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it’s not about the destination, its about the jouRNey

I don’t remember exactly when but I am thinking it was early in high school – Christine Thatch, an ICU RN/my best friend Lacey’s mom, said to me, “You should become a nurse.” I actually laughed, and replied, “oh no, I could never become a nurse,” partly because I am terrified of vomit (I hate it!) I had applied to IUP for PreMed and to my shock, I was accepted for fall 2004. I took the AP classes in high school, was inducted into the National Honor Society, graduated with honors – all while having a very non-typical home life. When I started my college classes, I did okay my first semester, I failed chemistry my second semester and had to retake it in summer school, my third semester I basically gave up (Organic Chemistry, Zoology and Calculus… it was too much) so I took failures and changed my major to Spanish (HAHAHAHAHA) for my fourth and final semester in which I also failed and had decided that college wasn’t for me. I was a smart person, just not smart enough. I really had no idea what to do with my life at that point so I spent the summer working as a cashier at a grocery store and lived in an apartment with some friends from college until August 2006, when I decided to move to Pittsburgh with someone who lived in the same dorm as me at IUP, Wallace Hall, my roommate for the next few years, Kim. I barely had anything. I did have some financial support from my Pap Pap, who helped me with my security deposit for the apartment. I had an interview at a restaurant as a waitress the day I moved and somehow got the job. I did not even have a bed, I slept on the floor with some blankets to lay on for a while, until I could buy one and find someone to bring it to my apartment. I did not have a license, so I was within walking distance of work and grocery stores. Lacey adamantly told me I had to promise her that I would go back to school, “when I am ready,” I would tell her. I thought that I might attempt to go to surgical tech school and work in the operating room, like Kim. I definitely had wished I would have taken a few years off of school instead of feeling pressured to go to college in the fall because everyone else was doing it and the guidance counselors definitely pushed for it, too. Especially when those loan repayment bills started coming in… reminding me of the debt I had to pay off with absolutely nothing to show for it.

my atrocious transcript from IUP

I’m not sure exactly when it came to my mind exactly, but I had a thought… I should become a nurse. Oh, if I would have just listened from the beginning, when Chris told me years before. I lived within walking distance of UPMC Shadyside School of Nursing as well as West Penn School of Nursing. I had written a letter to my Pap Pap in September 2007 telling him that I was going to start applying to nursing school in the spring. He was delighted (please see letters included below.) In November 2007, he was sent to UPMC Shadyside after suffering a heart attack that was fatal within 24 hours of him being treated in their CICU. I saw how those nurses treated him, they knew he was going to die but they did everything they could to keep him comfortable. I wrote about those nurses and the impact they had on me in my application to UPMC SSON in spring 2008. To my surprise, I was accepted and began the fall 2008 part time/evening/weekend program which would take me 4 years to complete. I very much believe in everything happens for a reason, sometimes we just don’t know the reasons until much later.

It was so scary starting nursing school and working part time, living on my own, not quite sure how I would do it all. My first few semesters were spent learning A&P, microbiology, ethics, etc. through Chatham. I couldn’t wait to start the nursing courses. I remember how amazed I was when I learned to take a blood pressure using a sphygmomanometer and a stethoscope. I remember how scared but excited I was the first time we got to go to the floors and take a patient assignment. In 2010, I became pregnant with Ava and finished out the semester then took a year off. Now, I had to learn to navigate motherhood while finishing up nursing school.

There are lots of memorable times in nursing school, too many to recall honestly. I remember when I was at Magee and I was helping a mom give birth to her baby boy and the next day, I was there to help a mother and father cope with their loss of their baby girl, Vivian. I remember going to the NICU and thinking it was what I would like to do and then a few months later going to the psychiatric floor and realizing that was where I was meant to help (you can read more about that here). I finally graduated in 2013, with honors – one of my greatest accomplishments – besides growing my two daughters/bringing them earthside. I took my NCLEX in September and passed on my first attempt. Whew, that was a relief! Then, it was on to finding my job, which took me nearly 9 months to secure. I have been employed at my position for 5 years this month.

 

I met many different people at UPMC SSON, teachers, students, other nurses, patients. All of them played a huge part in those two letters after my name… RN. To the people who wrote my letters of reference, Dan and Joshua, thank you for believing in me and taking that time to write the letters. To my classmates, Kim, Keriayn, Amanda, Tom and others who helped me get to class/clinicals, thank you for your help, it will always be appreciated. To my instructors, especially Marci and Debbie, thank you for teaching me and helping me understand my calling as a behavioral health nurse. To my preceptor, thank you for the many hours of assistance and reassurance. To the patients, thank you for letting me experience what it was like to be a nurse and help me learn. Jacklynn, you were a patient I could never forget, between us both being from Kittanning and the words you shared with me that sit in my heart always, “when my kids were little, those were the best days of my life.” To my family and friends who believed in me more than I believed in myself, I couldn’t have done it without your support and encouragement.

a letter written to me when I graduated high school, from Lacey 2004

 

Debbie and I in 2013 at the APNA Convention in San Antonio, TX where we presented our poster on peer pedagogy

To know that I started this journey 11 years ago and have been a nurse for nearly 6 years, I still can’t believe it sometimes. Nursing is everything and nothing like what I thought it would be at the same time. We go into nursing because we want to help others, I know that I did. Nursing is not for the faint of heart. There have been shifts that I felt defeated and like I should just quit, but my coworkers remind me that I am a good nurse to my patients. I have heard words come out of my patient’s mouth that made me want to cry, made me want to scream, made me want to forget I ever heard it, but I had to maintain my composure and set my feelings aside. There have been shifts that I felt like I was doing exactly what I was meant to be, that’s hard to explain. Things that someone said or did and I feel that I was the person that they were meant to interact with that day, if someone else was there, maybe their outcome would have been different.

 

Being in the front line, seeing and hearing your patients stories can be very difficult in many different ways. When you see a manic patient that can’t tell you what is happening for themselves because their thoughts are racing and they don’t make any sense, and their family has to involuntarily commit them for safety, remembering that a patient’s family needs care, too. When a depressed patient tells you the details of their failed or planned suicide attempt, and you get them in the shower to clean off the blood and glass from their body, and reassure them that their life is valuable. When a schizophrenic patient becomes violent after hearing a command from a voice in their head, and you have to not only keep yourself, your patient, your coworkers and your other patients safe, you call a code and do what you can while more people show up to help. When an addicted patient comes in and tells you the amount of substances they are using, and you know that if they don’t seek treatment their withdrawal could be fatal. All of these people’s lives are in your hands, because the information you obtain and share with the doctor is at times, life or death. It isn’t quite as easy to explain someone’s feelings and thoughts as it is to be able to see lab results and imaging that can pinpoint what the problem is exactly. With any patient, nurses need to treat them with compassion, but with patients dealing with mental health issues, it requires even more. I am lucky to work with my incredible coworkers – I have never been afraid to ask them for help, I have learned so much from them and I value them tremendously.

Yes, you may fail and feel defeated sometimes. Don’t stay down, take the time you need to get back up, dust yourself off and prove to yourself that you CAN do it. In the tune of LeeAnn Womack’s song, “I Hope You Dance,” that Lacey dedicated to me years ago, “when one door closes, I hope one more opens.” I went from college drop out to graduating with a diploma in nursing, I am thankful that UPMC SSON saw potential in me and for giving me a second chance.

My friend/mentee Ashley who is in nursing school now was working on an assignment recently and I gave her this advice: “Believe in yourself, there will be days you want to quit because it seems so hard, seems like its too much pressure, you feel like a failure… breathe, and remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. You can’t help everyone. You can only do what you can do. Just do your best.”

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ALL ABOUT SIMPLE SESSIONS

 

 

Simple sessions are a type of session that FWP offers in the months it is impossible to do a session outdoors – late fall/winter/early spring.

No, I do not have a “studio.” Partly because kids can become scared in a studio, with lots of expensive equipment they have to be careful around. Partly because a studio is an added cost that would require me to charge a fee for your session. The truth is, toddlers want to explore the world around them. If they want to walk around, that’s okay. Let them walk around the room, they will be more willing to give a good smile and laugh afterwards.

So what is the backdrop for FWP simple sessions? I have a wooden bench by Wooden Whale Workshop against a white wall in my dining room that gets beautiful light during late morning/early afternoon. I use a white reflector (a big white circle) to reflect some light back onto your child. No, it’s not fancy… it doesn’t need to be. I want to document your child as they are. Goofy and cute. Silly and sweet. Adorably them.

I do occasionally use a prop, but I want it to be meaningful. For example, around the holidays, I had a baby sized Christmas tree that I put on the bench with the child. For Valentine’s Day, mom covered baby in lipstick kisses. If your child has a binky, lovey or a blanket, bring it, I’d love to incorporate it into the session. I do have a wardrobe available that I have curated, just let me know what size you need and I will show you what I have, so you can save some money by borrowing an outfit for the session.

I do not charge a session fee for these sessions as they take about 5-10 minutes. Babies and toddlers can handle longer sessions, but it takes precise planning of nap time, when they ate last, etc. Typically, I find that they are able to do well during this time frame, even with time to explore their surroundings. I find that I am able to get at least 5 images, sometimes more depending on the child and if they are enjoying the session, as well as age (baby = unable to move so easier to contain).

Once your session is over, I edit the photos (within 48 hours) and post them to an online gallery where you can view and order prints/products. FWP offers a nice selection of print sizes, wall arts, and gifts, as well as a digital download option.

I post the dates and times that I am available for simple sessions in my group on Facebook weekly.

 

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WHAT MOTHERHOOD MEANS TO ME <3

it means that one day, i met someone and had no clue that years later, i couldn’t have become a mother without him

my hips (and feet) got wider and the stretch marks on my stomach got bigger and deeper

i gained two scars in the same exact spot and while my body changed, permanently

being pregnant will always be the most amazing thing it ever did

 

Photo by Lacey

 

it means that miracles occurred within me

and on two days, nine months later and approximately five years apart,

two baby girls were born – ava irene and allie vannah

and looking back now, it’s like they were always there

it means at times i have looked at my daughters and i have felt that i was looking at myself

and there have been moments where i saw a glimmer of the young ladies they will become

i get to witness beautiful relationships between sisters and dad/daughters ❤

it means long days and years that go by too fast

trying to remember how tiny they once were

and coming to terms with them getting bigger, smarter, prettier

it means pretending that there will never come a day that we won’t snuggle together

realizing one day, they are not going to need me as much as they do now

or, they will need me – just for different reasons

and that it is terrifying not quite knowing what the future holds for any of us

it means that i wouldn’t change anything

because i have been given love that is unconditional, overflowing and neverending ❤

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Photo by Jody
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THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH “BEING DIFFERENT”

Listen, this blog came to me as a thought late in the night, after working 12 hours and I had to write it as soon as it came to my head, because so many of the other great blog ideas I have had this year got put off never got written. I hope that in discussing this, it helps someone else who may struggle with “being different.”

I have compared myself to others.

I’m not as skinny, I didn’t have a perfect life. I’m not as good of a nurse. I’m not married. I didn’t have kids as young, or as close together. I didn’t drive until I was 25 years old. I didn’t buy a house until I was 28 years old. I’m not as good as that person OR they aren’t as good as me, I have also been on that side of the comparison.

HERE IS THE THING. Not one of us, not a S.I.N.G.L.E one of us, are the same.

SO WE SIMPLY MUST BREAK THE HABIT OF COMPARING OURSELVES TO ANYONE ELSE.

That is the catch of life, we are all different, unique individuals. Own your differences. That is what makes you, YOU. ♥

Instead of feeling upset about what you aren’t or how someone else appears, EMBRACE what you are.

I am overweight, but I have lost 10 lbs this year. My parents divorced when I was Allie’s age now, I survived through extremely difficult years watching someone I love battle addiction, I’m a nurse that does the best that she can, I get to experience true love, my children were born exactly when they were meant to in our lives and their age difference is perfect. I got around to where I needed to be thanks to friends and family, I had a wonderful experience living in the city in my early 20s. Yes, someone else could have had all of these things happen to them, but not EXACTLY as I did.

The reason why I am writing this on my photography blog is because I have compared myself to other photographers, SO. MANY. TIMES. Starting out back in 2011 even to RIGHT BEFORE I WROTE THIS POST. I do sometimes get down on myself as an artist, I go through periods of time where I don’t pick my camera up for weeks at a time, and boy are those times rough. I see photographers posting their perfect images thinking to myself, “your pictures don’t look like THAT!” I see posts after posts of sessions that photographers do and think to myself, “you don’t get that many sessions.”

No, I don’t get that many sessions, but I have loved getting to photograph more people this year. I have the ability to gift my clients sessions, prints, products, frames, etc. because I had the time to put forth an amazing effort to show them how much getting to photograph them meant to me (even if it makes me suck as a business owner. Bottom line, what bottom line?) No, my pictures don’t look like THAT! because that’s impossible. Even when shooting the same subject with another photographer, the final images will look different. We all have a different set of eyes, different equipment, different editing styles, etc.

Do I want to have a bajillion sessions? No, because that’s impossible and I would get burnt out. I have a family, friends, I am a part-time nurse and a business owner. Do I want to photograph posed, perfectly crisp, with tons of props? NO, because that is not the artist that I am, but I know artists who are and they are amazing at what they do, too. Every artist finds their niche. It just so happens that mine is lifestyle/documentary photography. When I think of these photographers, their niches are all different. You want lovely photos of your newborn all wrapped up and posed, check out Storytellers Photography. You want senior portraits in creative locations, check out Donna Weckerly Photography. You want gorgeous wedding photos, check out 84 Photography. You want stylized, fantasy style photos, check out Nikkala Anne Photography. Your friend wants to do your session for free because they are just starting, that’s okay, too! These are the photographers I thought of off the top of my head and isn’t even the tip of the iceberg in terms of photographers in our area – and no, there are not ever too many photographers. I haven’t done that math, but I don’t even think that if everyone in Armstrong County wanted photos done and all of us did 10 sessions a day, everyday, that we would be able to photograph everyone. None of us are the same, nor could we ever be. If you want to get photos done by me this week and photos by someone else next week, great 🙂 No one ever looked back in life and thought, “I am so mad I got too many pictures taken.”

So, here I am embracing me, Jesica, the owner/photographer of Forever Whimsy Photography. I have found in my nearly 7 years of experience that I love to shoot wide open with my coveted Sigma 24mm ART lens to get that beautiful blur all around. I rarely shoot above 2.8 – no joke. I want to get close up to show those intricate details, I notice the little things that make my subject who they are. I actually pay a lot of attention to the interactions of my subjects during the session. The way their hands wrap around their babies waist, and how small that baby is right now. The way their hair curls or the color of their eyes. The way brothers or sisters interact. The way two people in love look at each other. I want to photograph REAL LIFE because that is what makes me happy. I love bright and colorful images, but I also love black and white. I love the look of grain on a photo and intentionally edit my photos to appear as they would on film. If you enjoy my work, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

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DIY THRIFTED FRAMES

I shared a little bit about thrifting frames in a post about budgeting for family photos ❤

It’s no secret that I love thrifting! I frequently go to St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, HAVIN Second Chance Store (all located in Kittanning) and various Goodwills (Butler, Natrona Heights, Cheswick mostly). I also hit up yard/garage sales in the summer.

Frames are great to purchase used to save money. Keep in mind prices will vary from store to store, but on average I pay under $2 for an 8×10. St. Vincent De Paul has a great selection and occasionally does specials where you can BOGO or x amount for $x. I once bought 20 frames for $14 there! Another time I bought 8 8×10 frames at Salvation Army for $2! Goodwill has 50% off color of the week. If you are in the area and have a few extra minutes, take a peek! Frames purchased brand new from Walmart or Target are typically $5 and up, considerably more if you are buying large frames.

Some things you should know:

  • The frames will look worse than they actually are – dusty, dirty, stickers on them, etc. Nothing a little soap, water and elbow grease can’t fix!
  • They might have broken or missing glass – not a problem, purchase a frame from Dollar Tree to replace it or have plexiglass cut to size if it is a large frame.
  • You can sometimes find frames that match together, but sometimes you will need to keep your eyes peeled at different stores! You don’t need ones that match though – just spray paint them the same color!
  • Wooden frames work best – make sure they are real wood. I have bought some before that was like a sticker that looked like wood – you could take it off and try sanding possibly.
  • Plastic frames work, but if it has an intricate design make sure to dry completely or else you will see water beads when you go to spray paint.
  • Painted frames may or may not work for this. I have tried some that worked, others the color bled through no matter what I did. At least if you mess up on a thrifted frame, you aren’t out too much money.
  • Some darker colors will need a coat of primer.

 

I am going to share some photos and my process for turning thrifted frames into ones that look like they were from the store – by using spray paint!

The first thing I do when I am ready to spray paint is get my folding table ready and cover it with a tablecloth. Next, I get the frames I want to spray paint and begin taking them apart. I fill my sink with hot water and some dish soap. I wash the frame, rinse and dry it. Then, I take it out to the table to dry a little more before I spray paint. I put a coat on, let it dry and then put another coat on. Once that is dried, I flip the frame over and put a coat on the back. While I am waiting for coats to dry, I wash the glass with the same water I used for the frames. I use a kitchen towel to dry then wash with windex/paper towels. Once everything is dry, I reassemble the frame.

An 11×14 frame at Goodwill for $1.29 but I actually got 50% off 🙂

A stylized 5×7 frame at St. Vincent De Paul for $1.00

In process; Rustoleum Chalked Linen White Spray Paint $7 at Walmart

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The finished products! I just love the chalk spray paint and how it looks so nice!

Would you consider thrifting frames in the future? Have you thrifted frames? I’d love to hear about your experiences and any tips you have as well!

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HOW TO BUDGET FOR FAMILY PHOTOS

It’s no secret that I love printed photos – read why HERE and HERE. I’m going to discuss how to budget for photography sessions, prints and frames in this blog post. YOU CAN AFFORD PROFESSIONAL PHOTOS, I promise.

It really is important to print your photos – which is a reason why I offer prints/products vs. digitals through an individual gallery for each session. I have printed through a local professional lab for the past three years – myself and my clients have been beyond happy with the final product! I get peace of mind knowing that your photos are printed through a lab I trust – also, save you an extra step of downloading, uploading and ordering photos on your own (through a good photo printing service!).

Depending on the photographer you choose and if they offer digitals or prints – make sure to figure out what will be best for YOU. Don’t look at the price and immediately write them off – look to see what is included for that price. Be sure to also look at their portfolio to help you choose best photographer for you

  • Scenario 1: you book a 30 minute session with a photographer and you only get digitals, it costs $150 – that does not factor in the price of prints, whether you order them through the photographer or print on your own.
  • Scenario 2:  you book a 30 minute session through FWP and you get 20 4×6 prints in a wooden storage box included for $140 – maybe that is a better option for you, since prints are already factored in.

Let’s look at an example – family photos once per year. Figure out how much you can put aside per month and put that in an envelope for safekeeping. Let’s say you can afford $20/month, which would be $240 after a year. If you are able to put away more than $20/month, you could consider family photos 2x per year or even individual photos throughout the year of kids, you and your significant other, etc.

Let’s pretend that you booked with FWP and got the 20 4×6 prints in a wooden storage box included for $140. You have $100 left over to purchase prints for your walls. In fact, you love a photo so much, you want to purchase a 16×20 print, which only costs $30, leaving you with $70. You can purchase 4 8x10s, 4 5x7s and additional 8 4×6 prints for yourself and family. You saved $240 over the course a year, you have had a professional photo session, 20 4×6 prints, a 16×20 print and more prints for family and friends – a priceless investment for your family.

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Example of 4×6 prints in custom wooden box

Another way to save a few bucks is to purchase frames at thrift shops and yard sales. I LOVE St. Vincent De Paul in Kittanning for their wonderful selection of sizes at any time – 8x10s and smaller are $1 or less, larger frames are up to $5. Sometimes they even do sales where you get 4/$1 or BOGO. The Goodwill in Butler has a decent selection as well, I always look for stuff that is 50% off that week, typically can get 2 5×7 or smaller for $1 and 8×10 for $1.50. I take them home, wash them up and spray paint them with chalkboard spray paint ($7) – and they look good as new! I suggest going every once in a while and seeing what you can find – you won’t need them right then, but it could even help you decide what sizes you’d like to have printed. You will save so much in the long run – brand new, an 8×10 frame is over $5, 16×20 frames are over $20!

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A haul of 20 frames from St. Vincent De Paul that I paid $15 for
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An example of one of the frames I spray painted (this is charcoal chalkboard spray paint)

I hope that this helps anyone who wants professional family photos but doesn’t feel they can afford it. If you have any more tips or tricks, let me know!

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WE ALL HAVE MANY SIDES TO US…

We all have many sides to us. I could name at least 5 off the top of my head and quite a few more if I thought a little bit more. Today, I want to share a side of me that has rippled through generations of my family and helped to shape and define me into the person I am today.

I am a psychiatric nurse.

Although, I am lucky enough to get to work part time hours as the most important side of me is MOTHER to my daughters, Ava and Allie. This is a story that I can not wait to share with them when they are older and able to understand, so I have chosen to document it now and share it with anyone who is interested in reading it.

My grandfather, Theodore (Ted) Stroup, my Pap Pap – was the director of social work at Torrance State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Torrance, Pa. He retired in the late 1980’s. He had went to Juniata College and then University of Pittsburgh for his master’s in social work. This was after he had served in the Army as a medic during the Korean War and returned to the US.

Pap Pap while serving in the Korean War as a medic
Grandma and Pap Pap – unknown graduation

 

An article citing my Pap Pap
My Pap Pap’s ID bracelet from the war

The entire Stroup family, my grandparents, three uncles, one aunt and my mother, lived directly across from the grounds of Torrance State Hospital. They lived in a white two story home, further down the road, for a number of years, before moving to a one story home about a mile further up the road. There are only a few other houses located on this back road in Torrance. My mom told me that she remembered that patients would garden in her front yard – she was born in 1967. I remember one summer in the 1990’s – my uncles were home and we went to Pap Pap’s for the fourth of July. They were setting off fireworks – and in the distance, you could hear screams and whistles from the patients wanting more.

Aerial view of the house (circled) and Torrance State Hospital
A photo of myself in my Pap Pap’s front yard, with Torrance State Hospital in the background

My Uncle Jeffrey Stroup was 25 years old when he passed away. It is believed that it was suicide, having suffered from schizophrenia (see newspaper clipping below.) My mom was pregnant with me, in December 1985. She had told me that she was closest to Uncle Jeff, he was born in 1960. His sudden, traumatic death ripped a hole into their family that never healed. I am not sure how long he suffered from schizophrenia, or if he had any psychiatric help at all.

The Stroup family – Uncle Jeff is standing in the middle of Pap Pap and Grandma

 

 

 

 

 

My grandma, Betty Jo Stroup, (read more about her here) passed away at age 58. An aggressive abdominal cancer took her life in November 1988, only a month after she had spent a month with us in Massachusetts after my brother, Joshua, was born in September 1988.

This was the second unexpected loss in their family occurring within three years. Yet, I can’t help but think of the what ifs. What if my Uncle Jeff received mental health treatment that saved his life? What if my Grandma had never passed away? Would things have been different for us? What if I never experienced life the way I did?

As a teenager, I dealt with depression, bipolar, substance abuse and multiple suicide attempts. Not firsthand, but as someone who loved that person very much and felt the effects of their mental illness for years. It was scary. It was difficult. At times, I wasn’t sure if I would survive. I have picked up a suicide note and read it. I have seen someone I love sitting in an ICU bed after having their stomach pumped from taking an overdose. I have gone days without knowing if they were dead or alive due to their substance abuse. I have cried for hours at a time and screamed at the top of my lungs because I didn’t know how else to deal with my emotions.

Things are better now for us, thankfully. It took a LONG time to get there, and it was not easy road. It was a bumpy road that was smooth for a little while, but then the next second, we were in a ditch again. The truth is the path to success is not linear, it is absolutely skewed. When dealing with mental illness, you have no idea where the road will take you. Somehow, I can say, that in the face of adversity, that it changed me – for the better.


My Pap Pap had a massive heart attack at home in Torrance, in November 2007. He was transported to UPMC Shadyside, where I was living just a few blocks away, having moved there the year prior after failing out of IUP. This was a 45 mile trip, and there were multiple hospitals not as far. He passed away in the CCU, not even 24 hours after being sent there. I don’t remember much from that day. I do remember him saying, “I should have taken a gun out back,” I’m sure because of the pain he was suffering – not only from his heart attack, but from the past 20 years. We were pen pals, 🙂 and we wrote to each other back and forth each month. I didn’t drive, so it wasn’t easy for me to go visit him, that was something that only happened around the holidays. My last letter to him was that I had decided to go back to school, for nursing. I wrote my nursing school essay about this experience and just how much it shaped me, although then I didn’t know it shaped me so much. Those nurses in the CCU absolutely KNEW he was going to die – they still cared for him, they were there for him. It is something that is so incredible to me. A stranger caring for a patient, knowing that it is their last experience on Earth. I started school in the fall of 2008, at UPMC Shadyside School of Nursing. When I look back at my Pap Pap’s last day of life… it makes my head spin wondering how in the world it happened that way.

Pap Pap and I, 2004

Myself, as a nurse, I don’t know that I could ever be able to do what they do. I practically lose my mind if a patient is in a medical code – ask any of my coworkers. In nursing school, I thought I wanted to work in the OR. NICU was interesting and who doesn’t love babies. But, for some reason, at UPMC McKeesport, where I went to my psychiatric clinicals… there was a pull. It caught me totally off guard. I had never once considered that I would go to school for nursing and then work in psych until then. I should have known it would happen though, other nurses and teachers had said that I would change my mind once I had been through all of my clinicals.

I hate the thought of death. It signals an irreversible change is going to occur and change life for everyone. Death is inevitable at times. Old age, comorbidities. Sometimes, it can be stalled or even prevented. As a psychiatric nurse, I hear people tell me that they want to die and at times, I have had patients that had serious attempts and are not even sure how they are living at that moment. As a psychiatric nurse, my job is to love a stranger who might not even love themselves at that moment. Yes, I love psychiatric patients in that I care for them in their worst, scariest days of their lives. Are there patients that as a person, not a nurse, that I do not want to deal with, that I do not like what they did in their past, etc. etc.? Absolutely, but I care for them still. A psychiatric patient is still a person, someone’s mother/father, son/daughter, aunt/uncle, friend – they have people who love them and want them to be happy and enjoy their life.

It has been almost 4 years since I started – May 12, 2014. It is true that my dream job was to work as a psychiatric nurse in a community hospital and I looked at the job openings everyday from when I passed my boards in the fall of 2013 to the day I applied to work there in April. Just knowing that I can make a difference not only in someone’s day, but in their life, and in fact, the lives of the ones who love them… that is why I do what I do. I have the ability to tell someone their life is meaningful. It is not very often that a psychiatric patient or their family say to me, “thank you,” but when they do, it makes everything I have been through worth it to me.

When times are tough, there is a future ahead. You can face whatever life throws at you and it will make you stronger. Just because today is a hard day, week, month, year, decade… it doesn’t mean the next will be, and it is worth sticking around for.

I know, I’ve been on both sides.