health charity Mind’s website or see the NHS’ list of mental health helplines here

If you would like support or advice on abortion, you can visit the Marie Stopes website here or the NHS information page here

Illustrator: May van Millingen

Other images: Unsplash

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