This week we have Jacqui O'Connor, CEO of Heart Place Hospital join us in TBIYTC. Sharing her experiences within her career as a nurse, Jacqui discusses the lack of support for carers and what she hopes to achieve in providing a safe space within the Heart Place Hospital.
"I began my career in nursing wanting to care for the world, just as I had been cared for by medical teams and of course, nurses. However, I left my career in nursing wanting to care for the carers, just as I hadn’t been cared for."
Born into a loving family in Auckland, New Zealand, I enjoyed a wonderful childhood typical of the Kiwi experience – summers at the beach, barbeque dinners, and forest walks. However, I also spent much of my childhood being told about my ‘defects’ and my broken parts. I was born with a heart condition for which I underwent two major surgeries. A very frightening experience for a little girl.
For as long as I can remember I have felt an other-worldly connection to all of life’s vibrations. Being an empath (a person highly attuned to the feelings and emotions of those around them) I am a deeply spiritual person, strongly connected to my inner knowing. This allows me to manifest things into my life very quickly, and sense things occurring before others are aware. As a child, this was the source of a lot of fear, confusion, and shame. Something I now know to be a gift rather than the curse I felt in my earlier years.
I began my career in nursing wanting to care for the world, just as I had been cared for by medical teams and of course, nurses. However, I left my career in nursing wanting to care for the carers, just as I hadn’t been cared for.
Starting right from university, we were never taught the importance of caring for ourselves or other carers to meet the huge demands of our roles. The personal experiences that lead many of us down this career track is never identified or supported.
On a regular basis, I experienced burnout, compassionate fatigue and moral injury. It would present itself with a lack of motivation, feeling helpless, reduced compassion for myself and others, a low or negative outlook, a sense of failure and self-doubt. There were no relevant wrap-around support options for carers in my position. I never witnessed examples of leadership accessing support or understanding of how to protect and maintain our own care tanks to remain care-full.
Across multiple industries, carers are viewed as weak, powerless martyrs. The victim card is played on the regular, overworking is a status symbol, and guilt is leveraged to fill the roster. I never learnt how to put boundaries in place so that I wasn’t taken advantage of.
Many carers disempower themselves daily because of an embedded belief that making a difference in other people’s lives is akin to martyrdom. That old chestnut of “it’s a ‘calling’ first, a rewarded job second”.
For so much of my life and most of my career, I was left feeling my femininity - particularly my empathy, my intuition, and my emotions were a liability I needed to "fix" if I wanted to be a successful medicine woman and human. I didn't realise at the time that these feminine qualities are exactly what a true healer must embody to help another human being heal. They're also the traits all of us - men and women included - need to balance within ourselves if we are to become forces for healing, not only within our professions but also for our culture and planet.
In 2016, I came face-to-face with my first childhood health experience with a new procedure at the same hospital (34 years to the day). This started a chain reaction of PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) that would take a long time to heal from – psychologically and spiritually. It presented as insomnia, anorexia, panic attacks, anxiety, agoraphobia, and claustrophobia. My typical protection mechanisms of busyness, people pleasing, and perfectionism were gone and in the still void that remained, I began the journey to heal from my exiles. And it was here that my journey to Heart Place Hospital began.
Fast forward to July 2021, I have made the decision to honour my whole being and discontinue burning myself trying to keep others warm. I also answered my soul’s call - to care for the carers.
After many attempts to lobby the Government and Hospitals with solutions based on my experience, and then receiving unsupportive replies, it became clear that I was going to have to be the change I wanted to see in the world.
Which brings us here. It’s why you are reading this.
I created a safe space for the carers and empaths of the world to be uplifted and supported with the tools and information required to function– feeling healed, care-full, heart-full, self-full, and wealth-full”.
I am here to support humanity, guide, offer tools from my expertise, and hold space for the process, however, I will not “fix” anyone - for I do not believe anyone is broken and I hold the vision for all our wholeness. An intense desire to use what we’ve learned to serve other people and guide them through the process of recovering from misfortunes and thriving in all aspects of their lives is what fuels us health visionaries.
My vision has morphed over time, however, it became clear to me that it’s my life purpose to change the face of health care and education as we know it. I feel called to help others expand the definition of health to include, not just physical and mental health, but also interpersonal, professional, spiritual, creative, sexual, environmental, and financial health. This model “whole health” is largely missing from medicine.
My mission is to feminize the broken, outdated, patriarchal healthcare system, reclaim love as a healing practice, bring spirituality back to medicine, encourage people/healer collaboration, empower patients to heal themselves, and change how we deliver and receive health care.
Written by Jacqui O'Connor