One thing I don’t often mention when someone asks me about myself is that I have a hidden disability.
It is part of who I am, and I am learning to live with it, but there is an element of shame that I feel towards it. I have no idea why. I’m always advocating for equal rights and for reasonable adjustments. If it were another student telling me about their disability, I would be so supportive, marvelling at them overcoming the strains of nurse training with a disadvantage that often means they need to work harder to compensate for the same opportunities.
So why do I feel shame about my own condition?
“I know from being a student nurse with a hidden disability that kindness and understanding are so important”
I have reasonable adjustments in place to make the playing field more level. However, early on in my training, I had a nurse question my reasonable adjustments. They told me that there was no point in me being there if I needed adjustments and that maybe I should consider a different career. Sadly, this isn’t the only time I’ve had this suggested to me.
What many probably don’t see is how much I work behind the scenes to hide it. I often feel like I look like a duck that appears to be calmly floating on the surface and paddling like mad beneath the water.
My life behind the scenes consists of reams of lists to make sure I don’t miss anything. I re-write assignments over and over, hoping to hide any hints of my disability. I have to write everything down in placement just to ensure I don’t forget anything. I spend hours upon hours of reading through flashcards to make what I’ve learnt sink in.
What people do see is the good grades this level of compensation achieves, the masking that I use on a daily basis, and the act of looking like I’m calm and have got it all together. But it takes a lot of work to give these impressions. It’s a smoke and mirrors effect to hide how anxious I am that the mask will fall and that I won’t be good enough to be a nurse.
But despite all of this, I know I’m a good student, and I know I’ll be a great children’s nurse. I know from being a student nurse with a hidden disability that kindness and understanding are so important. I’m pretty sure those who have told me I shouldn’t be a nurse if I have a disability have probably never given that comment a second thought, but it stays with me, and in my lowest moments, I question if they were right. They were not by the way.
In society as a whole, we chant mantras of ‘be kind’. But it is easy to say something without thinking, without considering how that comment will affect the person we are saying it to. Did we mean to be cruel? Hopefully, the answer is no.
We probably won’t get it right every time and that’s OK, but learning to recognise the impact of our words and apologise for causing hurt is what’s important. We need to learn from our mistakes and be more accepting of others.
I also need to remember to be kind to myself as well as others. It may take me some extra work to achieve what I want to, but I need to remember to feel proud of what I can achieve, rather than feel shame about the work that it takes to get there. No one should feel ashamed of their disability and I am working on this.
Despite being told that maybe I should choose a different career, I love children’s nursing, and my hard work has paid off because I now am only six months away from qualifying. This is probably a lot further than some people – myself included at times – thought I would be able to get with a disability.
Suzie Bowie is a third-year children’s nursing student, University of Suffolk and 2022-23 Nursing Times student editor