If I am totally honest, I’ve known for several months. This thing happened a couple of weeks ago where I posted this rant on facebook about how I was sick and tired of rude and ungrateful patients. The discontent had been brewing for awhile and it needed to come out. The post was unusually angry for me and while I still stand on the fact that I believe nurses should get a whole lot more appreciation than they do, the bitterness, anger, and frustration of it made me really stop and get real with what was going on. I was burned out. I’ve been mentally, emotionally, and physically tired more often than not. I found myself getting anxious as I got closer to having to start a shift. I caught myself standing in my kitchen crying my face off because I finally admitted to myself that I was burned out from working as an emergency room nurse.
The truth of my feelings made me feel even more sad. I love ER. I love my co-workers. I love the excitement of a trauma or a code. I worked in every single area of the ER from the fast track area (kinda like urgent care) to Triage Nurse to Trauma Nurse Team Leader to Charge Nurse…..I do it all. I have trained new graduate nurses and oriented travelers and new seasoned nurses to our department. I dedicated 2 years of my career creating positive changes in the way we cared for our psychiatric patient population. I spent a year creating a new graduate nurse mentorship program within the ER to help support our new grads. I love my job and have pride in what I do every day. And yet, here I am, crying privately in my kitchen and posting nasty rants on facebook. There is no way for me to say exactly when I started feeling this way. At first, I was really good at justifying my exhaustion. It was just an unusually tough day, tomorrow will be better. Maybe I just didn’t get enough sleep last night, tomorrow will be better. It is normal for me to feel a little anxious about going back to work after what happened yesterday, but today is sure to be better. Each time I went to work and and endured another patient yelling and cursing at me or trying to hurt me or watching a co-worker in tears from a patient being excessively nasty, the more it wore on my soul. The more another little piece of me felt disheartened. The more I felt like I was no longer making a positive difference. The more I felt like my hard work was not appreciated.
I went through a period of time where I took a good solid look in the mirror. Was I too busy focusing on the negative interactions and forgetting to give the positive ones credit? Was I forgetting to be positive and grateful and therefor I was simply getting what I was giving? Was I using all my own tools to keep myself healthy? At the end of all that searching, I knew the answer was that I was doing all the right things and using all my tools to keep myself healthy and positive, the fact was that my soul was tired of the abusive environment. I switched shifts and went from full time to part time, hoping that being there one less day a week would make a difference. The change served to refresh my hope for a month or so but did nothing to change the cause of the burnout.
So, here I am, after 8 years in a job that I love and take immense pride in, searching for another nursing job all together. When I initially realized that I was burned out and ready for a change, I was surprised to realize that my self-talk was pretty harsh. I was telling myself things like “It is pathetic that you can’t hack it anymore.” “You are an awesome nurse and are an asset to your team, what a shame that you can’t just suck it up. They need you.” Telling myself the story that I was less than because I couldn’t suck it up only made the feelings of sadness and anger more intense. I had gotten sucked into that familiar pattern of talking negatively to myself and creating a story that I was not enough in an attempt to force out my inner strength and push through. This pattern has worked so well for me for so long, but like all unhealthy behavior patterns, they work great…until they don’t.
When I shut off that harsh inner critic, strip away all of the raw emotions, and check in with my intuition, I feel peace and gratitude. Peace knowing that I still love my co-workers. Peace knowing that I work hard every day and care very much about making the ER a great place for patients and staff. Peace knowing that I am proud to have committed 8 years of my career to the emergency department. Gratitude for all of my co-workers that make coming to work every day worthwhile. Gratitude for all of the personal growth I experienced. Gratitude for the opportunity to break an old behavior pattern and start believing that making a change does not make me less than.
Those feelings of peace and gratitude that lay deep within are exactly how I know that there is nothing broken or wrong. They are how I know that my time as an ER nurse was meant to have an expiration date. They are how I know that I learned what I needed to learn. They are how I know that I can make a change without regret. They are how I know that I am making a decision that will grow me in new ways and develop new skills that I am lacking. Under the bullshit self-induced guilt trip and behind the head trash, the peace and the gratitude tell me that I am making a change for all the right reasons.
While I never anticipated that I would be burned out from a place I consider my home away from home and be leaving a people that I consider family, I know that it is that bittersweet time to move on. While I don’t yet know what I will do next, I will continue working in the emergency room and cherish the beauty that is that chaos until I find that new position that will be my next adventure.