Name: Paige Allyse Washington
From: El Paso, TX
Pursuit of Mental Health
Paige Washington, RN, BSN
The Pursuit of Mental Health
Where you come from is not nearly as important as where you’re going. Living in a shelter at one point, continuously moving from house to house, running from bills and growing up with my older brother as the only positive male figure in my life: these are all just memories and thoughts that swirl together to form my unchangeable past. Yet all this only serves as motivation to alter my current circumstances in hopes of creating a better future for not just myself but also the village that raised me. I have learned to keep my eyes on the stars and my feet on the ground, for anything is achievable with a clear mind and determination.
I initially started my career as a nurse at the tender young age of nineteen, practicing as a licensed vocational nurse in the mental health setting. While working as a vocational nurse at a residential treatment facility for at risk youth, I was overwhelmed with the amount of children that were addicted to heroin, methamphetamines, and various other illicit drugs. These children were diagnosed with HIV and Hepatitis C at the age of 13 so often that devastating illnesses such as these became commonplace and quickly lost all nuance to a young nurse trying to stay on top of her residents. It was at this early point in my career when I made a firm resolution: I set the goal that through hard work and dedication I would make the difference in the lives of the drug-addicted youth by educating them on healthcare services, resources, the addiction cycle, behavioral interventions, and goal-setting techniques.
As my career progressed, I found myself providing countless nursing therapeutic intervention groups to various patients throughout the years. Hearing myself recite the same content over and over was at times disheartening as I knew often times the information fell on deaf ears. Then one day I received a letter in the mail at work. It was from a patient who credited the groups she attended, under my care, as an integral part of her success.
Reflecting on this particular patient, I remember how she had come into the facility under the foster care system after child protective custody had picked her up due to her mother prostituting her for heroin. The patient, herself, was addicted to heroin at the young age of 14 and found out while undergoing inpatient residential care that she contracted Hepatitis C. Even though the odds were already stacked against her, she displayed the willingness to learn new coping skills, grow as a person and take full advantage of education we presented at the facility. She was in treatment for a few months and followed outpatient for two years. During that time, she utilized her new-found knowledge, showed perseverance, and put unrelenting work in. I was privileged through that letter to learn that she remained drug free, followed guidance to the correct resources to help her live on her own, and was able to maintain a full-time job. The impact left on me by this experience- as well as others in mental health- would carry with me throughout my career.
As I continued my education and eventually obtained my RN-BSN, I practiced nursing in a variety of settings. These roles included home health, psychiatric care, emergency rooms, labor and delivery and even serving in an administrative position. However, of all the places and positions I’ve worked, it was the psychiatric unit that captivated my attention and motivated me to take the steps necessary to broaden my scope of practice.
My experience over the years working in mental health taught me the grim lesson that cases like that particular patient tend to be the exception- not the rule. To be able to have a hand in touching a single life so profoundly really makes every effort worth it. Not only that, but it helped me realize that if more interventions were available and initiated to at risk youth before they got to these low points, the impact we have as mental health professionals might be that much greater. The moment when motivation creeps into someone’s bones, their actions reflect it. Giving the opportunity to be better to a community destroyed by addiction is monumental, but someone has to lead, actions need to be organized, and none of this comes about without civil discourse and community involvement. Locally, I plan to continue to participate in outreach programs and health fairs with the hopes that as my education and scope of practice grows, so will my impact on the community.
Being a part of the most intimate and crucial moments in the lives of my patients and their families in the manner that mental health nursing offers is an experience without compare. Whether it’s assisting patients and family through a psychiatric break down, or providing care and consolation during those painful moments brought on by addiction, the connection between a healthcare provider and a patient at these pinnacle moments in their lives is more than a perfunctory duty- it’s a privilege.
Most people would say that motivation is a powerful term, as it is a word that gains power as a result of its perceived definition that ultimately changes from individual to individual. It is the thirst for knowledge and human growth, which is often the catalyst to improve life as we make it. It is one of the essential driving forces that encompass human actions and behavior. Though it varies in form, it all comes down to an individual’s desire to change. Whether it is for monetary gain and materialistic wealth, for respect and prestige, or just for the simplistic act of human compassion, it is a dynamic force manifested through actions and behaviors.
When I consider my own image of motivation, I think of the desire to change not only my immediate surroundings but also the community around me. This notion is directly exemplified by my pursuance to further my education through placement in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program – a field that I genuinely believe I can positively create change in. I maintain that on this path, I will acquire undeniable personal growth, directly affect each patient with the opportunity to grow and better themselves, and become a pillar of strength to the community that I vowed to serve.
While those crucial moments surrounding psychiatry do play a large part in my motivation in pursuing this education and eventual career in mental health, it is only a factor. I have the hope that The Seasons in Malibu World Class Treatment Center for The Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign will consider my application not solely based on academia, though I feel I have proven myself to be an upstanding student, but also take into consideration all that I have to offer in terms of drive, determination, and intentions to give back to my community. I view every aspect of caring for the psyche- from child to geriatric- as vital. I come from a community where mental health care is often neglected, drug addiction is still spoken about in hushed tones, and young kids have little to no information about their developing brains. Experiencing firsthand what it’s like to grow up in this environment as well as raising three children of my own, I cannot just naively wish for progress. I must face the challenge head on of becoming an agent for the progressive changes that need to happen.