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.