Something that a lot of mental health nursing students still seem to do, which I and most of my peers also did 25 years ago, is freak out at some point because they’ve noticed things they have in common with patients.
Elements of this freak out might include speculating about whether they might also have the exact same condition as their patients, and worrying about what their fate might be if they have.
Some comfort is then usually found in learning more about things like diagnostic criteria and coping strategies, so that reassuring differences can be found.
I believe that one of the key things I did that led to me getting much better at what I do was that I let go of this way to find comfort and instead decided to accept that actually there is no difference at all between me and anyone I meet.
It’s simply the difference in the terrain we might pass through on our journey, the different choices we make about how to best negotiate that terrain, which we all do to the best of our ability, using whatever means we have at our disposal at the time, that leads to an encounter in which one of us finds ourselves in the position of being a patient and the other in the position of being a nurse at the point in time when our paths cross.
Human experience includes a vast spectrum of emotion, perception, interpretation and expression.
Our culture determines the conventional parameters within that spectrum, and anything communicated within those parameters is therefore common ground amongst people with similar cultural influences.
Less conventional communication of experience is therefore less familiar, perhaps harder to relate to, and this can lead to the discomfort of feeling a disconnect with another who seems to be different in an unfathomable way.
Naturally, because humans have evolved to generally seek connection with each other as a survival instinct (we’re essentially pack animals), this is often seen as a problem that needs to be fixed if possible, or mitigated if not, and ultimately in a medical/psychological paradigm, as a diagnosis or disorder.
Meanwhile, whilst we notice, categorise and attempt to resolve this deviation from the conventional, we all remain fundamentally human, so we seek to connect, we form hopes, we draw on our resources, we look for reassuring signs of progress and we continue on our journey.
We do indeed all have things in common with each other, and we do indeed all have the exact same condition.
It’s the human condition.
It’s being human that defines our journey, leads us into every encounter with every other human we meet, accounts for any position we find ourselves in, explains every conventional and unconventional experience we have, and equips us with everything we need to negotiate any terrain.
And I find that comforting.