Our second annual Retreat for NMCWatch members took place in September 2019 – before any knowledge of lockdown and pandemics – to be able to meet when previously it had only been virtually was incredibly powerful. Hopefully, soon we will be able to do so again.
25th Sept 2019 I am delighted by the exhaustion I feel. It’s always nerve-wracking organising any event but the pressure always seems to be so much more when getting this particular group together. They all arrive so desperately needing support following their experiences and have made such an effort to attend. There is an immense feeling of responsibility to ensure they all get out of it what they expect is tricky.
Our little haven for the weekend was a beautiful location in the Bedfordshire countryside. Surrounded by lush countryside, horses aplenty and the odd sheep bleeding in the background, I defy anyone attending to not relax the moment they arrive at The Stableyard.
Two days before, I had my own special treat taking myself back to the beautiful island of Jersey to spend a couple of days with some dear friends. Walks on the beach, lunch in the sunshine, lots of chats, plenty of laughs and a fair share of liquid refreshments, set me up for my support to this group which has become so important to my own recovery. Jersey holds special memories – my parents lived there for 10 years and little did I know that the first person I met, the first day of nurse training, would still be holding my hand now, 30 years later. She has moved back to the island where she was born, with her own family to raise and we return often sometimes as a family but this time on my own which was rather nice! Upon arriving off the plane, I can’t help but relax the moment I step onto island land and it always feels like I have been away forever.
Once back home – the retreat began. Arrivals from as far south as Bodmin, Cornwall, over to Swansea Wales and up to Scotland – a decent effort from everyone showing how important it was to get together. The hardest thing for anyone going through the experience of investigation is the isolation and feeling that you are the only one, the shame of not wanting anyone to know and the fear that no one will care. My overarching aim for the support group is that we break those barriers and ensure no one going through it is on their own, that they feel they have someone or even a group of people there for them that aren’t paid to support or understand, give therapy or treatment to – they have been through the trauma and understand the harm it causes.
Last year we had a modest group of 6 – this year 13. We even had a couple of doggie friends join us, adding to the therapeutic environment and their owner stating that if she hadn’t brought them it would have been the perfect barrier to not come and she was determined to not listen to those internal excuses as she knew she needed to be there.
Friday brought flower arranging – some were dubious, flower arranging really…?! But all were surprised at how they managed to create such beauty and how bloomin’ good it made them feel.
Saturday was busy – starting the morning off with a sing-song, followed by a PTSD workshop to explore gently where we were all at. The “art of conversation” brought about some interesting moments and a chance to get to know everyone that little bit more.
After all, that brain power we needed to chill so a gentle pilates was really in order with a lavender relaxation session out in the sunshine – glorious.
The afternoon brought cupcake decorating and glass painting – all of which surprised us as well as learning that we shared many themes with one of the teachers who led a session. It seems our profession is not the only one that is treated poorly by those who lead and regulate.
Saturday evening took on a more gentler pace with some true pampering – we were lucky to have a master of Reiki, a beautician for nails and a masseur for facials. They all gave their time for free so that our members could get well and truly pampered. It was lovely to see everyone so chilled and enjoying some much-needed TLC.
Sunday continued with the PTSD workshop but this time individual sessions for those that wanted it. This was one session that was funded by donations to NMCWatch – along with the floristry session. Both sessions were 100% a good use of funds and we were so lucky to be able to do this.
Sadly there were a few who had originally committed to coming but at the time approached felt unable to do so. This is the sad reality of the impact the experience Fitness to Practice investigations have on the nurse or midwife. Confidence is damaged and the ability to socialise leads to isolation and withdrawal, often meaning the simplest of things such as leaving the house become monumental tasks. We hope that they will feel able to come next year but we paused to consider them often with the hope that they can get stronger with our support.
We learnt new skills and rekindled old ones. We talked and listened, laughed and cried. Some had much-needed time on their own too to contemplate and reflect – an important part of any healing.
As we all departed at the end of the weekend, I saw faces slightly brighter, shoulders less sloped and a lot more smiles. However, most of all was a group of people never together in one space before this weekend, now linked and could continue the conversations via the online group, confident in the people they had met. For the ones that had come the previous year, we heard of how life had improved or was just different, a year making a difference to the rawness of their previous attendance. This I am sure gave those at the start of their journey hope for a brighter future and that there is life outside of the NMC.
In our busy lives, it is so easy to just put our heads down and battle through. It is natural to say we are too busy to take on anything else or to stop and speak to a stranger. To step out of the comfort and security of our homes is scary and to be thrown in with people you have only had “conversations” with online but have never met takes a big leap of faith.
The shared themes from the weekend were that these people, discarded or punished by their profession, their careers put in the spotlight, are worth the extra effort. Everyone that came has something to offer and deserves help to heal and a chance to show professionalism. For some, things are still incredibly raw, for some the anger lingers and is difficult to move away from. However, by linking some of these up with a joined philosophy to not be defined by the process, they can do what is fundamentally at the heart of our professions – to care, to nurture and to protect. To help others avoid the same pitfalls that they have experienced is reward in itself.
I try to teach my kids to be kind, look out for their friends and forgive. I hope they will learn about individuality and independence and that they can develop this whilst still having consideration that not everyone shares the same approach. It seems in adulthood this ability to forgive gets lost and overwhelmed with a need to proportion blame and for many of us, this has spilt into our professional experiences also. The past can have an incredibly strong anchor but to let it go gives us a sense of freedom that is liberating. The saying ” it can’t get any worse than it was/is” is true. and yet often as adults, we lose this skill. Being kind is not difficult, listening is not hard, time costs nothing and yet it can make all the difference to someone who is struggling. Our little group may be small but is powerful and we are getting stronger.
We hope you will continue to watch and support us as we grow.