I’m burnt out.
You always hear about nurse burnout but you never think it will hit you. Especially when you’re so passionate about your profession- so much so that you live and breathe it.
Maybe that was the problem? Or, at least, part of the problem.
So here I am on this International Nurses Day reminiscing my nursing career and wondering what it was that finally broke me.
The Early Days
I graduated in 2005 and headed straight into a new graduate program in Neonatal Intensive Care. That was a tough year. So much pressure. So much gossip. So much… toxic.
I met my husband in 2007 and followed him up to Darwin. It was my first move interstate and the first time I had experienced nursing elsewhere. I was flat broke so I did what any other nurse would do… I nursed overtime.
After working too many (illegal) days straight, I was exhausted and had to sheepishly ring the Nurse Manager to tell her I just couldn’t work anymore… well at least for a few days.
The funny thing though?
I remember stopping, sleeping lots and finally emerging from my bedroom to realise that I wasn’t working for the money. I was working to fill a void. I was lonely. My boyfriend had taken off to East Timor for 7 months and I was left in a town where I knew no-one and had nothing.
So, I changed that and I began making friends. Those years ended up being the best (so far) years of my life. I enjoyed the Australian Outback – the 4WD camping trips, the markets and the pubs. It was party central for me.
I did this all while finishing off a Certificate in Special Care Nursing and enrolling in a Masters in Public Health to follow my desire to serve kids in the third world one day.
I loved nursing and I loved the Northern Territory.
The flame was being fanned
I remember in 2009, sitting in the kitchen arguing with my boyfriend about how I had spent the past 4 years moving every 12 months to follow him where his career was taking him. I was feeling bitter.
Just after I finished my first year of nursing school, I went to Africa on a church mission trip to work in a clinic in the displaced person camps. Oh. My. God. (pun intended) I freaking LOVED this experience and it has stayed with me ever since.
So, here I was 10 years later and I wasn’t nursing sick kids in a displaced person camp as I had hoped. Instead, I was following the love of my life around Australia for his career. This was not how I had imagined it and it felt bittersweet.
He agreed to request a position in Papua New Guinea and a year later we found ourselves there. For many reasons, I was unable to work over there but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let that stop me. I threw myself into a volunteer education capacity to help the local nurses improve their skills in Neonatal Nursing – ha! The irony! I learned so much more from them!
When it came to my career, I was having the time of my life!
The beginning of the end
While I was in PNG, I had my first child. Then Post-natal Depression and Anxiety visited me and decided to hang around for 4. Long. Years. It was a dark time for me and my obsession with learning more about child development and how one may very easily screw their kids up didn’t help.
On a positive note though, I feel that this same obsession made me a better paediatric nurse. I realised the extent of what we are missing in our nursing training and how I really thought I was an expert in children when I didn’t have kids. Oh, how this makes me laugh now!
My return to nursing in Australia was welcomed but also difficult. On the one hand, I really enjoyed having all the equipment and everything at my fingertips. But, on the other hand, the politics & disconnect between management and floor staff really took its toll on any positivity I had left. My motivation began to falter for the first time ever.
Perhaps this is what started the slow demise of my career?
Other contributing factors to my exit
Since becoming a nurse, my interest in research has never stopped. I’m that pain-in-the-arse co-worker that will argue the science of both sides and leave you wondering what conclusion we came to. Sorry, not sorry ????
It doesn’t help with my work-life balance though.
As the years have gone on, I’ve become more in tune with my body and how diet, exercise (or lack thereof!), meditation and sleep affect my everyday moods or harmony. As a shift worker, my body never had a chance to fully recover and I never had the chance to spend quality time in self-care and reflection. My family was affected by this and I was near impossible to live with.
I want to be remembered by my kids as a ‘present’ mother who adored them more than work.
My faith in the system slowly started to erode when I went to my GP to get some help with the side effects of taking my anti-anxiety medications that were slowly destroying my marriage. His response was to increase my medications because, ‘Well, your marriage may end but you might as well be happy.’
Not good enough! However, my musings on this topic are for another day. But, in a nutshell, I went with complementary therapies and a lifestyle overhaul which saw me mostly recover within 6 weeks. This has led to my mind opening more to complementary therapies and how they can, and should, play a much bigger role in our care. We need to integrate them rather than outright oppose them.
Perhaps the final straw was the recent diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder that makes it ever so important that I limit my exposure to respiratory tract infections… not really possible for an emergency paediatric nurse, or any nurse for that matter!
So, what now?
I can honestly say that I still love the nursing profession wholeheartedly. Despite choosing to step away from the clinical space, I still want to be actively involved in shaping the future of paediatric nursing and approaches.
For some time now, I haven’t really understood how this would look. What was I going to do with The Paediatric Nurse if I wasn’t actually nursing? To be honest, I even wrote to a nurse and asked her to take it on so I could permanently exit. I just didn’t feel like I deserved to be here if I was leaving.
Then, only a few weeks ago, I realised that my mindset was all wrong. Just because I am leaving the clinical space, it doesn’t mean that I cannot still be a nurse! My role will just look… different.
I want to help patients reach a full recovery and live a full life. I want to help families avoid the medical system where possible and to bring together modern medicine and complementary therapies.
I also want to help nurses improve upon their amazing knowledge & skills. I still want to create a space for us to share our knowledge and learn from one another.
I also now have a burning desire to start shining a spotlight on nurse burnout. To help nurses, like you, find ways to nourish your souls, nurture your bodies and live a healthier, balanced life…. well, somehow anyway.
So, ultimately, I’m here for you and I’m here for the kids
In the coming weeks, I’ll be bringing experts from around the world to you through live, online webinars. They will be sharing their knowledge on paediatric nursing related topics as well as topics on self-care for nurses.
The best bit?
You will be able to claim these webinars towards your continuing professional development hours!
So, if you want to find out about each webinar, send me an email brooke(at)thepaediatricnurse(dot)com and I’ll add you to the email webinar list.
Lastly, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook so that you too can join in on the community discussions and vote on upcoming webinar topics.
I am so excited about sharing this journey and new direction with you.