March 2011 Member Profile: Sue Brammer

In this piece, member Sue Brammer tells us her own recovery story:

Recovery to Practice: A Personal Story

When I was thinking about recovery and how it has impacted my nursing practice, I came across a definition attributed to William Anthony (1993) from the Boston Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. There is a line in that definition which really spoke to me: “It [recovery] is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even with limitations caused by the illness.”

Now in my 50’s, I have been battling mental illness all of my adult life. There have been many limitations posed by my illness, but despite those, I have managed to carve out a successful career, happy marriage, and raise two healthy children. It has only been recently, however, that I have considered myself in recovery.

I currently teach in an associate degree program in nursing but worked before that as a psychiatric nurse. The entire time I worked as a psychiatric nurse, I never let myself identify with “those people,” i.e., the patients. I was somehow “above” them, and as I realized much later, I held much the same stigma towards them as the general public. It was not until I came to terms with this that I really began to recover.

The turning point came during my time as a nurse educator. I have always utilized guest speakers as a teaching tool. People living with a particular illness make much more of an impression on students than reading a textbook. If I had diabetes, for example, I would have shared that with students because it would have put a face on an illness. I was hesitant to tell students that I have bipolar for fear of a negative reaction from them and from my colleagues. I also had to admit to myself that I was embarrassed by having the disorder.

"My experience should be a source of pride, not shame."

Around the time that I was debating whether to tell my students, I became active with NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness). NAMI really helped me to see that I was someone who was contributing to society and had overcome the adversities posed by having a mental illness. My experience should be a source of pride, not shame. Armed with new-found pride, I decided that I was wrong in teaching about the evils of stigma while hiding the fact that I had a mental illness. With the support of my department chair, I made the leap. I don’t share details with students, but I simply say that I have bipolar disorder. I tell them that I am sharing this fact because I want them to see someone in recovery. The reaction from students and my colleagues has been very positive. Students have said it made them question their assumptions about mental illness. One student told another faculty member that she went back into treatment because of my disclosure.

I have also incorporated recovery into my teaching by having other guest speakers who have shared their journeys of recovery. As a result, students no longer just see the negative side of having a mental illness. They see people who exemplify the definition of recovery, i.e., those who are “living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life” despite the challenges posed by mental illness.

Sue Brammer, PhD, RN
University of Cincinnati Raymond Walters College


March 2011 Newsletter