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Nurse and mother overcomes emotional, physical, and financial obstacles to help the mentally ill

In this career interview, a nurse for a non-profit mental health organization shares how she has struggled to overcome the major obstacles she has faced, such as being a single mother, surviving cancer, and recovering from a crippling injury. While she still faces physical, emotional, and financial challenges today, she is driven to get up each day by a desire to create a positive change in the world around her.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
I am a psychiatric nurse for a non profit organization where I have 5 years of experience. I would describe myself as energetic, honest, and reliable.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
My job is to provide medical treatment of the mentally ill. A misconception is that we just medicate difficult people without a second thought. The truth is that the only time someone can really force you to take medication is if there is a court order.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
I am the single mother of 2 girls. I am currently stranded in New York due to a divorce. I was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and am a typical southern belle. I am adopted as well. I have survived cervical and ovarian cancer, and lived a healthy happy life beyond what my doctor expected in 2003. Because I am grateful for my recovery, I have promised to give back. I went to nursing school, and while I was in school I fell off a ladder herniating my back in 9 places and dislocated my jaw. I still managed to pass school with a 3.90 GPA even with my mouth wired shut part of the time. I am considered totally disabled because of this accident, but I continue to work. I love being a nurse. My back limits me sometimes, but I love the difference I make each day. I am now on the edge of bankruptcy and may lose my home because my children’s father quit paying his child support and because of my injuries, I can’t physically withstand the demands of working full-time and I have no health coverage because I make 15.00 a month too much to qualify for government help. But I am happy: I am alive, I have 2 beautiful girl,s and everyday I may fall behind but I make a difference, I am a friend, nurse , mother, human.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I am a Caucasion female. I was once told I was too pretty to be a public health nurse, and that made me feel demeaned. I speak minimal Spanish.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
I need to take on more responsibility and finish getting my RN certification. I am so broke now with 2 kids in college, that some months it is heat or eat. However, I love my work and I intend to go to school again when I can afford to do it and eat.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
This job moves my heart. I am accused of seeing the world through rose colored glasses, and wanting to save the world. I really feel like everyone deserves to have someone in their corner. Sometimes these people are so alone… I wish that all of these empty buildings the government has could be turned into acceptable housing for people who are struggling. There are too many homeless and hungry people out there, many of which are mentally ill. I want to take Kings Park (an old sanitarium) and turn it into housing and farms so that people who need a place to live can work there and have a place to stay. Let the people in need re-build it. Teach them pride… make homes for people.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I had such great nurses during my illness and injury that I decided to fulfill my high school dream and go to nursing school. If I could do something differently, I would have completed my RN right away. I need to have it so I can support my self alone.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I am trying to find work now that does not involve lifting and there is a larger variety of positions that are less physically demanding for RN’s.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
Be a good person.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I was giving an injection to a homeless man in a public bathroom. I made a sterile field and just as I injected him in the buttock, the door flew open and the POLICE told me to put my hands in the air. I was reported as a prostitute by the owners. There I was on one knee, needle in his buttock, pants at ankles, it was hysterical! Thank God I was wearing my badge. I am now known as Nurse Snowflake in a certain area of town.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
My patients need me. Sometimes it is just offering a listening ear, or a roll and hot cup of coffee, dinner from the church, or a blanket – These people need me and others from my office . My office was named the best in its category recently. I am proud to work and be a part of a team of people that consistently helps people learn to help themselves.

In an emergency I was able to help out with child birth, that was a very proud moment as well.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
I work in non-profit. Sometimes I get frustrated about the budget not providing housing or food or a clean bed for someone who is alone with no family and is mentally ill, and possibly physically ill too. society forgets people I cannot. My heart breaks a little every day, and then, WOW sometimes we achieve success. The patient stayed sober, they took their meds or a bath all without encouragement, they got a job or their GED. I sometimes want to quit when the paperwork creates a roadblock that prevents people from getting the help they need.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
I have a high-stress job. I come home and cry weekly especially now that the kids have both left for college. I cry for the good and the bad. My daughter is studying social work and psychology and my younger one studies art. We spend a lot of time talking about their new lives at school and their ideas and dreams, and laughing and crying and planning to save the world together. Now that I am on my own, I read and listen to music on the computer… it helps me escape and clears my mind and sometimes that is when I come up with new ideas to help at work.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
I make $24,500 as an LPN working part time. I am going to most likely have to file for bankruptcy because my ex-husband is not paying court ordered child support, and I am not able to work full time, but I don’t qualify for state aid due to my spinal injury and a wrist injury. I do well as a part time nurse but it is not enough to eat and pay bills, plus there is no health insurance available that I qualify for.

I am still not giving up…. I believe I will find a way to save my house and my pride. I am a great compassionate nurse with a big heart, so I will find a way or another part-time job.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I took a four day vacation this year, and I took my birthday off. I would love to take a week vacation and see something wonderful like Paris or Pompei or India.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You must have a HS diploma or GED to be a psychiatric nurse, plus an RN degree, LPN or LVN.

It is a tough field, and some people can’t handle it emotionally. It is a true calling with tons of patience required.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Nursing is a calling… do Labor and delivery and watch life being made, or do geriatric medicine and make friends with the elderly, asthey have so much to teach, and so much to say.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to be able to have finished my RN and be well onto my NP. I hope to found a project re-purposing the old Kings Park property into housing, and make enough money that I can catch up with my mortgage, bills, and have enough left over to eat and have health insurance. Maybe get married and have a couple of new adopted or foster kids. With God’s blessing, I would like to be somewhere near both of my girls.

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  • The story warms my heart! I myself grew up in one parent house as my mom divorced when I was a kid. I can’t really relate to the first person but I experienced it as a second perspective because of my mother. My mother is a hard-working woman that does relate to this story… I always been grateful of her and want to pay her back for giving me the best life that she could afford. Because of her, I am currently entering my life in College as a Health Science major, and she is the main source of my inspiration for my goals. She encourages me to be a better person on a daily basis, which maintains me focused on my goals of being an ER Doctor. Also thanks to my mom, I have found my pact as she assisted me to shadow and volunteer in our town hospital (Cox Hospital), this opened my eyes to the future career that I desire. I hope that I can pay her back one day.

  • This really touched my heart but it also proves that the faith that I have in God will always allow lead me to success. This kind of reminds me of the time I worked for Victoria Secret and that job but me through a lot in such a short a mount of time and I don’t regret it because being a plus size woman in a store meant for skinny/petite women can be a struggle.

    Many other plus sized women would enter our store and I could sense and feel their insecurities as they ran through the racks trying to find underwear or a shirt that would fit them. The job consist of a lot of standing and lifting and ever since I started I have been having very bad back and hip pains. But I endured that pain to see a smile on a beautiful women’s face.

  • I am currently a Medical Assistant at NYU. I have been pursuing a career in Nursing for some time now. I am currently in the BSN program at Long Island University. Working fulltime, being a single mother of 2, as well as dealing with mental health issues make finishing school quite trying. Do you have any advise on how to stay on track? I feel as if a lot of obstacles continue to interrupt my academic career.

  • I also feel that I tend to view the world through rosy-colored glasses. I often wish I could save every individual who is suffering from mental illness, so I understand where she is coming from in her drive to help as many people as she can.

    I aspire to be as passionate about my career as she is. I truly want to make a difference in society, and change people’s view of mental illness. It is not some scary monster we need to hide from; rather, we must confront it and learn to help ourselves and each other in battling it.

  • This story is truly inspiring. I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but I also knew that being a doctor I would not be able to connect with my patients how I would like. That is what made me decide to be a nurse. I just finished my first year of nursing school. And just like her, I want to be able to go to school for my NP as well as have a family.

  • This is a truly touching story. One that shows strength and perseverance. Although my story and testimony don’t mirror this one as many others don’t I’m sure as well, this does not take away from any others struggles whether big or small. Each person has a story and it serves the opportunity to grow in wisdom and strength, to be a conqueror. This has inspired me to continue on and strive towards my goal in obtaining a career of helping others.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story! It is people like you who make the world a better place every day. I have three kids and am going to start medical school this fall. I know the process is going to be difficult but that the ability to make a difference in people’s lives once I am done will be completely worth it. Your story inspires me and when I get to some hard times I will remember how you persevered through difficult times to make a difference for others. Thank you!

  • You are absolutely phenomenal! Like the saying goes, the flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest & most beautiful of all. I hope that you come back & read these comments to lift your mood & see how inspirational you are! I also hope you have reached your goals by now, the shelter idea is wonderful.

    I know what it’s like to feel like your life is run by financial problems, I come from a single parent household, where my dad hasn’t been in the picture for 13 years. Your strength & resilience reminds me of my own mom. From a daughter’s point of view I can tell you how grateful & proud I am as a daughter for all the stress, work, & hardships you’ve had to endure to get your girls to college.

    It Is refreshing to learn about the struggles of a professional, a lot of times it’s important to know that everyone struggles. It keeps us humble & human. I am motivated by your story & your drive, my dream is also to help the less privileged through Doctors without Borders. Thank you for all the positive energy you are putting out into the world, we appreciate your work & your effort!

  • When I was in high school, I found out I had the hairline fractures on my L3 and L5 and it made standing for long periods of time painful and nearly impossible. However, I worked through it and it helped me find where I wanted to go in life. I wanted to help those who could not help themselves. This story reminds me so much of my mom and I because she was a single mom and she struggles a lot with me being in college and sometimes having a hard time making ends meet.

    Much like the story, I also want to work in psych, hopefully pediatrics, and I want to have my RN as well as my NP later in life. This woman also seems to have an urge to travel and I tell people everyday a place I want to travel when I graduate.

    The drive she has for herself and being a good mom is powerful and gave me the exact drive I needed to finish out my school year successfully. I hope that one day I can account to at least half of her passion and love for her job.

  • As a pre-nursing student in college attending my freshman year, I admire how hard you worked through the trials to become an outstanding nurse. You survived many tragic events but still maintained an excellent GPA and finished your goal of becoming a nurse to give back. I, as well, have fought through hardships to further my education and ultimately become a nurse.
    When I attended my first semester of college last year, the transition was difficult, Thousands of new faces on top of hundreds of different buildings meant that I was officially in college. As my semester went on, I will never forget the day of October 20, 2017. After my math midterm that I aced, I received a phone call from a random number. The voice was my best friend’s mom but she was calling from a different phone. As I listened to her wail and cry, I understood one sentence she said. “Adrian had been shot…Walmart…and its bad!” said Tina. Everything else became a blur and I thought my hearing gave out because I could not hear anything else after that. My mind wondered to the darkest and most painful thoughts I could bear. As I made my way to the hospital, I was able to peacefully say goodbye as he slowly went off to a better place.
    Now, this tragic event was a defining moment in why I chose to be a nurse. In the story above, you said that you “had such great nurses during [your] illness and injury” which is why you chose to follow your dream and become a nurse. This is exactly what happened and why I chose to be a nurse. I arrived at the hospital, the nurses were loving and caring. Their supportive words mended his family and friend’s hurting hearts, mine included. However, this one specific nurse would constantly check on Adrian making sure he was comfortable even when he was unconscious. She came in with a smile and brought hope to us. In comparison to you, my illness would be the effects that Adrian’s death brought upon me and the nurses that overwhelmed the room with encouraging words motivated me to become a nurse.