My Life Experience: “Surviving Nursing School”

I felt my first experience with academic defeat when I didn’t get into my first-choice nursing program right out of high school in 2015. I got accepted into programs outside of my home town, but that wasn’t a feasible option for me. After finding this out, the following months were painful for me. Feeling isolated by my peers when the biggest topic of interest was what everyone had planned for after high school. I felt like I couldn’t contribute to the conversation because I didn’t want to admit I didn’t get into where I wanted. As a result, I decided to take a one-year college program to increase my grades. While I was upset that this was my path, once my program started, I thrived. I had a perfect grade point average because I put everything into my school work. I didn’t have a backup plan if I didn’t get into nursing from this. Even though I had done everything I could to get the best grades, I still feared I wouldn’t get into nursing. I feared that there were more people better than me. However, all my hard work paid off and I got into my first-choice nursing program.

So, I started nursing in the fall of 2016. It started good, but ended with me failing my very first class in my educational career. This course was unlike anything I had ever taken before, it was an online science course. I used to like science, I wasn’t great but I was good, so I definitely didn’t think I was going to fail. I had to repeat the course in the summer of 2017. While repeating this course, I also took another online science course that was a part of the curriculum for the next year in hopes of getting ahead. My thinking was that it would be better taking these 2 online courses at the same time, rather than taking an online course during the term with a full course load. Well, that backfired big time and led me to fail another course. I passed the course I repeated, but failed the course I was taking for the first time. Now I was left with 2-course failures, 1 year into the nursing program. 

Fall of 2017 I started second year with the fear that I had failed out of the program because of this. I thought I did not meet the program requirements and that I was going to be kicked out after all my hard work. I wasn’t completely out of the dark. I still had more online science courses to complete in the program, and that seemed to be the source of my struggles. Second-year I failed an online science course first and the second semester, tallying my total course failures to 4. At this point, I’m sure you are thinking that I should have just taken the hint and reevaluated my career choice. A lot of people thought that and were very vocal about that. I was told by my academic counselor that I “suck at science”, and I was questioned by my family doctor on many occasions if I could do it. I even started to believe all the negative things people would say. While it was difficult, I kept fighting. I knew this was what I wanted to do and I felt I was capable of doing it. I felt like I would have needed to reevaluated if I was failing practical exams, and struggled with nursing courses, but I was struggling with a specific type of course; I was only struggling with online science courses while succeeding in all my other classes. Trying to help myself and look for answers, I met with a counselor at school. They referred me to a psychologist to have a psychoeducational assessment completed to see if it was a learning disability. In January 2018 when I completed the assessment, it came back inconclusive in that it was nothing to do with my learning abilities. This was disappointing to say the least because I wanted a concrete explanation as to why I was struggling all of a sudden. 

In February of 2018 I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I started taking medication on a regular basis for my depression, and had medication on hand to manage any attacks of anxiety. At the same time, I started going to regular therapy sessions. Today, I am still taking medication but trying to wean off since I feel that I am at a point of managing on my own with the skills I have learned in therapy. I still attend therapy sessions to continuously add to my coping abilities. Having this diagnosis did not bring the same relief that I thought I would have received from a diagnosis. The reason is that while we try as a society to say we accept mental health, there are still major deficits in understanding. From my experience, people are hesitant in believing it, and struggle to understand its impacts. Even myself, I ignored signs and my feelings because I thought I just needed to “get over it”. I lost joy in things I loved, I distanced myself from people resulting in a loss of a lot of relationships, and I slept more hours than I was awake. I constantly felt like I was drowning and struggled just to get my head above water. As a result of the stigma I felt existed, I didn’t open up to anyone about my struggles. I would lie or distance myself from people as a way of feeling that I didn’t have to open up to people about my struggles. 

I felt that my academic struggles really exacerbated my mental health struggles. In the summer of 2018, I had to fight to keep myself in the nursing program. I tried explaining that I had been struggling with mental health issues, and had taken a long time to accept the help I needed. I was told by people, well-educated people high up at the university, that my mental health was “not severe enough to have an impact”. How is someone else able to quantify my mental health issues, and quantify how it impairs me? This just contributed to why I never felt comfortable opening up to people about my struggles. I didn’t expect anyone to understand especially when educated professionals would dismiss my struggles. 

I was given conditions to stay in the nursing program. These conditions included not being able to take nursing courses for a year and only allowed to repeat the required science courses and take electives. I ended up passing all my courses and now I am back on track in 3rd year of nursing. The thing is, last year, whenever I would experience success, it felt tainted by my failure. The idea that I succeeded but could not do it the first time I tried was something I struggled to deal with. I almost said “struggled to get over” but that is not the case. It is not about getting over it, it’s about getting through it. It is a process to reframe and it doesn’t happen overnight. I still struggle with it today but I am learning. The most important thing I feel I have learned is a balance. It is OK to experience lows as long as you let yourself experience the highs too. The biggest thing I struggled with was guilt. I constantly felt guilty for not feeling happy. I thought “I have nothing to be sad about” and, “other people have it worse”. But, over time I have started to be easier on myself and realize that I am allowed to experience my emotions for what they are and not always need a reason for them. 

This is my first time sharing my story in full. It feels good to write everything out and be honest for once. What I want the take away from this to be is to keep trying. If you want something bad enough, don’t let anything stop you from getting it done. No matter what highs and lows you face, know that it is a journey and it will be worth it once you reach your destination.

Laura, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Student in Ontario

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