Nursing and grief. Taking time for yourself….

Taking time for yourself is a difficult thing to do when your career is based on giving everything you have to others. I’m a nurse, one that’s a year qualified and transitioning from student to nurse was more difficult than I thought it would be.

Like so many other nurses out there, I faced my first episode of burn out sooner than expected, I remember reading an article on a nursing study by the American Sociological Society, which stated, Nurses who’s primary objective is to care, burn out quicker than those who enjoy the lifestyle.

This made me think about how much of my job I take home with me, how many attachments I’ve made with dying people, how many hands I’ve held and people I’ve hugged, the horrific things I’ve seen but mainly how much I take home and how I’ve always struggled to cope with it all. The only other people that understand are others in the profession, and no one talks about it. I close that door when I get home and I’m left alone, wondering how all these people are.

When I was a kid I used to think I could take away people’s pain, it’s so silly to think this now but I believed that by putting my hands on them or closing my eyes and wishing for the pain to leave them, I could take away a piece of their pain but there was a catch, it would make me weak because until I got strong again, I would have to carry it instead of them.

I used to think that was my superpower! I guess I’m still doing that to myself in ways.

I’ve realised that there are certain things I need to adopt into my lifestyle to ensure I stay healthy, mentally and physically, because if I’m not healthy then I can’t take care of the people who need me.

It meant taking time off to re-evaluate things but I’ve compiled a list of the things I believe will make me a better person and a happier nurse, I also hope someone in the same position reads this and realises, they aren’t alone.

1. Reading more, read more nursing articles, don’t stop learning about new developments in care. Learn to enjoy the job again. Read more self help books.

2. Book a flight, go far away, clear your mind and don’t tell anyone! Spend time in the moment, leave the phone at home and enjoy everything there is to experience. Forget about the Instagram picture! You don’t need to tell the world everything, some things can be left to be, just as they are.

3. Adopt a better fluid intake, just water! No alcohol, fad juice diets or sugary drinks… drink water.

4. Meditate every day, whether it be in the shower, whilst having a cup of coffee, on lunch or in bed. It has to be done daily.

5. Repeat a self healing mantra every day, “Im enough, I’m kind, Im strong” that sort of positive talk. It’ll help eventually to replace the negative dialog, I’ll hold my hands up, I have many negative words I use against myself, which have usually been taken, adapted then anxiously exaggerated from words others have said to me in the past. Let’s face reality though, unless they’re in my life now, their opinion, is none of my business. Adapt this to whatever you need to remind yourself of.

6. They say talking helps, but my experience of this is I often talk to the wrong people, recently I shared my worrying emotions following the suicide of a long term friend, the third person I’ve lost to suicide in three years, along with the death of my grandmother. Unfortunately I was told some negative home truths about myself. I’ve learnt from this. Talking does help, but don’t trust talking to someone you’ve known for less than a year, talk to people who you’ve known long enough and have built up a trustworthy and honest relationship with. You’ll know who they are.

Keep your talking circles small and try not to hurt anyone else in the process of dealing with your own problems (as difficult as this can be).

In a profession where you are surrounded by bad news, death and grief (two very different things) it can be difficult to then come home to this same tragedy. A quote from Robert Webb helps me understand grief, it doesn’t matter who you are grieving, where there is love in this world it is in the hearts of people you care about, so this quote rings true of any loss.

“The sadness that we feel now, we can afford to hold close; safe as we are in the knowledge that grief is love’s echo. We only have to listen and it’s there. Today is a heavy day, but this is just an aftershock. The earthquake, the main event, as usual, was love.

Perhaps I should write something on what I perceive love to be, one day.

7. Spend more time in the ocean, by the ocean or talking about the ocean! Pick up plastic and take it away, just a small return of gratitude to the beach and ocean for everything it does for us all. Keep it clean.

8. Try yoga! I’ve met a lovely yoga teacher who’s put me at ease about giving this a go! She’s had over 500hrs and I feel pretty positive that this will help in the future. Hopefully I can continue this practice when I’m away.

9. Don’t live around work, work around your life, set long term goals! Besides the trips I have already planned, I’ve decided that around July next year, I am going to quit nursing and go travelling, probably to Australia for a few months (nursing jobs will be there when I return), a friend of mine who lives there is going to help me get involved in a volunteer marine conservation program. Something I’ve always wanted to do! Obviously, I know I need to make certain changes in my life to be able to afford this, so in order to save and be safe, my habits must be quashed, smoking, drinking, eating out, online shopping, negative thinking!

10. Exercise more, walk, gym, swim…. anything, but do it to release the endorphins. If the psychological factors are being addressed then so should the physiological too.

I don’t expect any of this to be easy until it’s become such a routine that no one can spoil it, no negative comments will send me into another spiral of self doubt. These commitments to myself are my own promise, to love myself more than I will ever love anyone else, it’s selfish, but I’ve been doing it the wrong way around for years, I’d do anything for anyone else, but nothing for myself. Now that’s unhealthy to say the least and it’s slowly assisted a descent into unhealthy patterns of living.

Once I get there and I’m stronger, maybe I can let go of the need to self cherish and believe once again like the venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, self cherishing is what keeps us from attaining understanding and true tolerance of others views, you can download a free copy of his book here.

However, right now, I’m ready to take this time to prioritise myself and once again, learn to love myself. I hope to become a more grounded individual and one who is able to cope better with life, death and all the losses in between, that surrounds us caring but struggling, nurses.

Peace and FLY…. (first love yourself)

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