Mental Health Awareness Week: Nick's Story
Nick Judge, a mental health nurse of 25 years, almost took his own life after a breakdown in Birch House 2018. Nick has bravely decided to share his own story in the hope that it can inspire just one single person to reach out and get help.
***Trigger warning*** contains suicidal references.
In my lowest moment I sat in the car park of Birch House, tears streaming down my face, ready to go to the nearby woods to take my own life.
As a mental health nurse of 25 years, I have sadly seen the devastation that suicide causes to families far too many times.
My own family – my wonderful wife Lucy and our two adorable kids Harry and Alice – flashed into my mind. I realised it was finally time to get the help that I had been putting off for 20 years.
I called my GP. He saved my life. “Nick, you’ve got severe depression. Let’s get you some time off with some medication and counselling.”
It was the first time I’d received a formal diagnosis of a mental health condition. Over the years I had informally and incorrectly diagnosed myself with bi-polar and even schizophrenia.
I was always battling with this inner conflict that I was able to help my patients with their mental health conditions, but why couldn’t I sort my own out?
Looking back to my childhood, I developed a narrative that I was an ‘outsider’ from a very early age. A son of an academic and a social worker, we lived in Lincoln, Cambridge, Bristol, London and Canterbury all by the time I was 10 – a peripatetic lifestyle.
I felt like the outsider turning up at a brand new school each term. I desperately wished for my parents to have factory jobs. At the time, I didn’t realise what a huge impact this was having on my self-esteem.
My late teens and early twenties were tough. I struggled with the pressure of A Levels, was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and experimented with self-harm.
At 22 I quit my job as a chef in London and volunteered in a residential home in Lincolnshire for people with profound mental health problems. This lit a fire in me. I enrolled at the University of Nottingham on the mental health nursing degree.
I was one of only four males on the course surrounded by 120 females. I kept myself busy. I loved playing football and was pretty good at it (if I do say so myself). I earned the nickname of ‘Handbag’ on the pitch. Male nursing and football didn’t really mix in the 90’s!
But in all seriousness, I couldn’t get the outsider narrative out of my head.
By my early thirties I was a community mental health nurse at a trust. I loved helping patients and getting them on the road to recovery. Looking back, I was living with acute anxiety, low mood swings and persistent thoughts of suicide.
I bounced around a lot of jobs. I had a constant critical commentary in my head telling me I was a rubbish father, husband, clinician and so on. I felt like an imposter at work even though I knew my job inside out.
Everyone around me looked like they were coping and I kept coming back to my childhood feelings of not being good enough. My alcohol consumption went up immensely and I wasn't sleeping.
It all came to a head in 2018. I was working for the CCG and my performance was suffering. I was so anxious that I could barely compose an email without someone checking it and making a decision at work almost paralysed me.
CCG colleagues were supportive. But I wasn’t confident enough to tell them the truth that I wasn’t well psychologically. I thought I should be able to fix myself.
In the office at Birch House I became really insular and irritable with reasonable work requests. I had this kinetic restlessness which made me want to move about.
Some colleagues know the version of Nick which is the life and soul of the party. But my bombastic and gregarious ways back then were purely deflection.
Then one day, I couldn’t stop the tears coming out of my eyes whilst sitting at my desk. I went outside, called my mum and told her I was about to step off and didn’t know where the bottom was.
I sat in the car, started the engine and was about to drive to the woods to end my life. In that moment I thought of my beautiful family and asked myself – what’s the worst that could happen, Nick? I could lose my job and have to start over again, but my loved ones would rally around me.
I rang my GP who was beyond astonishing. I knew I had to admit to the world that I was seriously unwell. I needed to take that step. It was like different tree branches catching me all the way down with my GP, colleagues, friends and family.
I took some time out from work and had some really good therapy through IAPT, which accepts self-referrals. The main outcome was me accepting the diagnosis and owning it.
I’m pleased to say that my mental health hasn’t suffered during lockdown. If anything I feel blessed to have had this extra time with my family.
Nature continues to play a major part in my recovery. I enjoy cycling along the Nottingham canals with Lucy and have discovered the Japanese practice of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. There is something about the trees and the forest atmosphere which I can’t quite put into words.
I’m pleased that the CCG has prioritised our wellbeing and mental health during lockdown. I will be volunteering my time to become a mental health first aider within our organisation. In the meantime, if anyone wants to have a confidential chat over a coffee then please do get in touch.
And remember, there is always hope.
Designated Nurse Safeguarding Adults
Tagged as: Mental Health
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