The wounded healer interview series features people who’ve dealt with significant mental health challenges, and who also work in a helping role to support the mental health of others.
This interview is with Karoline of Not broken – My life with PTSD.
1) Tell us a bit about you, the helping field you’re in, and the mental health challenges you’ve faced.
My name is Karoline. I live and work in Norway, and I’m a nurse working on a physical rehabilitation ward. The patients I meet have been through different kinds of serious illness or injury, like an accident or a stroke, and to differing degrees needs help getting back to a quality of life.
In 2011, I was present and experienced an extremist right terrorist attack, and as a result I was diagnosed with PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD can be very different from person to person, and to me it’s manifested mostly as depression, chronic muscle pain, anxiety, hypervigilance and disordered sleep. Because of the PTSD, I can only work part time (50%).
2) What made you decide to go into your helping field? Did your mental health challenges play a role?
When the terrorist attack was over, the first responders who greeted me, made me feel safe in a very unsafe situation. They helped me understand that even though there were hard times ahead, the worst was over. When the shock of the whole thing died down a bit, after a few months, the memory of that feeling stayed with me, and I knew I wanted to be able to give that feeling to others.
3) How have your own mental health challenges influenced the helping work you do?
After nursing school, I started working, and I saw how little attention mental health was given in somatic hospital wards. I saw how many patients experienced anxiety and depression when illness and injury altered their way of life. My own experiences had opened my eyes to the importance of mental health, and I think it to some extent changed the way I work.
4) Do you think you’re a more effective helper because of your own mental health challenges? How so?
I believe my attention to mental health gives me a connection to my patients that is not always present with those who doesn’t have that same attention. I have been thanked by patients for seeing them, and not just the issues they are admitted for. Simple things like telling them it’s ok to be sad/scared/angry can make a big impact on patients experience of care. I work from my heart, and I believe my patients realise and appreciate that.
5) Have you chosen to share your own mental health challenges with any of your patients/clients? What influenced that choice?
I have mentioned that I have PTSD and/or depression a couple of times. Other times I have talked about working part time because of limitations. The decision to share these things with my patients is considered out of the situations, and only if I believe that the patient cold benefit from it. It is of course very important to also keep some boundaries, and not share details and make it a focus in the conversation, but rather use it as an anecdote to explain that I can recognise their experience.
6) Has your training or experience in your helping field changed how you approach your own illness or mental health challenges?
Working in health care and working with people always gives an opportunity to learn, both within the field, and about yourself. My job has taught me to be patient with myself on the darker days, but it has also given me tools on how to ease the stress and tension pains without using medication.
7) What advice would you give to someone who has faced mental illness or other mental health challenges and is thinking about entering your helping field?
It took me some time to learn this, especially since I have met my share of stigmatization because of my disorder, but I would say remember that you are not broken. Your illness can be your superpower. For a long time, I thought I was broken, but I learned that I can use what my experiences has taught me to connect on a deeper level with my patients. Hearing that it gets better from someone who has seen through hardships feels more credible than hearing it from someone who don’t actually know what rock bottom feels like.
You can visit Karoline on her blog Not broken – My life with PTSD.