Guest: Tessa Moriarty
Tags: Story competition winner, Nurses
SoundCloud: Episode 22: Caring, a mutual and collective experience of Nurses by Tessa Moriarty
Tessa Moriarty is a credentialed Mental Health Nurse Consultant with over 30 years experience across public, private and primary health care, mental health and drug and alcohol settings. She has worked in a variety of senior leadership and executive roles and is an experienced group facilitator, clinical supervisor and psychotherapist. Much of Tessa’s work in recent years has focused on supporting those working in clinical settings – providing individual and group clinical supervision and reflective practice. She also works as a mental health nurse consultant for Primary Health Networks and always tries to bring a humanistic approach to the clinical governance and service review projects she undertakes.
Tessa writes professionally as part of the roles and consultancy work that she does. More recently, she has turned to more creative writing and calls herself a lived experience writer. She believes in the healing capacity of writing for both those who write and read the written word.
Mark Aitken: Welcome to the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast, your health matters. I’m Mark Aitken, your podcast host. I’m the Stakeholder Engagement Manager with Nurse & Midwife Support, and I’m a registered nurse. Nurse & Midwife Support is the national support service for nurses, midwives and students. The service is anonymous, confidential and free. You can call us anytime you need support: 1800 667 877. Or contact us via the website: nmsupport.org.au.
Today we’re celebrating the winner of the Nurse & Midwife Support Story Competition to celebrate the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. The winner of the Story Competition for the Best Story Written and Submitted by a Nurse is Tessa Moriarty. Congratulations and welcome Tessa!
Tessa Moriarty: Thank you Mark, good morning to you.
MA: Great to have you here today to share your story. At the end of the podcast, we’ll reflect on what motivated you to write this story and what influenced you in relation to the writing of it. But, some background about our winner Tessa Moriarty, who is a credentialed mental health nurse consultant. Tessa has over 30 years’ experience across public, private and primary health care, mental health and drug and alcohol settings. Tessa has worked in a variety of senior leadership and executive roles and is an experienced group facilitator, clinical supervisor and psychotherapist. Much of Tessa’s work in recent years has focused on supporting those working in clinical settings, providing individual and group clinical supervision and reflective practice. Tessa also works as a mental health nurse consultant for primary health networks and always strives to bring a humanistic approach to the clinical governance and service review projects she undertakes. Tessa writes professionally, as a part of the roles and consultancy work that she does. More recently, Tessa has turned to more creative writing and calls herself a “lived experience writer.” Tessa believes in the healing capacity of writing, for both those who write and read the written word.
Well that’s a lovely and extensive bio Tessa, you’ve had a long and interesting career. We’re going to hear a bit about that career in the wonderful story that Tessa wrote and won this competition. The title of Tessa’s story is, Caring: A Mutual and Collective Experience of Nurses. Tessa is going to share her story with us now, thanks very much Tessa.
TM: Thank you.
I sit at my computer. With some hesitation, I begin, trying not to hold my breath and all the while typing as fast as my fingers will carry the excitement and tension I start to feel in this moment. I stop, to steady myself. Behind the document on which I type on my screen is the website for the Nurse & Midwife Support Service. Having viewed the site earlier in the evening, and now just finishing reading a beautiful piece called Field Notes on Death. I hover, on the verge of disquieting emotion and at the edge of something unknowing. Yet strangely familiar, I take a deep breath, trust myself and keep typing.
Then through the tears that suddenly begin to fall, I realise that I feel like I’ve come to a place of belonging. A place of welcome. In the words I read of another nurse’s story, and in the one I’m about to tell, there is a recognisable uncertainty alongside the desire to find knowing.
The yearning to tell my story has always been inside me, like others who have come to nursing in similar ways. As children, death, an integral and familiar part of life. Of how we were brought up, what we grew up in and the ways in which we were challenged and taught to live. Through my culture, as a child growing up Maori in New Zealand with our traditions around dying and death, I learned early the importance of process and the art of caring. Add to that, a catholic religion and being born into a family of nurses, I was destined for the career I have had and still having. Still loving.
My childhood and my life in New Zealand, however, is a long way from me now. 40 years into this country, children, marriages, a grandchild and a stellar nursing career has taken me far from the place where I was born. From the place where I first learned to care. But my roots, the cultural rituals and my family background have carried me through time, my life and my career. As these words flow from my heart, my head and somewhere in between out onto this page, I write with relief and joy in the possibility that there is somewhere to share my story. Somewhere that a lived experience as a mental health nurse may be valued and find its way to the eyes, minds and maybe even the hearts of other nurses like me.
Like any group of professionals, there is a bond between those of the same discipline. Sometimes it matters not that we may specialise in different areas of that discipline, because there is a common ground. A connection, a link that brings us together. It’s part of the thing and the motivation that brought us to nursing in the first place. For me, and for many of the nurses that I’ve worked with, it’s the satisfaction that comes from caring for others. It’s the sharing and the journey of those who come, or who are brought to us (albeit, sometimes against their will) for help. It’s about working with families and communities in the struggle to manage so much with so little. It’s also in holding and managing the strain and the fatigue of a long shift, a long week, a long year, a pandemic. It’s about the burden and the disappointment that caring sometimes brings. It’s also the failures to care, in the right way, with the right resources at the right time. Sometimes, it’s less about what we do and more about what we don’t do. Always, there must be learning. Both from what we do well and from the times we fail. These are the challenges and the joys of nursing. This is what we share as nurses, our bond, our connections. No matter where we specialise.
This year that we’ve all come through, not just a state of emergency, a national crisis and an international pandemic, has been testimony to the work and the spirit of so many human beings that this is also the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Where not just our communities, but our world, has needed us. We’ve stood up, stepped forward and got on with the job of what we do best: caring for others. In February of this year, just before our first Victorian lockdown, I stood in front of a room full of lung cancer nurses at the convention centre in Melbourne. For a moment, I thought I was in the wrong place. I had been invited by the conference organiser to talk about the importance of debriefing and clinical supervision in nursing. Having spent much of my time as a nurse debriefing, supervising, mentoring others. I love any opportunity to talk about these practices. They give us time to reflect on what we do, to heal and recover from the trauma and the negative impacts our work and the context in which it occurs sometimes brings. But, back to the convention centre. As a way of managing my anxiety in that moment, I took a deep breath. Understandably, I was a little nervous at the prospect of having nothing in common with this amazing group of specialist nurses. However, casting my eyes around the room and seeing the faces of those looking intently at me, I saw something familiar. I took another breath, looked at my audience once more and then I knew. What I was looking at, looking into, where the faces of compassion. I was looking into the face of nursing. It didn’t matter that our careers had taken us on different paths, we had something in common and I had just connected with it. A mutual and collective experience of caring.
In my last few years of senior mental health nursing roles, I had a favoured way of introducing myself whenever speaking to new colleagues, graduates, students or professionals at forums or conferences. I started with an introduction that came from my heart by saying, “I’m a mental health nurse. I’ve been a mental health nurse all of my life. The older I get, the more I love who I am as a professional. The more I love being a mental health nurse.” Truth is, I love what mental health nursing has allowed me to do. What it has enabled me to learn, and the ways in which I have been constantly challenged to grow. With the passing of time and the richness of many different experiences I’ve been privileged to be a part of. I now arrive at a place, this place, and inside this story where I am truly proud of the work I have done. Be it with the consumers I’ve had the opportunities to care for and learn from. Or the professionals and others, with whom I’ve worked and supported. Or the organisations and teams that I’ve been a part of, or lead. These people and this nursing work has given me so much more than a fortnightly wage, a roof over my head and the life that I’ve been so fortunate to have.
But, this story doesn’t just belong to me. It belongs to the people with mental illness that I’ve been privileged to work with. The people who have taught me what I could not learn from a text book or at university. It belongs to those who have challenged how I’ve cared for them, the many who have stretched my understanding of what recovery means from their perspective. Not mine. Those who have made me think about how dehumanising and objectifying nursing language can be. Those who inspired me to stop the cruel talk that happened in the nurses’ station in the handover room. Those who made me see them, and who they were, beyond their illness. People first, with lives not unlike mine, and so much more than a diagnosis.
These are the people who are a part of my story, and I’m grateful to have been a small part of theirs. I also take my hat off to the consumer consultants and advocates I have worked with who have pushed me, and my colleagues, to take up what we need to learn from them. Those who have helped me understand what Valerie Billingham meant in 1998 when she said, “Nothing about me, without me.” Not just in our models of care, but also in how we plan, design, implement and evaluate our mental health systems, programs and services. To the people who have taught me that we need to listen to, value, learn from and use the wisdom of those with lived experience.
My story, also, includes the colleagues. So many of the nurses with whom I’ve worked. Wise nurse educators I had in the 70’s, who I modeled much of my early nursing behaviour on. What they taught me, and the passion for what they believed lives on in my nursing bones. From Carl Rogers to Hildegard Peplau, I learned empathic understanding, unconditional positive regard and the dimensions of person centred care. I’ve come through hospital-based training, much like the lived experience form of nursing education. Making my way, eventually, to postgraduate studies at RMIT. I spent several years at the creative edge of community based mental health at the time of de-institutionalisation, working in Maori disciplinary teams, I learned the value of disciplinary difference and the need for shared understanding, language and goals.
I tried in several forms of psychotherapy, finally settling with the humanistic, phenomenological, relational and dialogical tenants of Gestalt Therapy. I ran my own counselling practice and endured the necessary pain and growth of many years in psychotherapy. My career has taken me across the scope of primary, private and tertiary mental health sector services and settings. I’ve worked in clinical, education and nursing leadership and management roles. I’ve learned from some of the best, not always those in charge of in patient units or teams, departments or government services. But the everyday mental health nurses working in emergency departments, high dependency units, crisis assessment and mobile support teams. Community residential services, continuing care teams, drug and alcohol programs, disability services and those working with people who are homeless. The ones who I’ve worked with, who take their time to sit and talk with a consumer who is troubled or agitated. Overreaching for a PRN. The ones who ask a consumer how they are feeling, as they seek to understand over assuming that they already know. The nurses who still come up hurting when a patient they nursed and cared about and for dies. It’s the ones who step back and take a breath to steady themselves and consider the context before responding to a patient who yells.
Yes, it’s these nurses who are a part of my story. These nurses who have taught me, the teacher, so much. Nowadays, I’m no longer a clinician at the front line of care. Working in hospitals, clinics, home visiting or trying to engage with those who sleep rough. I am, as a colleague recently described me to another, the clinicians’ clinician. The nurse supporting nurses. I learned, long ago, the need for and healing power of reflective practice. I’ve had the same clinical supervisor myself, for 25 years. And yes, she is a mental health nurse who has guided, mentored, taught, supported and challenged me along the path of my career.
So now, like my clinical supervisor, this is where much (but not all) of my care as a nurse is now. Caring for the carers. Providing safe spaces in which to talk, debrief, reflect on and unravel the in’s and outs of the job. Giving nurses support, helping them understand more of who they are and who they want to be. Guiding them to manage their loads while maintaining self-care. Stretching them to learn from their consumers and colleagues to improve what they do. Ultimately, for those in their care, but also for themselves. In the twilight of my nursing career, this is one way I give back to the profession that has given so much to me.
In closing the story, I finish with a deep and heartfelt honouring of farewell and thanks to the hundreds of nurses worldwide who in their efforts to treat those who caught coronavirus, got it themselves and died. All in the line of duty, doing what we all do and love. Caring for others.
MA: Thank you very much Tessa, for sharing your wonderful, honest, insightful, respectful and heartfelt story. What resonated for me particularly, Tessa, was your pride in and gratitude for our wonderful profession of nursing. Have you got any other reflections on your story? Having read it now, on this podcast, that you’d like to share with our audience?
TM: Certainly Mark. Thank you so much for the opportunity to both write my story and now read it. I feel incredibly blessed and humbled to be doing both this and to have been a nurse. I’m still a nurse, but to have been a nurse, because I’ve been a nurse as well. Nursing is such a privileged profession, as I’ve said throughout my story. We care for people who are at their most vulnerable. I think it’s both critical that we reflect on what we do, but know that there’s also so much to learn from and share in what we do. That human experience of nursing, human and professional experience. It’s been a wonderful experience to write and now read it. As I said, I’m both grateful, humbled and (in some ways) it’s also been healing for me to have written it.
MA: Were those the things that motivated you to write and share your story, as you entered this competition?
TM: I think so. I do love talking and writing about nursing, because it’s what I’ve done all of my life. I think nursing stories are worth sharing, I think so many nurses have so many wonderful stories to share. That’s what has been so motivating and that’s why I wrote it, because it is worth sharing. I think these stories are worth sharing.
MA: I completely agree, I’d like to thank all of the nurses and midwives who have shared their stories as a part of the nurse and midwife story competition. Celebrating the wonderful stories of nurses and midwives in this year of the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. Unfortunately, we could only have two winners, one nurse story and one midwife story. We’d like to acknowledge all of the entries and the wonderful stories. What we plan to do in 2021 is share some of the stories that were submitted and were excellent and well received, but, obviously, we could only have one winner. Congratulations once again to you, Tessa. Do you have any final reflections or words of wisdom that you’d like to share with our listeners? Prior to us coming to the end of this podcast?
TM: I’m not sure, other than to say nursing is such a varied and worthwhile profession. There’s been no greater thing in my life other than to have been and still be a nurse. Love it for what it is and what it can give you.
MA: That very much comes through in your story Tessa, so thank you very much. What I really also connected with was nurses supporting nurses, that’s been an integral and important part of your career and what you continue to do: support other nurses. Doing what we all do and love caring for others, that obviously includes caring for ourselves and caring for each other which are really important messages that Nurse & Midwife Support like to reinforce. Thanks for sharing those sentiments Tessa, very much appreciated. If any nurse, midwife or student is listening to this podcast and needs support, Nurse & Midwife Support are available 24/7 at 1800 667 877. Please call us or contact us for any issue you need support for. If you’re thinking about writing your story, or indeed, writing a reflection on being a nurse or a nursing experience or midwifery experience, please contact me I’d love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tessa, thanks again for your wonderful story. Congratulations on winning the competition and we know that we’ll be hearing from you again. Thanks a lot.
TM: Thank you very much Mark.
MA: Take care everyone, we’ll speak to you next time. look after yourselves, and each other. Your health matters.