Personal Stories

Personal Pain, a Pandemic, and Paddle Boarding

by Nannette Prevost

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In 2013, I was loving life with Shane, my husband of 16 years, and raising my two young boys. Everything seemed perfect when my life changed in an instant. My husband had been living with well-managed bipolar disorder even before our marriage, but his symptoms suddenly escalated, and he started to spiral out of control. I was working as a nurse, so you might think I would know what to do or how to help. But I didn't. I lost my husband to suicide eight years ago. My babies lost their dad to a death I couldn’t explain. Nurses like answers. We’re problem solvers. But I had no answers.

The hardest part of my journey was staying strong for my children through all the unknowns. But my friends — specifically, the nurses I work with — kept me strong. During that time, we all took care of each other. One of my fellow nurses led me to a hobby that has given me a new purpose in life.

During the rough times after my husband’s death, I started paddle boarding with a friend and colleague to help with my anxiety. I became very good at this new activity, and it soon became more than a hobby; I even won several races in Florida. In 2015, I was approached by a company called Watersports West that offered to sponsor me in paddle board races. Our collaboration grew from there, and I realized I had an opportunity to give back to other nurses needing emotional support.

Watersports West began providing boards I could use to take other nurses (who were working on the frontlines) out on the water as a form of stress relief. I had experienced what “water therapy” could do, and I wanted to share that positivity with others. This became a critical mission during the COVID-19 pandemic; I was delighted to be able to take my colleagues out paddle boarding during the stress and fear during lockdowns and surges. Interest in paddle boarding grew, and before I knew it, I was getting calls from health care workers who were interested in heading out to the water with me.

The response led to my decision to start my own non-profit organization — not only to help my colleagues but anyone struggling with mental health issues. My non-profit is an interventional program called Remember Me NP, and its goal is to promote mental health and further suicide prevention efforts. It was created in loving memory of Shane and all the health care workers we’ve lost to COVID-19 during this dreadful pandemic.

Most of my volunteers are first responders trained to recognize if a participant may need additional support and resources. Watersports West supplies me with boards and gear for my program, and I'm just getting started. I now advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to implement change for education in health care for suicide prevention in Tallahassee. I also have recently just completed my training with NAMI as a Family-to-Family Peer Specialist.

I'm still working in surgery because I love it, but I’m not sure how much longer I can sustain two full-time jobs. With the rise in suicide deaths since COVID-19, I feel I’m needed in the community even more than in the operating room. I’ve learned a lot since losing my husband to suicide, and I need to share my story to help others.