This is a crazy difficult post to write, and I am already imagining how much anxiety I will feel when I go to click “publish” at the top right corner of my screen. But these things need to be said because 1) they are weighing so heavily on my heart and 2) I feel so much freaking shame about even thinking this, let alone blogging about it, which tells me that’s exactly why I should write about it.
I want to write about the hard shit. The stuff that no one dares to even admit they think about. Because I am so sick and tired of feeling ashamed, and I want to replace those feelings with self-love, compassion and peace.
As usual, I would like to give you a little background so that you may appreciate this story in its entirety.
I graduated from Ottawa University in 2013 with a Bachelor of nursing, and jumped right into my career by working full time in Intensive Care. I loved what I did – sort of. I mean really did love caring for people and accompanying them through some of their most difficult and vulnerable moments. I loved those times when I would feel so connected to someone through something as simple as touching their hand or looking them in the eyes.
I also loved the status that came with what I did. I mean at the age of 22, I was an ICU nurse guys!!! I saved lives for a living, and made pretty good cash doing it too. And that’s what kept me going for a while.
Kept me going? Yeah, well the honest truth is that working as an ICU nurse was brutal for me. First, the 12 hour shifts were killer – working 48 hours in 4 days is so unhealthy and on top of that I was on a totally different schedule than the rest of my friends and family, meaning that I was always missing out on social gatherings. That sucks, especially when you are in your 20s and supposed to be having the time of your life!!
The constant stress I felt while working in ICU totally drained me, and I was perpetually exhausted. It was like I was always on edge – never knowing what patient would become unstable next. I internalized everything that went wrong with my patients, feeling like I was somehow responsible when their pressure tanked, their temperature spiked or their heart stopped. It’s stupid, I know. But that’s the burden I carried around for 3 years.
Until my body said no more, and I had a panick attack, one night at work.
We were short staffed, as was the usual. I was told that I was to stay alone in our removed step-down unit with 4 critically ill (but “stable”) patients, while my co-worker was being pulled back to the main ICU unit where they needed her most.
There is so much more to this moment: months of exhaustion and crazy demanding work conditions leading up to this night. But regardless; I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I started bawling my eyes out (told ya you’d read that line often😅) and soon I was hyperventilating uncontrollably. The hospital coordinator attempted to calm me down, but clearly had no training in how to handle such situations. Between my sobs and gasps for air, I asked her to call a co-worker and respiratory therapist that was working that night, because I knew he would be able to help me (at least better than she could).
He came and sat with me, coaching me through some breathing. But ultimately I had reached a breaking point, and there was no going back.
So I was wheeled to the emergency room where I called my mom and waited to see the doc. I left a few hours later with a note, excusing me from work for the night due to a “medical condition”.
I felt absolutely horrible, that I let down my colleagues like that. That I couldn’t just keep it together like the rest of them.
It’s funny. I’m not sure if this is just my personality, or the training/messaging I received a nurse. But being a registered nurse, I feel such a deep sense of responsibility to the healthcare system and the community at large. I feel like there is so much attached expectations. We are told over and over again that nursing is a vocation.
Fast forward 4 years, and I am standing up at a Nurse Practitioner conference held by the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, talking about this absolute sense of overwhelm I am feeling in my new role as Attending NP in a Long Term Care Home. At this conference, I stood up and spoke into a microphone to the panel and the crowd about how I was about to resign from my position, because I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Again, I felt like a horrible person, for thinking and saying that out loud. The CEO spoke directly to me and told me NOT to resign, and that they would help support me. In fact, I even got nominated, right then and there, as co-chair for a Community of Practice for NPs in LTC.
Boom. The vocation of a nurse.
It was too little (or too much?), too late though. I did end up stepping down from that position about a month later.
It’s been 3 months now since I announced my resignation, and 1 month since I have been off work.
And I feel as overwhelmed and burnt out as ever.
The thought of going back to work as a nurse terrifies me. I just don’t know if I have it in me anymore, to carry around this burden of responsibility that comes with the highly praised title of being a nurse.
Maybe I don’t want to be “Michèle, Nurse Practitioner” anymore.
Maybe I just want to be “Michèle”.