15 Reasons Why Nursing is the Best Career Ever


Those of you who know me in real life may be aware that I spent a great deal of time pondering whether I should attend nursing school or medical school.  For a number of reasons I chose nursing, not the least of which was my scholarship to attend nursing school.  Even after graduation & moving on to “the real world” for a while I still had a lot of days (or nights) when I wondered if I’d made the right choice.  To further complicate matters I’ve even been told by well-meaning but clueless folks “You’re too smart to be just a nurse” or some variation on that theme.  Those comments used to really bother me & I couldn’t help but wonder for a while if maybe there was some truth in them.  But the longer I’ve been a nurse the more I’ve realized that being “smart” has little to do with whether one should be a doctor vs a nurse (or anything else for that matter).  Both fields require a great amount of intelligence along with many other important skills.  For right now I’m very content that nursing was the right path for me.  Someday I will probably “move on” to nursing education, Nurse Practitioner, or maybe even med school.  I’m not ruling out anything at this point.  But for right now nursing seems to be a perfect fit for me & I’m so glad I chose this path.

nursing humor

To be honest when I decided to attend nursing school I intended to be a bedside nurse for only a few years, maybe 5 years at most.  My sole intention was to advance to being an NP.  However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I actually love bedside nursing, a lot more than I honestly thought I would, & I’m in no hurry to leave it.  Yes, I have stressful shifts in which I wonder why the heck I chose this profession, but thankfully those are few & far between, & even on those shifts I know that I’ve made a positive difference in someone’s life in some way, no matter how small.  I’ve been blessed to work with some AMAZING people at both of my nursing jobs, from fellow nurses & nursing assistants to doctors & respiratory therapists.  What I’ve realized is that in healthcare (as everywhere) no man (or woman) is an island.  None of us can do our jobs alone.  I am not one of those nurses who feels the need to “cut down” doctors or compete with anyone for attention or glory.  The truth is every single healthcare team member is irreplaceable.  From housekeepers to nursing assistants, from doctors to pharmacists, from physical therapists to nurses, we are all invaluable.  And our patients receive the best care when we treat each other with the respect & dignity we all deserve.

With this being nurses’ week I’d like to send out a salute to all my fellow nurses for the excellent care you provide in whatever function you serve.  I’d also like to share what I believe are some of the best things about the nursing profession & why I can’t imagine a better career.

1. OPTIONS.  I for one cannot think of any other career in which you have as many options as nursing.  In the hospital alone, nurses can work everything from ortho & med-surg to ICU & ER to OR & endoscopy.  Or we can select a specialty like wound care, case management, or infection control.  If we tire of working with adults, we can switch over to babies or children or vice versa.  Outside of the hospital nurses can work with hospice, home health, or in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, schools, & clinics.  With additional training we can move on to nursing education, Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthetist, management & administration, informatics, & many other roles.  The possibilities are truly endless.

2. Working 3 days (or nights, if you’re a night shifter like me) a week is awesome!!  I truly do not think I could ever return to the 9-5 grind.  Such a pain in the butt!  I love working my 3 12-hr shifts & then being done for the week.  Yes, I have NO LIFE outside of the hospital for those few nights but when it’s over, it’s over & I have more time left over for just LIVING.

3. Working with sick people is a constant reminder that life is short & good health & long life are never guaranteed, even for the young & seemingly invincible.  Since becoming a nurse I know I live my life with greater purpose & intention.  I hold those I love closer.  I don’t take tomorrow for granted as much.  I appreciate my good health & work harder to maintain it.

stethoscope

4. It’s often been said that nurses “eat their young,” & lateral violence is a well-documented phenomenon in the nursing world as well as in the healthcare field in general.  However, I must say I am blessed to have never really encountered this kind of behavior.  On the contrary, the nurses and nursing assistants I have worked with have been some of the kindest, most intelligent & hard-working people I’ve ever known.  From relatively new nurses in their 20’s like me to experienced nurses in their 50’s & 60’s, we all have so much to offer, & I’ve learned so much from my coworkers, not just about nursing but about life.  Some of my best friends are other nurses & I love you all.

5. Nurses can talk about ANYTHING.  And I really do mean anything.  If you’ve ever had a gross question about the human body, as a nurse you can ask it in front of your coworkers with no fear of embarrassment or scorn.  No topics are off the table with us.  It’s so much fun, trust me!

6. Nursing is never boring, at least any field I’ve worked in thus far has never been boring.  Whenever I have free time at work, there is always something to be done, from organizing supplies to helping out my coworkers with their patients.  Though I certainly have a routine, no two shifts are ever the same.  I never know what I’m going to see or encounter at work & that is part of what makes it so exciting.

7. On a similar token, the learning never ends.  I’m constantly taking classes to further my nursing knowledge or to learn about a new technology, piece of equipment, or computer system.  The continual learning curve, I believe, keeps my mind stimulated & interested & hopefully young as well.

8. Hearing a patient say thank you is one of the greatest feelings in the world.  Sometimes they don’t even say it but you can see it in their eyes & their smile.

9. Watching a patient who you thought would never recover start to improve is so inspiring.  I’ve seen patients I thought would never leave the hospital alive, much less walking & talking, recover & prove me wrong in so many ways.  Of course I’ve also seen lots of horribly sad things, but in order to survive in nursing you have to focus on the good stories.

10. As I emphasized previously, healthcare is always a team approach.  No one saves a life on his or her own.  But I know without a doubt that there have been times in my nursing career when my own critical thinking & quick actions, along with the help of others, have quite literally saved a life.  I can’t describe to you how great it feels to know you’ve helped save a life but those of you who’ve been there know what I mean.

11. Nursing is hard.  There are times when you will want to quit.  There are times when none of the stress seems worth it.  But the bad days make the good days sweeter.  And the challenges remind you that this really is a worth-while career.  As so many wise folks have said before, nothing good ever comes easy.  All jobs are hard at times & everyone has bad days.  But at least when I have a bad day as a nurse, I still know I’ve helped someone, & that makes the bad days easier to tolerate, at least for me.

12. Helping someone die peacefully & helping their family process this loss is one of life’s greatest challenges but also one of life’s greatest rewards.  There are some patients you will see more often than your own family members & losing them will be very difficult.  But knowing you made their last few days, weeks, or months at least a little more comfortable is an incredible blessing.

13. I don’t do OB nursing & never plan to, but I did get to witness both a C-section & a vaginal birth in nursing school & both were amazing experiences.  Though it’s not something I ever plan to pursue as a career, watching a baby enter the world is pretty miraculous.

nurse comic

14. I know it may seem unlikely that a profession that centers on caring for the sick & dying could possibly be humorous, but trust me when I say I’ve laughed more at work than almost anywhere in the past few years.  From crazy things that patients say (both confused & not confused) to crazy discussions with coworkers & everything in between, I’ve laughed a lot as a nurse the past few years.  And also trust me when I say that having a “wicked” or “twisted” sense of humor is a serious requirement to survive in the healthcare field.

15. Nursing will change you.  If you work in a healthy atmosphere & can maintain a positive (but realistic) attitude, nursing can & will make you a better person.  I know nursing has made me more confident, more resilient, more assertive, & so many other important things.  When I think about all the times I’ve stayed up 24 hrs straight or worked on just a few hours of sleep & still balanced the needs of 3-5 challenging patients, I think “Motherhood might be doable after all!”  In all seriousness, this profession does change you.  It will expose you to a lot of dark, scary, & tragic things.  You will see the “underbelly” of humanity so to speak.  But you will also see wonderful, life-affirming things that will renew & restore your faith in humanity.

If you’re a nurse, I hope this post has helped to remind you why our profession really is so amazing.  If you’re not a nurse, say thank you to those nurses who’ve helped you during times of illness or injury.  Trust me when I say you will make their day by doing so.

 

10 Life Lessons Nursing Has Taught Me


It’s probably been said a million times before but it’s worth repeating: nursing isn’t just a career; it’s a profession.  Some would even say it’s a calling.  In any case I can’t believe that in just under two months I will have been a nurse for three years.  It’s absolutely mind-blowing to think of all the things I’ve learned & experienced in just three years.  But it’s not just “nursing knowledge” that I’ve gained.  The things I’ve learned as a nurse are just as often lessons about life itself.  These lessons are actually very universal but I feel blessed to have chosen a profession that really does MATTER, a profession in which no matter how stressful or busy my shift may be, I still know I did at least a few things to make someone’s day a little better.  And I feel blessed to be in a profession that because of all these things brings continual growth to me as a human being. 

Today I would like to share the ten most important life lessons I have learned in my first three years as a nurse.  In ten or twenty years I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to add to this list & then it will be even more interesting to look back on these.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

1.  Life is way too short to do anything but have as much fun as you can.  I’m not trying to say we should just party it up all the time & neglect our responsibilities in life.  But what I am saying is that NONE of us, no matter how young or old, is guaranteed tomorrow, so no matter our current circumstances we need to truly make the most of every single day we’re alive.  Whatever goals or dreams you have in life, chase them NOW because you never know when you might not have the opportunity again.  If your current circumstances in life are making you miserable, find a way to change them, & if that’s impossible then change your attitude.  Life is far too short to be miserable all the time.

2.  On a similar token, life is often cruelly unfair.  Bad things happen to good people ALL the time.  It’s horrible & it can & will make you question everything you’ve ever believed, especially when you’re still young & vulnerable & trying to figure out life.  But that’s ok.  Question away.  Just don’t let bitterness take over or you will be of no use to anyone, including yourself.  At the end of the day if there is a purpose to life, it’s very simple: the purpose of life is to live it, to soak up as many experiences as you can, to have as much fun as you can, & to give & receive love as much as is possible. 

3.  Life is what we make it.  As mentioned above, circumstances are often unfair & not entirely within our control.  But our attitude about them can make a world of difference.  It’s perfectly normal & acceptable to experience sadness & anger when bad things happen, whether in relation to our health or otherwise.  But if we never move past this stage, we will be miserable forever.  We have to learn to process our emotions & move forward in life no matter what hardships we’re facing.  As Pema Chodron so wisely stated “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.  If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive.  It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us…”  For example, I’ve seen diabetics on dialysis in their 20’s & 30’s because they have refused to deal with their disease in a responsible manner & have continually not taken care of themselves at all.  These people are often obviously in denial of how sick they are but this “protective mechanism” of denial does not protect them from the physical consequences of their disease.  I’ve also seen diabetics who are in better shape & better health than most non-diabetics because they have a good attitude & take care of themselves, even though it is not easy.  Please don’t think I’m saying those who suffer negative outcomes, especially at a young age, DESERVE those things.  Of course not.  I’m just saying we cannot always control the cards we’re handed in life, but we can control how we play them.end of life

4.  Tragedy will prove the mettle of a family.  Families who are close are better able to handle tragedies because they have made plenty of good memories together & have actually had those difficult conversations about end of life issues.  Families who aren’t close will be completely ravaged by tragedy & are often unable to let go because they realize, far too late, what they’ve neglected.  It can be gut-wrenching to watch families break down during tragic experiences, but what we as nurses learn from this is that we need to have those difficult conversations with our own families.  No matter how awkward it may be, we have to talk to our loved ones about what they would want done if they had a massive stroke, car accident, or some other tragic injury in which they become incapacitated & unable to speak for themselves.  Whether you’re in the medical field or not, please think about these issues.  I don’t care if you’re 20 or 50 or 80.  You NEED to think about these situations & make your wishes known.  And you need to know the wishes of your loved ones.  God forbid you should face such a horrible scenario but if it should happen, it is better to be prepared & have some kind of plan than to have to bear the responsibility of making those decisions without knowing what your loved one would want done.

5.  Nursing has taught me that I can handle WAY more than I thought I could.  I can be up all day & work all night with no problem (not every night of course but sometimes).  I can take care of between 3-5 sick patients & still get my charting done & leave on time at the end of my shift (most of the time).  I can start IVs on people who have almost no veins to offer (not always of course, but more often than I ever dreamed possible).  I can help families process the impending death of a loved one.  I can hug & cry with family members when that death occurs.  I can clean up any & all body fluids without feeling nauseous (at least 99% of the time).  I can call a doctor at 3:00 a.m. & know exactly how to sum up the situation & what orders I need in two minutes or less.  I can leave my lunch to go collect a stool sample, wash my hands, & go right back to eating like that is completely normal.  I can be hit, kicked, & scratched by confused patients without losing my temper.  I can be yelled at by angry patients or family members without wanting to run out of the room crying (ok, sometimes I still want to but I don’t).  I can call a family member in the middle of the night to tell them their loved one might not make it till morning without breaking out in a cold sweat.  I can make patient assignments for the next shift even though I know that no matter what I do there will always be someone upset with their assignment.  I can listen to all kinds of crazy stories from patients, some confused, some not, without batting an eye.  Basically I can do so many things that I never thought I could do & this gives me the confidence to know that I can accomplish just about anything, at work or at home, if I work at it hard enough.  Some things will be incredibly difficult at first but practice really does make perfect, or at least close to it.

6.  Sometimes people can be incredibly stupid.  If you’re not in the medical field, you would not believe some of the crazy things we see & hear in the hospital.  Sometimes it’s enough to really make you question humanity.  But as nurses we have to learn to let it go, to remember the patients who make it all worth it, & to understand that the stupidity we see is often rooted in ignorance & lack of education.  Some of this is willful ignorance for sure, but some of it is not.  If I ever become so jaded & cold that I cannot see the good in others, I pray someone will tell me STAT so I can leave nursing because that is the point at which I would be useless & no longer worthy of this profession.  But I hope that day never comes.

7.  If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else.  Yes, as nurses we all have shifts when we go 8 hours or more without using the bathroom, eating, or drinking a sip of water.  But we can’t let this become the norm or we will burn out completely.  This concept is why I only work OT once a month at most (occasionally more if there are special circumstances but those are rare).  I know that no matter how good the money is, working OT every week is just not worth it.  I know I need my days off to relax & recharge in order to be mentally & physically capable of being the best nurse possible, not to mention the best wife, friend, daughter, etc.  Nursing may be a calling but it isn’t our only calling in life.  If we let it overwhelm us & take over our whole lives, we will soon find that the joy of it has been lost anyway.burnout

8.  There are a lot of people who love to complain but don’t want to actually do anything to effect change.  This is applicable to coworkers as much as it is to patients.  We all have to vent sometimes, especially in a profession as busy & stressful as nursing.  But we need to be conscious of how much we’re just complaining without actually accomplishing anything.  Trust me, I see things that anger or frustrate me all the time.  But I try to come up with practical solutions to as many of these problems as I can.  Otherwise I know I’m just spreading negativity & bringing everyone down, including myself.

9.  Change is hard.  Whether it’s a new computer system, a new policy, or a new piece of equipment, there is a learning curve for everything in nursing.  As human beings none of us really LIKES change.  It’s hard for everyone.  But if we want to survive as nurses we have to learn to adapt constantly & the same can be said of life in general.  In nursing, as in life, there is always something new to learn & that is part of what makes this such an exciting & interesting profession.  Not a night goes by that I don’t learn something new & I love that.  It’s what keeps me engaged when I’m exhausted & wondering why the heck I chose this path anyway.walk two moons quote

10.  Going back to the first point, life is way too short to stress about things that really don’t matter.  As one of my favorite books (Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech) put it, “In the course of a lifetime, what will it matter?”  I try to ask myself this question when I find myself stressing about something that I know probably isn’t worth the anxiety it’s causing me, whether at work or at home.  This is exactly why our house is usually a wreck & I’m chronically behind on housework.  I realize that at the end of my life, whenever that may be, I’d rather have spent my free time cuddling with my husband & my puppy or making memories with my family & friends than obsessing over having a spotless house.  Trust me, I’m not living in a pig-sty, but our house is far from super organized & I could not care less.  Our house will never be featured on some kind of interior decorating blog or be filled with Pinterest-inspired crafts.  But it is full of love & affection & that is what matters in the end.  By all means, if having a spotless house brings you joy, feel free to keep it up.  I’m just saying we shouldn’t waste our precious time on things that really don’t matter if they aren’t also bringing us joy.  When I’ve cared for patients at the end of their lives I’ve never once heard someone say they wished they’d spent more time cleaning or organizing their house or working or doing any of the mundane things that so often stress us on a day-to-day basis.  Instead what I’ve heard is “I’d wish I’d spent more time with my friends & family.”  Or “I wish I’d learned to play the piano like I always wanted.”  Again it comes back to what I said at the beginning: life is far too short to do anything but have as much fun as we can. 

If you’re a nurse (or anything medical) & you’re reading this, what life lessons do you think our profession has taught you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Novel Aspirations: My Greatest Dream in Life


Those of you reading this who are writers will know what I mean when I say that I am having one of those days when I want to write about so many things but my mind can’t seem to slow down long enough to settle on any of them.  I love nursing, I really do, but my greatest career aspiration is to be a writer.  I don’t even really think of writing as a career because writing a novel has always been my greatest dream, going all the way back to childhood.  I’ve always been fascinated with books and stories and the older I get the more my love for reading (and writing) grows.  I want desperately to write the kind of novel that really makes people think, that makes readers really examine their own lives and beliefs.  But I have no idea where to start, and at twenty-four (almost twenty-five) years old, I figure I haven’t experienced enough of life to be able to write such a thing anyway.  There’s a part of my brain that tells me I’m crazy for thinking I could ever influence people with my words, whether written or spoken.  I try not to listen to that voice but there are days, like today, when that voice is louder than the other voices in my head.  I’m not schizophrenic or anything but we all have voices in our heads, you know the positive ones that say “You can do it,” usually followed quite swiftly by the negative ones that say “You’re crazy for dreaming such things.”

writing a book

I was talking to a dear friend of mine recently about the struggle we all face to feel normal in a world that sometimes seems to do nothing but scream “You’re weird!” every time you walk out the door.  Her response was “No one ever changed the world by being normal.”  I love that so much and I fully believe it’s true.  I used to think I couldn’t be happy in life if I didn’t become famous somehow.  Now I realize how foolish that was, but there is still a part of me that feels like I won’t be fully satisfied with my life if I don’t really make a difference in this world (the poem I wrote that is the title of this blog was about this exact struggle; see my post “Inspiration Behind the Blog”).  I’m old enough now to realize that you don’t have to be the next Mother Teresa or Gandhi to make a positive difference in the world; actually we can all do that just by being good decent people every day that we live.  By reaching out to those in need, by showing mercy when it would be easier not to, by baring our souls about the struggles we all face so that our friends and acquaintances realize that deep down we’re really all the same.  And yet I keep coming back to writing.  As much as I love nursing and realize that my career offers me a multitude of opportunities to help others every day (or night) that I work, I can’t help but feel that no matter what I accomplish as a nurse, or even as a mom someday, I’ll still want more.  I still want to write a book.  I still feel like that’s the best way in which I can touch this world.

At the rate I’m going now, I don’t know if my book will ever happen.  At this point in my life I’m still much too worried about what others would think about some of the things I want to write.  I know I have to move past such trivialities if I want to ever write something truly great, but that isn’t going to happen overnight.  I also realize that even if I do actually write a novel, it might never get published.  And even if it did get published, that’s no guarantee anyone would actually read it.  But I still feel like I have to try, because as I told a friend yesterday, I write principally for myself, to bring peace to my own soul.  Of course if my writing can somehow inspire others, then that is a wonderful bonus.

I have no idea where I’m going with this post but I just knew that I wouldn’t get anything accomplished today and most importantly I wouldn’t be at peace with myself until I wrote about something.  Even if it was something as ironic as writing about writing, as the case may be.  In any case, I like to think that this blog is a small step in the right direction toward accomplishing my dream.

For those of you reading who would like to share what your greatest dream(s) is in life, I’d love to hear from you.

The Hardest Person to Forgive


Today’s blog post explores an idea that is certainly not original by any stretch of the imagination but it’s something I believe is very much worth exploring nonetheless.  Regardless of what, if any, religious affiliation you associate with (or associated with in the past), we hear a lot of talk about the importance of forgiving others & not holding grudges or allowing ourselves to become bitter toward those who have hurt us.  These ideas are of course very important because we cannot have peace in our own minds when we are not at peace with others, at least as much as is possible.  As hard as it can be to forgive others, when given some thought I believe most people would agree that oftentimes the hardest person in life to forgive is yourself.  Today I would like to explore why that might be and why it’s so important to learn to forgive ourselves no matter how difficult it can be at times.

forgiveness

If you have ever taken any kind of basic psychology course you probably discussed the well-recognized phenomenon in which victims of child, physical, or other types of abuse very often blame themselves for the abuse which they have suffered.  At first glance this may seem extraordinary & impossible to believe.  But delve a little deeper & one can reason that perhaps it is easier to believe that you made a mistake or somehow provoked the abuser to hurt you than to believe that someone, particularly a family member, romantic partner, or friend (indeed someone who should have been protecting you, not hurting you) actually CHOSE to hurt you & is thus truly a very screwed up individual.  Rape victims often are also perfect examples of this phenomenon.  Indeed society does a great deal of blaming the victim as well because frankly it is easier to believe that a woman (or man) provoked such a horrible thing to happen than to believe that there are such evil, disgusting people in this world.  This of course only serves to perpetuate the cycle of victims blaming themselves & being unable to forgive themselves for something which in reality is not even their fault.

However, we certainly don’t have to be abuse or rape victims (actually, I don’t like that term; let’s say survivors) to struggle with self-forgiveness.  How many times a day do most of us berate ourselves for not eating healthily enough, weighing too much, not saving enough money, or countless other things?  I’m not saying these aren’t worthy goals, they surely are, but sometimes I think in our haste to berate ourselves for our poor decisions we actually hinder our own progress.  Sometimes in our quest for perfection we miss the beauty of life that is right before our very eyes.  Indeed, we focus so much on our mistakes that we have no energy left over for actual self-improvement.

One of the greatest lessons I think we all have to learn in life is that there are going to be days when we just don’t like ourselves because we simply aren’t as “perfect” we want to be.  For example, as a nurse I know I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am not going to feel 100% compassion for every patient every time.  Naturally I want to, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen because I am just as human as everyone else.  And I have had to learn to forgive myself for this & to know that as long as it doesn’t prevent me from providing excellent care it’s ok.  Learning to forgive myself for not being the perfect “angel of compassion” at all times actually helps me to more quickly recognize my own prejudices & then set them aside & provide the best care possible at all times.  For example, when I have a particularly trying patient who is rude & dissatisfied with her care no matter how many times I bend over backwards to try to meet her needs, I have to remind myself that it’s ok to be annoyed with her.  It’s ok to mentally roll my eyes at these things.  I just have to possess the self-control to not allow these feelings to come across to the patient & to not allow those feelings to so overwhelm me that I become bitter & angry toward that patient or anyone else.  I have to see beyond the annoying behaviors to the hurting person inside.  Having come to these realizations has actually helped me to have greater satisfaction in my nursing career &, though I have no scientific way of validating it, I truly believe it has made me overall a more effective nurse.

I believe this idea is also very important for parents.  Though I am not a parent yet I hope to be one someday, & I know when that day comes there will be times when I look at my children & wonder “What the hell was I thinking?!”  And I will have to learn to forgive myself for those thoughts, to remember that every parent feels that way at times.  AND IT’S OK.  Similarly, in marriage or any serious relationship there are times when you look at your partner & wonder what you are doing with this person.  AND THAT’S OK TOO.  Being frustrated or upset with your partner or your child doesn’t make you a bad person.  It just makes you a PERSON.  The important thing is to be able to recognize these thoughts when they occur, handle them as objectively as possible (by that I mean not beating yourself up over them, just recognizing them for what they are: a sign of your own beautiful humanity), & moving on in the knowledge that as long as these thoughts don’t become the overall theme of your life, they’re not a big deal.

Another situation in which I believe we struggle with self-forgiveness is with regret.  I feel fortunate to say I truly do not have a lot of regrets in my life, but I do struggle with forgiving myself for those few I do have.  However, what I am slowly learning is that self-forgiveness is an absolutely vital step in preventing myself from repeating the same old mistakes.

I guess my point with this post is that I truly believe that we cannot move forward in life without self-forgiveness.  As long as we wallow in guilt & self-hate we are stuck in a self-perpetuating negative cycle.  Life would be a lot easier if we could just magically forgive ourselves (& others), but that’s just not the way life works.  As with almost everything in life, self-forgiveness is a process.  It’s an everyday event that requires conscious awareness & effort.  I hope that as you’re reading this you don’t think I’m making excuses for bad behavior or encouraging you to not feel guilty for things that you know in your heart are wrong.  Of course not.  What I am saying is that we cannot truly improve ourselves without self-forgiveness.  We hear so much in society about the importance of showing compassion to others & there’s no doubt that this is indeed most vital.  But just as vital is showing compassion to yourself.  There’s a fine line for sure between being compassionate toward yourself & making excuses for yourself.  But the line is there & it’s our job as human beings to stay on the former side of it.

To be perfectly honest this post feels quite like word vomit to me at this point.  There’s so much I want to say & the words just aren’t coming to me tonight.  Though I have fumbled through the words, I hope the passion I feel for this matter has somehow come through & that at least one person who reads this will be encouraged to begin the process of self-forgiveness & moving toward a brighter tomorrow.

I’d love to hear what you think on this matter.  Am I speaking to the wind or does any of this make sense?

A Student of Life


Essentially my entire memorable life I have thought of myself principally as a student. Being a student is what I have always been good at. I was one of those really weird kids who actually enjoyed school & not just the part about seeing friends or playing kickball in gym class. Actually, I usually hated gym class unless I got lucky & had some good friends to suffer through it with me. But that’s a side note. I actually really liked going to class, reading my textbooks, & sometimes even writing papers.  My point is I have always loved learning. It’s what inspires me & feeds my insatiable curiosity about life.

books

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that since graduating from college & no longer officially being a student I often find myself feeling a bit adrift in life. Of late I see more & more of my friends going back to school including many of my nursing school classmates. When I see these things I hate to admit it but I am quite jealous for I fear that I am falling behind. After all I graduated at the top of my class in both high school & college, so I always thought I would be the first person (or one of the first I should say) to go back to school for an advanced degree.  After all I went to nursing school with the sole intention of becoming an NP, preferably within five to ten years of graduating. Well, here I am two years into my nursing career & I find that the last thing I want to do right now is go back to school & that I have no idea if becoming an NP is what I actually want. Yes, bedside nursing is far from the perfect world that nursing school tries to portray, but I am pleasantly surprised to find that I really do love this career, more than I actually I anticipated I would. And I am really quite good at it! As much as I often doubt myself, deep down I know I’m a great nurse. I wouldn’t be serving as a charge nurse and a preceptor if I weren’t.  I don’t want to be a bedside nurse forever but I don’t want a “desk” nursing job either, so basically I have no idea where my career is going which is both scary & refreshing.  Is it even normal to think about such things at 24?

I like to think that since I am no longer an official student at any school/university, I am now a student of life. And I guess what life is teaching me right now is that life isn’t a competition, at least not with anyone other than yourself. And if in my heart I don’t feel this is the right time for me to go back to school, then it isn’t the right time. And it’s ok. Yes, I still may feel a twinge of regret when I see colleagues or friends “advancing” beyond me in their careers, but no, I do not have to wallow in guilt over feeling that way. So many people have told me “Go back to school before you have kids. Do it as soon as you can!” In so many ways I know that would be the easier path, & yet I find myself day dreaming much more often about becoming a mom than about becoming an NP. This is quite jarring for me because even as a kid I always fancied myself as more of a “career woman” who might eventually “settle down into mommyhood.” Indeed it’s only in the past year that I have started truly desiring to have children at all. And it’s still a pretty far-off wish. I know I’m not ready right now, & yet the idea of going back to school even in the next few years strikes fear in my heart. That sounds ridiculous in light of how much I really do love learning. But it’s the truth. I spent so many years of my life devoting myself so fully to school & I have no regrets over that (well, no serious ones). Thus I am inclined to wonder if perhaps my mind is just seeking a different path for a while. So I am writing this as a way of trying to make peace with myself over the idea that “just” being a student of life for a few (or maybe even a lot) more years is more than adequate.

I’m a big believer in technology & the ways that it enriches our lives. For example, one of my dearest friends lives in England & if it weren’t for the Internet we would not even know each other at all, much less communicate on an almost daily basis. But the downside to modern-day technology is that things like Facebook & Pinterest (the latter of which I refuse to join for this very reason) make it very easy for us to get caught up in comparing our lives with everyone else, everything from our hair & clothes to our homes, careers, & children. Such comparisons inevitably lead to depression, anxiety, or general dissatisfaction with our own lives. It’s the rat race on steroids. I’m not suggesting we need to forgo these technologies in order to be satisfied with our own lives. But I do have to remind myself often that the only person whose opinion of my life truly counts at the end of the day is ME. And I cannot base my life decisions on what other people are doing or what is right for them at a certain point in their life.

When I think back on all of the major decisions in my life (where to go to college, getting married, applying for & accepting jobs, buying our house, etc), I’ve always had a certain inexplicable sense of just knowing that I was making the right choice at the right time. I wish I could explain it scientifically but I can’t. With that in mind I am slowly learning to rest in the knowledge that when I’m ready to go back to school I’ll just know. And when I’m ready to become a mom I’ll just know. And it doesn’t really matter in what order those things happen for one of the greatest lessons I have learned as a student of life is this: There is no one right path for everyone. And that is what makes life so beautiful. As my Psychology 101 professor once said “Some things in life are not good or bad, better or worse. Only different.”

Inexplicable Anxiety


Chaucer on his first ever beach trip back in July at Jockey's Ridge St Park in Nagshead

Chaucer on his first ever beach trip back in July at Jockey’s Ridge St Park in Nagshead

I don’t really know why I’m posting this.  I’m not sure that it will be interesting to anyone else.  But writing is one of the best ways to temper my anxiety & I figure there are probably other people out there who can relate to my struggles.  So here goes . . .

Today started out with me getting up early with Jared & feeling really content with life. We went to the farmers’ market & got breakfast at the restaurant there which we had never been to before. It was a fun way to start the day & I was in a great mood for no particular reason. And then, for no particular reason, that mood crashed & burned like a rocket falling out of the sky. Some days my anxiety just comes around a corner & chokes me before I even realize it’s happening. It’s maddening to say the least. My therapist has been helping me to slowly identify some of the triggers for my anxiety which has been very therapeutic for me. After all, if you don’t know the cause of a problem, how can you hope to cure or treat it? But I still have days like today when I am just inexplicably anxious for no apparent reason at all.

I have often said that I am the best version of myself when I’m at work because as a nurse I get to focus all of my obsessive tendencies onto caring for other people, including my patients & their families as well as my coworkers. I love helping out my fellow nurses as much as I love caring for patients. I’ve always known that I feel a very urgent need to have a job that is important & meaningful, which is one reason why nursing is such a great career choice for me. So even if I have a bad shift, which is inevitable from time to time, I can always leave the hospital knowing I in some way made someone’s day a little better.

It’s when I’m at home on my days off that my anxiety is often the worst. As I’m typing this I realize how ridiculous that must sound to anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like to suffer from some form of anxiety. But it’s true nonetheless. I don’t know how to explain this without sounding like some miserable frump who doesn’t know how to have fun & enjoy her life. I promise I’m not like that at all. I love music, books, & spending time with my friends & family. I love the feeling of a crisp fall breeze, the smell of sweet potatoes baking in the oven with cinnamon, the thrill of hiking in the Blue Ridge & marveling at the majestic mountains, the heart-melting experience of cuddling with an adorable puppy, & so many other little things in life that truly are the very essence of our existence. Yet may I just say that there are days like today when I feel like the world benefits from my overly driven but caring personality while I sit here wondering what the heck I’m getting out of this deal? And may I just say that I already feel incredibly guilty for even thinking such a thing much less actually writing it? But it is what it is nonetheless. As I’ve said many times before, emotions aren’t sins in my book. Emotions are what make us alive. As long as we’re feeling, we know we’re living. It’s what we do with our emotions that matters.

So for now I’m going to play with my puppy (Chaucer) who follows me around the house constantly & insists on sitting in my lap just about every waking moment & thus clearly thinks I’m the world’s best puppy mommy. And I’m going to listen to music that inspires me & reminds me that though I may be struggling with my anxiety more today than yesterday or the day before, I’ve walked this road a thousand times before. And, as it has a thousand times before, it will end. I will always have my “bad” days like this, but I will always have my good days too. And even on the bad days I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. And I know that my anxiety doesn’t own me. It doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me. Just one small part. After all, if Chaucer thinks I’m awesome I must be.   🙂

A Window Into My Brain


Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I've included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I’ve included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

For as long as I can remember I have always been “Miss Responsible.”  I have always been the girl who did her homework early, finished her papers well before the deadline, created study guides for tests & shared them with classmates, & packed too much for every out-of-town trip because I always imagine everything I could possibly need.  As a nurse I always have my patients’ lab values & test results written down at the beginning of every shift & I always make sure to update my data & give the latest lab results in report to the next nurse.  I obsess over I&O’s so much that I often have to remind myself that I’m not a patient so I don’t need to measure my own I&O (yes, you can laugh WITH me for that).  I like to think that this makes me detail-oriented but also capable of seeing “the big picture.”  Unfortunately underneath all of this responsible behavior lies a great deal of anxiety.

The first time I saw a psychologist was about a year and a half ago when we were still living in SW Virginia.  I was concerned that I might be OCD because of how detail-oriented I am & the anxiety that this sometimes causes me.  The psychologist quickly assured me that my life is far too organized & controlled for me to actually have OCD (anyone else think that’s an ironic truth?), but that I do have “OCD personality characteristics” which he insisted actually make me a great nurse (I’d like to believe that!).  I continued seeing him maybe once a month until we moved to NC just so I could have a place to vent to someone who wouldn’t go home & worry about me or be offended by anything I said since he had no emotional connection to me.

The first few months in the Raleigh-Durham area were difficult.  Growing up in a place that had four stop-lights in the whole COUNTY makes moving to an urban environment like this an exciting but sometimes daunting challenge.  I hoped it would be easy to meet people & make new friends, but it was nothing like college where I could just walk down the hall or go to class & meet all kinds of interesting people.  (My first year out of college I still had friends in the area who were either still in college or who had graduated but, like me, still lived in the area.)  Sometime around my birthday last year I was feeling quite depressed & lonely especially as the holidays approached & I knew that, being a nurse, I would not get to spend much time with my family due to work obligations.  I decided to once again try a psychologist who turned out to be a very nice older man.  I told him how much I love music & missed playing my flute with a group, so he, a musician himself, told me about a music store downtown where he was certain I could get information about a local flute group.  I took his advice, got lost in downtown trying to find the store, eventually found it, got the information about the flute ensemble, & joined the group in January when their new “semester” began.  I didn’t end up making any great friends in the group but just the experience of making music in a group again brought me great joy.

By the time January-February came around I had started making more friends at work & generally feeling a lot happier with life, so I never went back to see that psychologist until one fateful day this summer when I was talking to one of my best friends online.  She was telling me about her struggles with bipolar disorder & I suddenly realized that my own struggles with anxiety were far from controlled, especially in light of the fact that I have started thinking a lot more about having children someday.  I felt such a relief in knowing that I wasn’t the only “crazy” one out there & also in knowing that if she had the strength to seek treatment I could too.  With her encouragement, I immediately called the psychologist I had seen in December & booked an appointment for that very day.  As it turned out, the psychologist told me I should see a psychiatrist in case I needed actual medical treatment for a possible anxiety disorder.  I was both devastated & relieved.  It took quite a few phone calls to find a psychiatrist who would accept my insurance & once I found one I had to schedule my appointment for a month in the future.  In the ensuing month I considered canceling the appointment so many times.  On good days I would tell myself, as I have so many times in my life, “I’m fine.  I’ve got this.  My life is so ‘perfect’ in so many ways.  I’m 24 years old, married to a wonderful man with whom I own a beautiful house in a gorgeous neighborhood, I have great health, & I’m about to train for charge nurse at my job.  How could I possibly need to see a psychiatrist?”  But on bad days, I couldn’t wait for the appointment just so I could hear what the psychiatrist had to say.

Well, finally the day of the dreaded/highly anticipated appointment arrived & much to my relief the psychiatrist was extremely friendly & put me immediately at ease.  She assured me that I do not have any true mental illness & definitely do not need any medication.  However, she suggested I start seeing one of the counselors in her office to work on some of my anxiety & self-esteem issues which, though they may not be “significant” enough to warrant the title of a true disorder, are still serious enough to bother me.  She applauded me for being so self-aware & for caring so much about my future children that I want to be the best, most stable version of myself before I seriously consider becoming a parent in the next couple of years.

As it turned out one of the counselors had had a last-minute cancellation right at the time my visit with the psychiatrist ended so I was able to start with a counselor that very day.  The counselor was very gentle, caring, & quickly made me feel comfortable in her beautifully decorated office.  I left the office that day feeling “lighter” than I had felt in God knows how long.  I had my second appointment with her last week & I already can’t wait to go back.  I honestly think everyone can benefit from counseling with a good therapist at least a few times a year.  As a friend of mine used to say, we ALL have issues from our childhood, our families, our friends, & just LIFE in general & we all can all benefit from having a caring but objective person to vent to who, as I mentioned before, isn’t going to go home & worry about you or be offended by anything you say (because they have probably heard MUCH worse) & doesn’t have any real emotional connection to you anyway.

It may sound strange to say I am excited about being in counseling, but I really am.  I’ve known for most of my life, even as a kid, that I am a very sensitive, perceptive person.  As my middle school English teacher, wise woman that she is, told me, I am both highly intelligent & highly sensitive which makes me feel things, both good & bad, more strongly than perhaps the average person does.  I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant but I don’t know how else to put it.

As much as I would sometimes like to trade in my brain for one that just doesn’t THINK so darn much about EVERYTHING, I know at the end of the day this brain is what makes me who I am.  I do think it makes me a good nurse; as I have told both psychologists, the psychiatrist, & my current counselor, I often think I am my best self at work because I have something important & meaningful on which to focus all my nervous energy & obsessive tendencies.  And I’d also like to think this brain makes me an empathetic human being who makes a consistent effort to recycle everything possible, donate to charities, & buy water bottles for homeless people who are stuck outside in the heat.

In the near future I hope to post more about my struggles with what one might call “sub-clinical anxiety.”  This isn’t a comfortable topic to discuss & I’ll admit that I feel like I have taken the easy way out by writing about this as a blog post instead of just telling my family, friends, & coworkers in person about my issues.  But as my counselor told me this past week, we all have to start somewhere.  In the meantime, I hope this post will encourage even one person to seek counseling or treatment for their own issues with anxiety or depression.  And for those of you who are lucky enough not to struggle with such issues (though I daresay we all will at some point in our lives), I hope this post will encourage you to be more considerate & compassionate of those who do.

Also, please check out my friend’s brilliant blog (who inspired my own) at http://doesthatmakemecrazyblog.com/