It is OK to put yourself first

A personal account from Clare Greenwood, Clinical Nurse Specialist – Tissue Viability, Leeds Teaching Hospitals on being a key worker, post grad student, wife and mother

Calmness can be skin deep…

I never really thought of myself as an anxious person. Yes, I would replay some conversations over and over in my head, worrying that I might have said something that could have been misinterpreted or offended someone, but I would tell myself that’s normal right? I would pride myself in how others would perceive me as a calm and approachable person, and that ‘things never phase you’, but to that gentle and calm exterior, can be very different on the interior.

Keeping a healthy life balance can be really challenging…

I have been working towards a PhD for the last 7.5 years alongside my clinical work as a Tissue Viability Nurse Specialist. A part time PhD normally takes 5 years, but I suspended twice whilst on maternity leave. People would often comment on “I don’t know how you have the time, doing your PhD, whilst working and with two young children” but I would try and be organised with my time, making sure they all got adequate amounts of my attention, whilst also maintaining some element of self-care, which for me was having some alone time sewing, reading or running.

I was lucky enough to get a secondment to work on my thesis full time for the last six months before my funding finished, and the secondment ended with me being close to submitting. Unfortunately, the timing of the secondment finishing and me returning to full time clinical practice was just after lockdown, right in the peak of the COVID pandemic. At first, I embraced being back in clinical practice, enjoying being clinical again and wanting to do my bit to help patients and staff going through this unprecedented, strange, and sad times. However, my son was still having to go to school as both of his parents are key workers, and as much as the school tried to help, none of his friends were at school and he would have a different teacher every day, often people he had never met before. Which, alongside not being able to see his friends or wider family was having a massive impact upon him. This would lead to feelings of guilt, sending him to school where he was feeling unhappy so we could go to work. The school days were shorter meaning I was having to do early shifts to be able to collect the children and any time that I had off work, I felt I would need to spend as much time with the kids as possible to make sure that they were affected by the pandemic as little as possible. Alongside this I was trying to finish my thesis. With only so many hours in the day something had to give, and for me it was self-care. I stopped running, I had no time for sewing and even reading felt like hard work. The pounds started creeping on and my self-esteem plummeted. Even though I was having panic attacks, suffering from phantosmia (smelling burning whenever I felt stressed) and having trouble sleeping, I still thought I was doing ok, but my husband could tell that I was not. He encouraged me to take some time off work. At first I felt a bit like I was pulling a sicky and enjoyed having a bit of ‘me time’ for the first time in months, but as it always goes it’s only when you stop that everything else catches up and you actually realise how bad things had become.

Help can come from unexpected sources…

It was around this time that I found out that I had become a co-opted trustee for the Tissue Viability Society, something that I had wanted to do for years, but also something that had come at the worst of times. Luckily my first duty as a trustee was to join in with the walk to the journey of the red planet to celebrate TVS’s 40th anniversary and helping to raise money for carers. I decided to fully embrace this challenge and dive straight in and set myself the challenge of doing 500,000 steps throughout July. This was a big challenge, but I needed something to work towards, to make myself get out of the house and go for a walk or a run even if I did not feel up to it.  It is now three weeks into the challenge and 342,000 steps done. I am feeling fitter, more positive and starting to see the old me come back.

It really is OK not to be OK – be kind to yourself…

It is ok to not be ok. Just because you are not working long days on an intensive care unit in full PPE, you are still working on the front line through the midst of a pandemic, seeing the horrifying things that COVID does to the body and tearing families apart.

It is ok to put yourself first for a change. How can you look after others if you cannot look after yourself first?

Be kind to yourself, it will take time to get back to the old you, if that is who you want to be.

About Clare…

Clare has worked as a tissue viability nurse for over 10 years at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and has an MSc in nursing and a PG Cert in Tissue Viability. Alongside her clinical role she has been undertaking a PhD which is near completion.

Her research is looking into how both tissue viability nurses and nursing staff use devices in clinical practice for the prevention of heel pressure ulcers. By knowing this can not only inform practice, but can also influence trial design by identifying factors that could potentially lead to protocol violations or withdrawal rates.

She is passionate about the TVS and by having the dual perspective of both being a tissue viability nurse and a researcher will provide insight into what is relevant for both those in clinical practice and academia, as well as the importance of working with industry.