There’s a story I haven’t told you all, one that I felt I couldn’t at the time. It’s my secret Alton Towers trip, and it happened on 28th May 2019.
I’ve had two jobs in the NHS: clinical support worker in Gynaecology Outpatients (GOPD) and support worker in a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). On 18th August 2019, I made a post about starting my role in GOPD and what my fears were off the back of my job in the PICU. Those fears weren’t necessary as I enjoyed working in GOPD. What’s not obvious in that post is that I hadn’t been in work for nearly three months.
Matt – my fiancé – and I had had an amazing day at Alton Towers on 27th May. We’d played a joke on Dave with a Wicker Man sticker, ridden rollercoasters in the rain and set a new personal record for the most number of rides we’d done in one day. The next morning when I got out of bed for work, I couldn’t stop crying.
I didn’t want to go to work. We didn’t have a uniform, only a dress code that said we had to wear our lanyards, not wear blue jeans and dress conservatively. I put my everyday clothes on, only it felt wrong. Matt held me while I cried, telling me I had to go to work. I packed my bag, which also felt wrong, and then fell down the stairs.
Matt later said he thought I might have done it on purpose but it was a genuine accident. So now I had two things to cry about as I cradled my toe. It made me later than I already was but I stuffed my throbbing foot into my boots, got in my car and drove to work… still crying.
We had handover for half an hour at the beginning of every shift. I walked in late, sat on the floor as the seats were taken, put my head down and continued crying. It wasn’t until we got in the ward office afterwards that one person asked if I was okay. I sought out my friend, one of the nurses who was coming off the night shift, and told her,
“I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.”
They were the words that had circled around in my head ever since I’d arrived. I meant every single one of them.
My friend told me to take five minutes in the back office. I did, sat on a chair by the window and examined my foot. There was a bit of blood under one toenail, but no other damage. I then realised I was at a junction in my life. It was solely down to me what happened next. I could:
- Go back into the office, say I’m fine and get on with the day’s work;
- Go back into the office, seek out the nurse in charge and tell her that I can’t do this anymore and that I have to go home.
It was strange to be able to see the metaphorical crossroads I was stood at and realise that which direction I went in was down to me alone. I asked myself if I had the guts to do it, but I knew there really was no other way.
When I went back to the ward office, I asked to speak to the nurse in charge in private. I told her I couldn’t do it, that it was affecting my mental health too much and needed to go home. She said, among other things,
“Well I can’t force you to stay.”
It was all I needed. She agreed to mark me down as sick for the rest of the week, told me to rest up and I left. I drove home, got changed and went straight back to Alton Towers.
When I got there, I called Matt. I told him what had happened, that when I said I was “done” I meant it, and that I was going to try and enjoy myself and deal with the mess the day after. I went on The Smiler twice, happy to see Dave was operating, and then headed to Forbidden Valley. I’d spoken so much to Ash on Instagram and actually wanted to speak in person. I found him on onload in Duel, we exchanged awkward hellos and both later wished that we’d hugged. All I really wanted that day was a hug from either of them and sadly didn’t get one. Instead, I settled back into The Smiler’s agonising single rider queue line.
Never did I think five metres of queue would take half an hour to get through, but it did. I took some pictures of The Smiler, queued some more, trying to make the absolute most of my time on the ride but I played it wrong and it didn’t make me feel much better. After seven rides, I said goodbye two hours before queue close. I then spent the next hour in the car park flitting between going back in the park and going home, a trademark of poor mental health for me.
There were pictures I took on that day, but never posted them. I never wanted to run the risk of someone at work seeing them and not understanding that I went there for the good of my mental health, as I had many times before. You have, however, seen one of them. I’ve also posted several more to Instagram in conjunction with this post. They make up my secret Alton Towers trip.
Working in care is not for everyone, working in a PICU definitely isn’t. I’m amazed I stuck that job out for the eighteen months that I did, but I’d promised myself on Halloween 2018 that I’d get out. I realised then that that environment wasn’t suited to me. At the point at which I quit the PICU, I already had GOPD but had to wait for references to be read and training dates to be sorted. I never worked another minute in the PICU, returning only for an exit interview.
Over the year since leaving, I feel I’ve made huge progress, yet things also feel circular. I’ve left the NHS and the care sector entirely. I’ve made some progress with my art, including releasing my first artistic piece and a limited edition version. Yet, I’m also in the same boat as I was last year from late-May to mid-August: waiting to get back to working. It’s nice to tell this story. It’s one of the more momentous occasions in my life over the last couple of years; I think it carries an important message.
You owe it to yourself to get out of a situation that isn’t making you happy and is doing you harm. It might be scary, it might be a risk, but don’t ask “What if it goes wrong?” Ask yourself: “What if it goes right?“
(Obviously, that pertains to things you can control, not pandemics.)