Roxy’s story, ‘My return journey’

When she was three years old, Roxy ran in an egg and spoon race dressed in her favourite dressing up clothes and her photo appeared in a local newspaper, “I was wearing my nurse’s costume and my mother says that at three I told her I wanted to grow up to be a nurse,” remembers Roxy “she said I intuitively knew what I wanted to be.”

Roxy started her nursing training and developed a passion for Cardiology, working in this area as a student nurse dealing with disorders of the heart and circulatory system,“I love nursing” says Roxy “I love that I have the ability to carry hope for others and that I have the skills to assess, intervene and provide support and treatment to get patients well again.”

As well as studying full time, Roxy was also mother to her 3 year old daughter. Both Roxy and her partner often worked long hours but they were both in for a surprise when Roxy found out she was pregnant with their second child, “It was a real shock, completely unplanned. I think I was in shock for the whole pregnancy and I struggled with sciatica in my back too.”

She gave birth to her second daughter but it felt very different to the euphoria of her first birth.

“I felt that a dark cloud had come over me,” remembers Roxy “I was looking at this perfect baby and feeling really, really sad. Looking back, I see now that this was my first experience of post-natal depression.  But I pretended everything was ok and didn’t reach out for help and returned to my nursing studies.”

The negative thoughts remained whilst Roxy qualified as a nurse in 2008 and secured her first role as a cardiac nurse. She constantly felt anxious and guilty about not being good enough as a nurse and a mum. But life continued and a few years later Roxy was pregnant with her third child, this time a boy.

“I was chuffed to bits, we always wanted to have a son and he was a gorgeous baby. I was really happy with our two lovely daughters and our new son.”

With three young children to look after whilst juggling jobs, Roxy and her partner became like ships passing in the night, handing the children over to each other before leaving for work. But things took a turn for the worse when their baby son became unwell,

“He developed eczema all over his body,” remembers Roxy “He would tear at his face and the wounds would become infected. We saw a dermatologist and he was put on a strict regime, his skin being wet-wrapped and having antihistamines during the day and being sedated at night. It was an awful time.”

The baby’s condition did not improve and he wasn’t sleeping which had a catastrophic effect on his health. It also had a huge effect on the rest of the family with Roxy and her partner’s relationship under huge strain.

“For the second time,” says Roxy “my black cloud returned. One day I remember coming off a shift and thinking, I need to have a drink. This is when I started a relationship with alcohol instead of reaching out for help with my depression.”

Roxy’s alcoholism developed slowly. She only drank at home and never went to work intoxicated or hungover. But whenever she finished a shift, she would come home and drink heavily.

“I knew I couldn’t go into work hungover,” says Roxy “so I became that colleague who rang in sick again and again. It did have a negative effect on the department at work, but all I wanted to do was drink.”

Roxy’s friends and family tried to stop her drinking but she pushed them away. Her drinking impacted on all areas of her life and lead to her being temporarily suspended from working as a cardiac nurse by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), until they felt she was able to return to her profession. Her relationship with her partner broke down and the children moved to live with him.

Roxy’s alcoholic behaviour lead to court appearances and she was convicted of causing criminal damage and resisting arrest. By now she had managed to stop drinking as she was pregnant with her fourth child with a new partner. But one of the court cases dragged on for months and she was eventually convicted of assault for which she spent 28 days in jail.

“It was the biggest shock of my life,” remembers Roxy “Being seven months pregnant and alone in a cell made me think about my relationship with alcohol and all of those people who loved me who I was excluding from my life. My nursing career seemed like a distant memory. I’d hit rock bottom.”

After being released from prison, Roxy returned home and soon gave birth to her fourth child, a girl. Predictably, her post-natal depression returned and she resumed drinking to try and cope once again. But by this time Roxy was seeing a prenatal psychiatric team and felt that it was time that she reached out for help.

“One day I remember confessing to my health visitor that I thought I was an alcoholic,” says Roxy “and suddenly, it felt as though the elephant had been shifted out of the room! I started to welcome help from the mental health team and they started to give my so much support and hope.”

Her mother and her ex-partner persuaded Roxy to move away with the baby to help her recover and Roxy secured a small flat at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. She sought help for her alcohol addiction and worked with the mental health team to start her journey to being well again.

“During my time in Malvern, I developed a programme of living and I started to heal, I started to have a relationship with myself.

“I walked regularly on the hills with all the children which was good for my mental health and I started to think about my nursing career again. Alcoholism strips you of your self-worth but as I was starting to recover I realised that deep down, I was still a nurse. I could hear the voice inside me getting louder and louder, I may have been suspended from nursing, but I am still a nurse.”

Eventually, Roxy felt confident enough to visit the NMC in London to try and get her nursing career back.

“In the end, the truth set me free and after a lot of hearings my suspension order was lifted and the NMC gave me back my PIN number and wished me all the best with my nursing. My career opened up again.”

Roxy secured work as a dementia nurse in a local nursing home but started to wonder if she could turn her negative experiences with alcohol into positive help for other people.

“I’m an alcoholic in recovery and that is my gift,” says Roxy “because I’m able to empathise with the still-suffering alcoholic and carry hope for them.”

After meeting Associate Director of Nursing Claire James at Change, Grow, Live (CGL), a charity providing treatment and support to people suffering addiction, Roxy was taken on as a health and wellbeing nurse in substance misuse. She gained experience assessing people suffering from alcoholism and referring them on for appropriate treatment.

“I really enjoyed working at CGL and I started to feel that there was something more in me. I managed to get a transfer to a detox unit in Birmingham but was still keen to get back to working in the NHS. So I saw a job going at the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust for an Alcohol Nurse and applied.”

Roxy was successful and overjoyed at landing her first NHS nursing role in years.

“It felt amazing to be nursing for the NHS again. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing colleagues like Arlene Copland, Alcohol Lead Nurse and Dr Sally Bradberry, Consultant Toxicologist. They believe in me which I am incredibly grateful for.”

But Roxy needed to move quickly with her young daughter to accommodation nearer the new job and money was very tight,

“Between finishing my job at CGL and starting my Alcohol Nurse role, there were a few weeks where I couldn’t earn any money but bills were still going out of my account. I also had to fund moving costs to my new accommodation so I was in a very difficult financial situation.”

Roxy’s family and friends had been helping her financially but she still had a deficit. She contacted Cavell Nurses’ Trust for help and we were quickly able to provide financial support to help her move,

“I was also able to buy a bed! I’d been used to sleeping on a mattress on the floor and I could pay off some bills and not worry about that as I started my new NHS role. It was such a relief!”

A couple of months into her new role as an Alcohol Nurse, Roxy was keen to find a way to give something back to Cavell Nurses’ Trust for the support she’d received. The charity had a place open for someone to run in the 2020 London Marathon and raise money to support nursing colleagues in need. Roxy was chosen as the charity’s runner,

“Getting the marathon place has had a massive ripple-effect on my family, they are so supportive. My son has just run his first 2km because his mummy is running the London Marathon! I’m really chuffed.”“It was absolutely amazing, I couldn’t believe it!” remembers Roxy, “I ran the Birmingham Half Marathon last year and I remember thinking that I had a full marathon inside me, so I thought oh my goodness, it’s happening! I feel really proud to be running for Cavell Nurses’ Trust.

Roxy is using her training as a way to help with her recovery process,

“I’ve always loved to run but when I run now I’m in the moment and I feel it’s helping me to heal and recover, whereas before I was running to escape my post-natal depression.

“I’m looking forward to joining the thousands of runners at the start of the 2020 London Marathon and smiling all the way round the course. I’m sure I’ll be in pain after the marathon but I’m getting training and support from Dave and Ade, the amazing coaches at Crossfit Digbeth Box. I wouldn’t be running a marathon without help from these guys.”

“It’s all about listening to my body and avoiding injury during training. I’ve always got a little bit left in the tank when I’ve finished a training run. Slow and steady will win the race!”

Roxy explains why she is particularly keen to raise money to support nursing colleagues who are facing a personal or financial crisis,

“I want nurses to know that there is somewhere like Cavell Nurses’ Trust for them to turn, so giving back to this charity makes so much sense to me. There’s always going to be another nurse out there struggling with the black cloud, whether it’s physical or mental health affecting their finances. There is hope out there and people who care and that’s what I felt when dealing with Cavell Nurses’ Trust.”

It is often difficult for people to reach out for help but Roxy wants those facing a crisis to follow her lead,

“You’ve got to get rid of your pride, get rid of your ego and think about the fact that there are people who care about you and your nursing career,” says Roxy “They want to keep nurses and midwives well and doing their jobs. So reach out, you will be listened to.”

Roxy has a message for people thinking of fundraising or donating to Cavell Nurses’ Trust, “Don’t think about it, just do it! That money that will change somebody’s life for the better. Be charitable because what we give away comes back to us!”

Support Roxy’s London Marathon challenge, visit her fundraising page