Now a Staff Nurse, Joanne is an inspiration to anyone looking to turn their life around. She is also a testament to the impact of education in giving focus and creating opportunities for personal growth.
You’ve been on such an incredible journey, what would you say was the biggest motivation to turn your life around the way you did?
Before I decided to change the path my life was on, I did not care if I lived or died. My life was such a mess that I had lost all hope of things changing for the better. When I ended up in the hospital with endocarditis in 2012 I realised that I did not want to die, but I didn’t know how to change my life and I still wanted to take drugs. I was an addict. I had been using Heroin for 10 years so I didn’t know how to live my life without drugs.
While in hospital a nurse sat with me and encouraged me to go away to rehab. She made such an impact on my life she inspired me to become a nurse so I could help others like she had helped me when my life felt hopeless. This motivated me to complete my programme and pursue my dream of becoming a nurse.
In your personal opinion, what’s it like to be a nurse?
I love being a nurse! It was a dream of mine to become a nurse, I get such a feeling of happiness I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe that I get to be a nurse and look after people and make a difference, especially with my background. My dream has become a reality. That doesn’t mean that being a nurse comes without challenges. The pressures on the NHS can make nurses feel overworked, underpaid and undervalued.
Nursing during the Covid-19 pandemic has brought unique challenges which the nursing profession, as a whole, have met with courage while being at the forefront of the pandemic. I am extremely proud to be a nurse during these times and to work for our amazing NHS is an honour. The NHS saved my life, I am now working for the NHS saving others’ lives.
You attained a first-class degree which is an incredible achievement. What was it like to study nursing at Swansea University?
I had been out of education for 20 years before I decided to pursue a nursing degree. The access course eased me back into education and prepared me for the degree. The degree itself was one of the hardest things I’ve achieved. The degree consists of lectures which take place at university, and placements in healthcare settings where you work full-time hours which allows you to gain experience in a wide range of clinical settings. I also worked as a healthcare support worker on an acute mental health ward during my degree. I believe that my time in rehab prepared me for the structure and time management skills I would need to study a demanding nursing degree.
What was the toughest part of your turn around? it must have been hard at times.
The toughest part for me was without a doubt my rehabilitation programme. Teen Challenge is a Christian rehabilitation centre and I was far from a Christian when I arrived there. They instilled hope in me that change was possible.
It was a very structured biblical programme; we didn’t watch tv, have mobile phones, the internet, and all content was Christian based. There were rules to live by, however, I needed those rules and structure in my life after years of living a very chaotic lifestyle. My new-found faith gave me the strength to face up to the mistakes I had made (many of them) and ask for forgiveness, but I also had to forgive myself and let go of the shame and guilt that I was carrying.
The realisation that my life had taken a different path to the one I had wanted was heartbreaking. I remember crying for a whole day. My eyes were red and puffy. I wasn’t able to re-live my life but from that moment on I could work at becoming a nicer, better person and changing the course of my life.
You’ve shown that with hard work, you can do anything you put your mind to. Is this a mindset you hope to instil in your children?
Absolutely! I am very honest with my children. They know about my past as unfortunately they lived it with me and we talk openly about it. They were quite young when they went to live with my parents after social services became involved. Once I left rehab and moved home, I applied to study an access course, which then led to studying a nursing degree. The boys have seen the hard work that I put into these courses, the countless hours sat at a laptop writing essays, many early mornings and night shifts working my job as a healthcare assistant alongside full-time placement. They have watched me dedicate the past 6 years to achieving my goals and from watching me achieve they can see that if you want something in life you have to work hard to get it. Nothing worthwhile having comes easy. I am hoping that they will learn from my mistakes and go on to live happy lives.
How would you describe your time at Swansea University and what impact has it made to you personally?
My time at Swansea University flew by. But before that, I had to apply through UCAS and write a personal statement to go with my application. I was totally honest about my experience and why I wanted to become a nurse and they accepted me. I had no previous experience of working in a healthcare setting before my first placement so the course taught me the fundamentals of care and allowed me to experience a wide range of healthcare settings. This gave me an invaluable learning experience. Coupled with support from tutors I gained knowledge and understanding of what the role of a nurse involves. It was a demanding degree but the support offered by tutors that are passionate about nursing was fantastic.
On a personal level becoming a graduate of Swansea University is a huge achievement and one that I am extremely proud of. Walking across that stage on graduation day with my family watching was a very proud moment for me. Swansea University saw potential in me and that changed my life. If you had said to me 8 years ago that I would become a nurse I would have laughed as my life was such a mess. Now I have a first-class nursing degree!!
While at University I have grown so much as a person. I have become more confident, developed new interests and made new friends. It has been a happy but demanding time that has seen me step out of my comfort zone, push myself, and believe in myself.
What advice would you give to someone who was in your position, before you changed the path?
Nobody decides to become an addict. A series of bad choices can lead to a life spiralling out of control and before you know it you wake up one day and you need a substance just to get out of bed and through the day. It’s so hard to beat an addiction as it’s not just the addiction you have to deal with, it’s the chaos, hurt, damage and pain, not just to yourself but to others; but it’s just as hard to stay trapped in addiction and live with everything that addiction brings. It can take many attempts to overcome an addiction. It took me countless attempts until I finally turned my life around. I think the first step for anyone is admitting that there is a problem. Once you can own the fact that help is needed there are organisations out there that can provide support. Ultimately change is down to the individual, but change is possible. My life is proof of that.
Below is a small list of the help available;
Barod – 01633 439813 email@example.com
DDAS – 03303 639997 firstname.lastname@example.org
Teen Challenge UK 01664 822221/ 01269 844 114 www.teenchallenge.org.uk
Betel UK 01564 822356 www.betel.uk
New Leaf 03009 990330 www.newleafrecovery.co.uk
Victory Outreach UK 01495 212516 www.victoryoutreachuk.com