When I began my nursing career in 1972, these ‘M’ words were never mentioned. They were ancient practices from a foreign land that had no relevance in our modern western world.
Stress was experienced daily (and nightly) but rarely spoken about – like a dark secret or something that only happened to weak people. Real nurses would never succumb to human distress. That role was assigned to patients and their worried relatives.
I lived in the nurses’ home with young females from across metropolitan Melbourne and rural Victoria. We were a diverse group with a range of strategies for coping (or not) with the endless demands of our role as frontline nurses. Fresh from school, we were caring for sick and dying children. We weren’t supernumerary students; we filled the rosters.
In second year many of us moved to share houses around the inner city. I lived with five other nurses in a house on Flemington Road, Parkville – the same street as the Royal Children’s Hospital. Our home was filled with music and laughter. We socialised endlessly and held parties regularly. Home and friendship became the glue that kept us going during the tough times.
In 1975, I moved to St Vincent’s Hospital in Fitzroy for my graduate nurse year. I chose the psychiatric unit as I’d always been interested in the mind and behaviour. It was exciting to work with psychiatrists who used experimental therapies to tap into the workings of the human psyche. Insanity was weirdly appealing to me.