Kathy Donaldson, MSN, APN, C, WHNP-BC, RNC-OB, CPLC, C-EFM
This year, I will celebrate 35 years as a nurse. Currently, I am an APN practicing full time in inpatient obstetrics. In addition, I share leadership of a perinatal bereavement/palliative care program and provide grief support. I am an overachiever and experienced educator and speaker. I have been fortunate to receive many awards for my clinical practice (including the 2018 Alumni Award for Clinical Excellence from an Ivy League University).
I kept a secret from almost all of my colleagues until last December.
Since experiencing multiple traumas at age 11, I have suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and binge eating disorder...all forms of mental illness. I disclosed my truth to everyone I work closely with just prior to beginning residential (a.k.a. inpatient) treatment for my eating disorder. I was broken and on a mission of healing. I planned to concoct a story regarding my leave of absence. My decision to be transparent was inspired by an email from my state nurses association about nurses and mental illness. The messages that I came away were that nurses are people too. We struggle too. It’s okay. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. It does not mean that we can’t be “good” nurses. Reading the message motivated me to start my own personal mission to erase the stigma of mental illness by "coming clean" about my own issues.
I met with several dozen of my closest colleagues and told them the truth about my upcoming treatment and my almost lifelong battles. I sent an email with the subject “Delicate Information” to approximately 150 colleagues including nurses, providers, and ancillary team members one day prior to my last day at work. The response was something I hadn't expected. Within 24 hours, I received more than 50 supportive emails and phone calls. I printed all of the emails and brought them to treatment, as I knew the days would be long and hard and I would need encouragement to continue.
After four weeks of residential and four weeks of day treatment, I returned to work, fearful of how I would be received. There were many hugs. Many nurses and providers thanked me and told me I was brave. Many of them also shared their secret struggles of mental illness with me. I expected judgment and scorn, but instead I felt loved.
I am in the honeymoon phase of my recovery from my eating disorder. Every day is a challenge, but I am doing well. I am happy and proud to know that my transparency helped others. I have achieved much in spite of my diagnoses and know that others will as well. We can all rise above the stigma!
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