Why did you choose a career in mental health? This is a question that I have been asked many times. Actually, I stumbled in the mental health field by accident. At the age of 17, I was completing my 12th grade education and I was not sure what career path I wanted to take. Since the age of 9, I had always wanted to become a dentist. I was so sure I was going to become a dentist until I got a position working as a sterilization aide at a dentist clinic in 11th grade. During my time working there, I realized that I was not entirely comfortable looking into people’s mouths all day. I can revisit many “gross” encounters that made me question the idea of becoming a dentist. Approaching the last semester of high school, I was completely conflicted about what career path I was going to take. Growing up, I was so sure I was going to become a dentist so I didn’t consider an alternative path, or a plan B.
First year of college, I joined a women mentoring program on campus and was paired with a nurse as a mentor. She worked at a local hospital in the ICU department. I shared with her that I was looking for a summer job and she referred me to a recruiter at the same hospital she worked. The recruiter called me and told me about a vacant position in the behavior health unit for a mental health technician. I was not sure what the position entailed but I needed a job and I told her I was interested. With the recommendation of my mentor I was offered the position and started shortly after. The first day of orientation, I was taken on a tour of the unit. Instantly, I realized that the unit was not like any other units in the hospital. There were multiple locks on the doors and security cameras in every corner. I began to question my decision. First few months working there, I felt out of place, I was scared, I was uncomfortable interacting with the patients and the staff. I constantly questioned my ability to continue working there but I seriously needed the money and didn’t have many options.
As time went by and with coaching and support from colleagues, I started to enjoy my job, I actually looked forward to coming to work. With a year working there, I had developed a genuine passion for mental health. A decade later, I am awed at my growth and grateful for the people I have crossed paths with during this journey. Working in this field, I have heard countless sad stories – some that literally brought me to tears. I have encountered patients that have suffered unimaginable pain, emotional and physical. I have listened to patients confess their dark deep thoughts. Patients have shared the most horrifying stories with me. I have comforted patients through loss. I have covered bleeding wounds of a girl who’s pain was best expressed by cutting her wrist. I have watched a young girl draw the face of the man who took her innocence. I have held a hand of a woman reciting the moment she cut the cord of her son who hang himself in the basement. I have listened to a woman groaning in agony because the voices would not leave her alone. I have listened to a veteran describing the thud of dead bodies falling around him in combat. I have consoled a woman who received the news that she had only a few weeks to live because her cancer had spread. I have wiped the tears of a woman who just gave birth to a stillborn. I have listened to a preacher share his struggles with addiction. I have heard the cry of a man who lost his wife and kids in a genocide.
In the past decade, I have learned the most valuable lessons about life through my patients. I have learned to be grateful. I have learned to love. I have learned compassion and empathy. In the last decade, I have learned to appreciate life and the people that God has put in my life. I have learned to listen with my heart. I have given lots of hugs and held many hands. In my encounters with many from all walks of life, I have patted backs, high-fived and fistpumped. I credit my growth to my patients and the many amazing professionals I have met in the mental health field in the past decade. It has not been an easy journey but one thing I can say with confidence, it has been a great journey!
When someone asks me why I chose mental health. I simply tell them, mental health chose me. It chose me to give hope and healing to those that need it the most, and for that I am humbled.
Someone once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.”
–Blog by Nyokabi