April showers may bring May flowers, but May brings all things nursing! This month we have already celebrated, are currently celebrating, or are preparing to celebrate:
Most people rightfully recognize that the reason for May 12th being International Nurses Day and the final day of Nurses Week is because it is Florence Nightingale's birthday. But, did you know May 7th is Mary Eliza Mohony's birthday? If you don't know who Mary is, I'd urge you to read about her... and get out of your little nursing bubble.
This month will continue with thousands of celebrations occurring in hospitals, on college campuses, and in every other setting where nurses are present. But while we celebrate the amazing profession that we belong to, let's not forget that we are still emerging from a global pandemic and we're facing a nursing shortage the likes of which we've never seen. I say all this to say, we need to be real with ourselves and with others about where we are as a profession and where we are as individuals.
If you read my first post in this blog, you know that last year I experienced a sudden onset of anxiety and depression that changed my life. I literally changed the state in which I'd lived for the previous six years. I changed jobs after having recently started the job of my dreams. I changed my view of who I was and what made me valuable to this world. In all my reflections, I realized I wasn't caring for myself the way I should have been. But, I wasn't alone. There's a running joke that nurses make really bad patients, but it's true. We don't take care of ourselves the way we should. We spend most, if not all, of our time caring for others. But, who takes the time to care for us? Who's nursing the nurses?
No One is Coming to Save Us
If you're wondering who's coming to save us, let me save you a little time--NO ONE. No one is coming to rescue us from the ills of the American Healthcare system. No one is coming to replenish our energy, our emotions, or our empathy. No one is looking to be our savior, and in fact, it's no one else's responsibility. We are the ones we've been waiting for.
I implore you to be your own Superman... Superwoman... Superperson... you know what I mean. You are responsible for being sure you are taken care of. Your CNO isn't going to do it. Your Dean isn't going to do it. The physicians you work with aren't going to do it. The government certainly isn't going to do it. No, my friends, this one is on us. We have to ensure we are pacing ourselves, resting ourselves, and loving ourselves in a way that no one else is going to. The public at large trusts nurses more than any other profession and they are counting on us to take care of them. In order to do that, we must first take care of ourselves.
Small Check-Ups Prevent Large Break-Downs
Had I been checking in with myself regularly, I wouldn't have experienced debilitating anxiety. I would have been real with myself about the amount of work I was taking on, the lack of rest I was getting, and the ways in which my body and mind had been begging me to slow down. Instead of listening to everything my spirit was saying, I ran at top speed until I hit a brick wall... and boy was it painful.
We are not meant to go, go, go, until we collapse. But many of us don't know when to pull the plug. In this sense, checks and balances are our friends. They aren't just appropriate in a three-branch, democratic republic government model. They help us to realign and readjust before we are in need of complete restoration. They keep us from jumping off the deep end with no lifejacket. They tell us not to use the high dive when we only plan to swim in the shallow end of the pool.
So what are these checks and balances? How do we implement them into our normal routines? Well, I'm glad you asked...
Four Necessary Checks and Balances
There are four main entities we should be checking in with regularly. In order of importance, the list is as follows:
Check in with your Creator. None of us willed ourselves to be born or sustains our own life. We were created with a purpose by One who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present. He did not create us to burnout, and when we do (which is often the case... especially with nurses), He is the only One with the power to restore us back to optimal health. If you aren't regularly speaking with God, I urge you to begin now. Keeping Him in His rightful place is the only way you will survive seasons in the wilderness. When nothing is going how you planned, everything you're doing seems to fail, and you feel like you should have been named "Can't Get Right," who do you turn to? If you haven't yet experienced a season like this, you're either lying or really young. Either way, keep living. Your day is coming; this, I can promise. In just under 41 years on this earth, I know without a shadow of a doubt that keeping God as my priority is the only way I remain grounded in this crazy world. And when someone or something else claims that #1 spot, I'm headed for a world of trouble.
Check in with your therapist. Therapist? Yes, therapist!!! I had regularly seen a therapist for years before depression got the best of me. Therapists are professionally trained, licensed mental health practitioners. I am not suggesting you talk to a life coach... to be honest, I'm not a big fan of this newfound role. I think they can cause a lot more harm than good. But, a licensed professional who is regulated by state laws and professional practices is a wonderful tool to have in your mental health toolbox. It can take some time to find the right fit and that's ok. Keep trying until you find the one who best suits you. I know the blessing that having a therapist has been for me and I pray that you are either seeing a therapist currently or are open to beginning a relationship with one. Yes, we are nurses. Yes, we are the ones who are usually caring for others. And yes, it is ok to share our innermost thoughts and feelings with another professional. Not only is it ok, I highly recommend it.
Check-in with your inner circle. We all have friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. But we also need a core group of people who know things about us that no one else does. You don't need a lot of people in this core group, but there should be three or four people in your life who have the authority to tell you when you're doing too much. When they speak, you listen. I don't care how old you are or how much life you've lived, we should all willingly submit to a chosen few. These are the people who will point out that something seems "off" with you. They are the ones who can remind you to say no to seemingly amazing professional opportunities. They're the ones who can remind you that you are paying more attention to your job than your children, or your children than your spouse. Yeah, those kinds of people. We all need them and we need to be them in other people's lives, as well.
Check in with yourself. Finally, you need to regularly check in with Y-O-U. Do you practice regular periods of rest and reflection? Do you take a day each week to stop and determine how you're really doing? Do you schedule a regular sabbath? If not, you should. At some point, you must learn to be still, be silent, and be serious about where you are, where you're heading, and whether or not you need to redirect. There are questions that only you can ask and only you can answer. But you'll never get a response to these questions if you don't take the time to be alone with yourself. Over the years, one of the best ways I found to reflect is to journal. Journal writing doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be grammatically correct. It doesn't need to sound wise or pithy. It just needs to give you a space for self-reflection. If journaling isn't your thing, find something that is. No matter what, just be sure you are regularly checking in with YOU.
Mental Health is of Primary Importance
As we celebrate Nurses Day/Week/Month, don't forget that it is also Mental Health Month. Your mental health is of utmost importance. If you aren't well mentally, you won't be able to hold your spiritual and physical health together for very long... trust me, I know. So while we're reflecting on the nursing profession and all we give to it and it in turn gives to us, let's commit to taking better care of ourselves. Let's promise to nurse the nurses. Let's begin to routinely check in with God, our therapists, our inner circle, and ourselves. And, let's see how far we've come this time next year.
Let me know if there's anything you do to keep your mental health in check that I haven't discussed here. There is an endless number of things we can do, I just think the four checks and balances I've shared are central to good mental health. Still, I'm always open to learning from others. So, talk to me in the comments.
Until next time,
Dr. Tiffany Monique