It’s been a difficult but humbling two weeks for me. I finally acknowledged to myself and to others that I Burnt Out when it came to bedside nursing. I had hoped to experience some relief through my confession but I did not. In reality, I then went on to spend the weekend crying and praying for better days ahead. I was not happy.
My preceptor didn’t really contribute much to the solution. Neither did the doctor who was present when all this happened on Friday. She just avoids me now, will not speak with me directly, only speaks with my preceptor. During my work week, I continued to ask my preceptor for feedback to which she would simply place it back on me, “How do YOU think you’re doing?” I went home and I cried again. And complained. And prayed. The fact that I have no more energy to give to my profession coupled with having a difficult preceptor really pushed me over the edge. And as I was falling I saw something.
I am reading a book about called “The Joy of Burnout” by Dina Glouberman. In it the author talks about people who have burnt out as people who have been doing what they’re doing with the desire to be a hero or gain self-esteem. She makes reference to a book written by Ernst Becker called “The Denial of Death” saying,
“Ernst Becker, in his book The Denial of Death, writes about this drive to ‘stand out, be a hero, make the biggest possible contribution to world life, show that he counts more than anything or anyone else.’ He emphasizes that it is our terror of admitting that we are doing this to gain self esteem that makes human heroics ‘a blind drivenness that burns people up.’ Whether or not we thought of ourselves as heroes, our general approach was to put what we were doing and giving and achieving first, and everything else second, and not to look too closely at why we were doing this. This led us to that ‘blind drivenness’ that Becker writes about.”
For me, that statement is true. And it led me to make an honest assessment of myself. I didn’t think about this when I came back from traveling. Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy, I would’ve assumed that I was at the top of the pyramid, seeking self-actualization. But when I looked at my interactions with my family, friends, coworkers, management, and doctors and pay attention to what I’m feeling during those interactions and what my motives were at that time, clearly they were about recognition, validation, prestige, accomplishment and the avoidance of inferiority. I am in the Esteem phase of my development.
During my second assignment as a travel nurse, I agreed to trust myself. I stopped seeking belonging (because I realized there’s nothing “wrong” with me) and I stopped thinking myself crazy and second guessing my intuition. As a result of that, a host of new information came to the forefront for me to digest. This included the feelings of burn out. When I started working in the NICU, I think I was proud of my previous accomplishments. I have been a nurse for less that 3 years and not only had I precepted and served as a resource nurse, but I also went on to become a travel nurse who was able to foster good relationships with staff, educators, and management during that time. That said, I never fully pushed myself to break free of the shyness and insecurities I had acquired during my time in college. Back then, I gave up on myself and stopped talking. I had to learn how to use words again and formulate sentences (My uncle often says that back then I used “Yoda speech” to communicate ‘speak I cannot’). The remnants of that is that I mumble often, whisper a lot, and tense up when I speak with doctors, management, and patient family members alike.
When I asked my preceptor for feedback, I thought I was asking her for insight into how to improve what I’m doing. Deeper still, I was asking her to estimate my worth as a nurse. When the doctor decided to ignore me and chose only to work with my preceptor, or refused to work with me solely, I took that to heart. How could I not? I felt like I was a “bad nurse”. Or an incompetent nurse. And when I went home, I cried.
This is not to say that I don’t think these people have issues. They might. I definitely think they do. But I took their issues personally and used it to estimate my own worth as a nurse. I wanted to hear them say, “You’re a good nurse” or “You’re doing such a good job!” I wanted the recognition and the pats on the back that came with it because I wasn’t confident enough to give it to myself.
So the truth is I am insecure or I come off as insecure. But I am working on that now. I need to speak up and say what it is I need. I need to speak up and take ownership of my space and stop seeking it from others like my preceptor or that doctor because it isn’t going to come.