Sometimes, when we reach a point where we don’t know where we are going, it’s best to just stop.
I’ve been using the suggestions in Dina Glouberman’s book “The Joy of Burnout” and one of the suggestions included visualizing yourself having a conversation with Life. I invited Life to join me for a cup of tea. We sat across from each other and I asked Life, “Why do you always feel like a constant uphill battle? Why, over the last several years have I had to work so hard?” And Life said, “Because you believed that you had to prove your strength, you constantly sought out challenges and obstacles to overcome. You ignored everything that came easily for you, calling it undeserved, and opted instead to go after what required struggle.”
Life is right. My Ego has been addicted to struggle.In addition to that, I’ve been stubborn. I could feel in my heart and soul when something wasn’t right for me and yet I continued to fight for it because of the investments I had made. Long after my soul withdrew it’s energy, leaving me to my own devices, I’d continue to trudge on. And that’s Burnout: When your will alone can no longer continue down a road you already knew was the wrong one.
Last night, after returning to the present, committing myself to the truth, and agreeing to listen to my heart and soul regardless of the cost, I had another “anxiety-like attack”. It usually feels like my core is shaken. I wanted to know why this happened. Why the anxiety-like attacks. What is the fear? The answer I got was: I‘ve committed yourself to living the truth and listening to your heart and soul. I’m scared of being wrong, but I can’t and don’t want to go back to the girl I use to be. That said, I go back to work on Thursday and most of all, I’m afraid of regressing. I’m scared of regressing and going back to listening to my fears, doubts, and the opinions of others. I want to continue living from my core, living from my heart and soul because there is no joy in the way I use to live anymore. Nevertheless, my core is still shaken.
I wish I could guarantee that the choices I have made for myself would yield better results but I can’t say that anymore. I don’t know where I’m going. So I’ve stopped and have been waiting with myself. Thursday will get here when it gets here. All I’ve done is all I can do. I’ve exhausted who I was and all I can do is just be. Now.
I want to come clean about some things. For the last year, I’ve been writing a lot about my feelings (which I now know is what many call “Burnout” or “Dark Night of the Soul”). I recently mentioned that I got into graduate school and I’m going. I’m so glad to be continuing my education. That said, I am also filled with dread at the thought of going to work another day as a bedside RN.
I knew, by sophomore year of college, that I did not like what I was studying. My vision in life was to be a spiritual nomad, not to work in the hospital. The most I ever wanted to do was work in a clinic, possibly abroad. I thought I’d have more autonomy as well. And I didn’t. I chose to work in the hospital because everyone said this was where you get the most clinical experience. But my desire had never been to work with the sick and dying. I never aspired to be Mother Theresa or Florence Nightingale. Not once. Ever. In my life.
When I agreed to continue down this path, that’s when the panic attacks ensued. I was so scared of being wrong, or making a mistake, of embarrassing myself and my family. It all went back to Pride. I remember being in nursing school sophomore year not studying, not paying attention because my heart and soul had left interest in the profession long ago. It all felt wrong. But when I was given the option to quit nursing school and drop out of college, not knowing what the future held or what my options were (social work and psychology were not interesting to me anymore), I panicked, rolled up my sleeves and studied like no body’s business. I even made it into the honor society. But I knew, from the panic attacks, the weight gain, the general lack of self care, and the fact that my heart often wanted to focus solely on the spiritual or on meditation or escapism, that this was not exactly for me. And it didn’t get better when I agreed to work in the hospital.
Being there, I felt like I didn’t have enough decision making power and I’ve always loved having the freedom to come and go as I please. Many RNs talk about loving the camaraderie they experienced as a bedside RN. In truth, I never truly cared for it. I have made friends here and there in the profession but I never really cared for camaraderie when all else feels wrong to me.
The truth is, I’ve been exhausted ever since I started nursing school. And it’s because I refuse to listen to myself if my desires weren’t ambitious enough. I’ve kicked myself many a time for dreading the thought of working in the hospital when that’s where the “real nurses” work (yes, I’ve heard others say this). I’ve come down hard on myself for not wanting to party it up with my colleagues on my days off…ever. I’ve tried to ignore myself and my feelings of anxiety when I think about having to go to work or for my indignation towards performing certain tasks. I’ve swallowed those feelings and did the work anyways. But it never negates that those feelings are there. Everyone around me are often the first ones who encourage me to “stick with it”. But “stick with it” isn’t what I need right now. The truth, the real truth, is that I dislike bedside nursing and never wanted to deal with the acutely or critically ill.
I’m writing this here because I need to confess this to myself. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. In truth, I might never have known what I’m doing. But the last few years I’ve felt increasing disconnect from myself and while I’ve worked to reconnect with myself in 2015 to now, I still don’t think I’ve found my path. Maybe it’s growth. Maybe it’s because I’ve had experiences that have opened me up to so many new possibilities that life seems increasingly more gray than black and white. But I have no hope that bedside nursing will get better for me. I dislike it. I also don’t know if attending graduate school will yield better results. What I do know is that it’s an option. I want to work in primary care. Nothing sicker than that. No more than 3, ten hour days a week unless I have absolutely autonomy and control over my life and decision making ability, something which I did not have as a bedside RN. While it’s very ambitious to want to deal with the most critical cases in healthcare, I think it’s only truly ambitious if it’s something you really want to do. I don’t and have been resistant to it my entire career. The funny thing is, I remember in college someone asking me why I didn’t apply to work in the ICU and I told them, “If I ever take a job in the ICU, know that I’m moving in the wrong direction for myself.” The funny thing is, I applied for a position in the neonatal ICU.” I’m glad I didn’t get it because I don’t want it.
What I do want to do is get out of the bedside before the end of the year and focus primarily on graduate school. My focus this year, before work, before ego, before ambition and people who embody all three of these things, is stress management and moving on from burnout. I burnt out. There’s a reason for that. I’m sick of ignoring everything I feel and know to be true of myself simply because it requires radical shifts in behavior or thought.
Two days ago, I found myself feeling hopeless. I went numb. My initial plan was to sign onto my blog and write a bit more but I had no energy. Whatever I had been ignoring suddenly overwhelmed me. My anxiety attacks were occurring more frequently, my heart felt heavy, and I couldn’t even cry.
This year, my goal was to focus on stress reduction and stress management. I’ve been burnt out and looking for a way out of the
mind fuck labyrinth that is the life I created for myself. My solution was always to “try harder” at whatever it was I was doing. As a result, I kept burning out. And I’ve burnt out often. In my personal life, in my relationships, and now in my career choice. I eventually got symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, stomach ulcers, unclear thoughts, migraines, and tension headaches. At several points in my life, I’ve taken myself to the doctor for symptoms that often lead to a myriad of tests, that eventually lead back to them asking, “How are you managing your stress?” Burn out is not fun. The reality is that I was not following my truth and I pay hefty prices for that.
What makes it hard is having to admit to others that the very thing I said I loved with so much pride is now the very thing I despise. I haven’t wanted to admit I was wrong. As a result, I never wanted to say anything else with confidence because I didn’t want to seem fickle. I’d often imagine people chastising me or saying, “ohhhh! But I thought you said you LIKED what you were doing?” In a mocking voice. But I’ve changed. When I agreed to work in nursing, I had a list of reasons as to why I wanted to be a nurse. But as the years went on, I was able to check those things off my personal list. I grew up. I started seeing other ways to have my needs met, and bedside nursing became less and less of a passion-filled experience for me. I was telling my mom that what I use to love most about nursing was only working three days a week and never once having to think about fashion or style or “looking good” because everyone wears scrubs and sneakers or nurse shoes. But now, I long for the opportunity to “beautify” myself at work. I want to wear nice dressy outfits, or dark blue jeans, long dangling earrings, and well manicured (possibly long) nails. In addition to the desire for more fashion choices, I became disillusioned with my experiences at the bedside.
I’m not dumping on bedside nursing in the least. Bedside nurses work SO hard. Possibly too hard. And it’s never enough. It’s just never enough for anyone. In the days when I derived my worth from the amount of recognition and acknowledgement I received, this almost killed me. But now I feel I am enough. Even more, I feel I have given enough to the bedside. I know there’s a lot of people in this profession who look at me and think, “You haven’t been a nurse that long. You burnt out already?” Yes, I have. Mostly, because I’ve changed and when something no longer aligns with your values, then “length of time” involved isn’t exactly a factor. It’s only a matter of time before you let it go or let it kill you. I almost let it kill me.
Trying to “prove my value” was stupid and futile. I am a worthy individual. I’ve been talking about my feelings and outlook with anyone who’d listen. Yesterday, while driving to work, I kept asking,”What do I do? What do I do?”. It just seemed glum. For starters, I’ve worked as a bedside nurse caring for adults across the age spectrum with a myriad of illnesses and in a variety of specialties and I grew exhausted and disillusioned with every single one. I can’t see myself returning to the bedside to provide healthcare with the adult population. That chapter is through for me. What I heard inside of myself was, “When you get into grad school go!” Four hours later, I got the phone call followed by the email saying that I got into my first choice school. I’m going to graduate school.
I’m done clinging to work place perceptions as a source of self-validation. I’m done with feeling shame for admitting that bedside nursing wasn’t what I expected it to be. I don’t regret the struggle. I am, however, ready for something new. I want to grow. I want to change. I want to lead a life that’s congruent with my values and the person I am becoming. I’m done living in the past.
I’ve been talking extensively about Self-Confidence lately. I’ve figured out that nobody (not even my mom) is going to advocate for me. And I no longer expect them to. In a perfect world, I think they would, or should. But we all know that shoulds are not absolutes.
I mentioned that I no longer ask my preceptor for feedback, but rather opt to give it to myself (because I think she works to try and make me seem incompetent to others). Well, yesterday, while speaking with my mom, I tried to open up about my preceptor and how I’m working on giving myself feedback. Let me just start by saying that mom and I are very different and tend to see life very differently. So I shouldn’t have been too surprised by her reaction. At some point during the conversation my mom said, “you have a lot of insecurities.” So I asked her what are my insecurities hoping to get feedback (she did, after all, make the comment). Her response was, “I don’t know. You have to tell me what your insecurities are since you know yourself better than me. So don’t ask me what your insecurities are.” I was livid by her reaction. I knew for me I was trying to open up to her but she used it as an opportunity to express her power. Her reaction was like that of my preceptor.
She acknowledged my preceptor was rude but felt I was the brunt of the problem by not seeming 100% confident at work. At that point, a switch turned off in me. Whatever emotional support I was hoping to find in the external, was not going to come from anyone in my present circumstances, if ever. Why did I even bother trying? Because she’s my mother. Unfortunately, receiving emotional support where one would expect to find it is not a luxury that I can always afford. We have to play with the cards we were dealt. I also needed to think about this objectively. My mother is still her own person and, as mentioned earlier, we often see life very differently from each other. So, while it would’ve been nice to have received her support and approval, I also know that at my age, it’s not exactly necessary.
We all want to be approved of. It’s normal. However, when people refuse to or are unable to give it, where are you going to get your approval from? So again, I was reminded. Hopefully this time I have learned and won’t forget.