anxiety

3 Things I Learned From Quitting Nursing

It's been a year—a whole year!—since I quite my job as a floor nurse. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago that I worked those long shifts and cleaned up poop (among other things) for a living. Yet in other ways, I'm still learning to adapt to a new career and figure out what's best for me. Here are three things I've learned over the past year from quitting nursing.

1. I needed to learn to make mistakes.

As a recovering perfectionist, I hate mistakes. I've always hated them: mistakes in school, mistakes in social situations, and most of all, mistakes on the job. I hated mistakes because for a long time, I didn't believe in unconditional love. I couldn't imagine love not based on performance.

In the hospital, there was a lot of pressure to get things right. It was simply the nature of the job. And while certainly some pressure came from administration, coworkers, and patients and their families, most of it came from me. Part of that originated in natural bent towards perfectionism, and part of it was added on by depression and anxiety.

Eventually, I realized I was at a point in my life where I needed to learn about grace. If I was going to move forward and grow as a person, I needed to learn how to make mistakes. I needed an environment that was more low-stakes when it came to mistakes. I needed to quit working at the hospital.

For the past year, I've kept busy with freelance editing and writing jobs. It's been a beautiful example of how attention to detail matters, but it isn't life or death. It's given me the space to make mistakes and learn how to handle them. To be honest, it's still makes me cringe a little to admit that it's okay to make mistakes (like forgetting about the time difference when scheduling a call), but in the past year I've learned to embrace this part of being human more than I ever have before.

For that alone, quitting nursing has been worth it. But that's only reason number one!

nurse carrying hospital gurney to emergency room

2. It's time to stop hustling.

In many ways, the business world is all about hustling. When I first launched into the world as a freelancer, I bought into it completely. I learned I had to work overtime, network like crazy, and make a name for myself. I thought hustling was simply part of the entrepreneurial spirit.

As time passed, however, I've come to see a bigger picture. Entrepreneurship is much more than hustling. Hard work is definitely part of the package, but chasing success at all costs doesn't have to be. 

For example, as a pragmatic person and introvert, "networking" often seemed forced. When I focused on networking, I felt like I need to express interest in people of influence just in case they could help me later in life. I felt like I always had a hidden agenda. I know networking isn't like this for everyone, but I've learned I simply don't have the social capacity to connect with everyone—and usually the people I'm naturally drawn to are not the wealthy and well-connected (you know, the people you're supposed to network with so they can get you great, well-paying jobs).

I quit nursing to find a truer version of myself, and hustling was taking me away from that. If I feel like a fraud networking the usual way, it's not worth it. If I feel like I'm losing myself in pursuit of an audience and more "likes" or "views," it's not worth it. If I start to care more about the numbers than about the people they represent, it's not worth it.

I realized it's time to stop hustling, and it's a lesson I keep learning again and again. The data says I should be less successful since I stopped hustling, but I've found the opposite to be true. I may not be making as much money, but I consider a life of authenticity and integrity to be far more successful than losing my sense of self for potential riches.

3. Quitting my job didn't solve all my problems.

When I was working as a nurse, I would rise early before my shift, brew a cup of coffee, and then sink to the floor, totally overwhelmed with the thought of the day ahead of me. I'd sit there, with my back against the wall, and voice desperate prayers for help to get me through the day.

A few days ago, I found myself sinking once again to the floor in my kitchen, overwhelmed by life. With my back against the refrigerator, I was breathing out prayers for help when I realized I was feeling the same way I had when worked at the hospital. Even though I had radically changed my lifestyle, there I was, feeling the exact same way as the year before. I was discouraged and frustrated, to say the least. 

Yet wise words from a friend came to mind in that moment; he had mentioned that measuring progress by feelings wasn't always accurate. Measuring progress by what we've learned and how we've grown, however, was completely different. It was then I remembered I had radically changed my lifestyle so that I would be healthier, not so that I would feel better. While the change in career did decrease my anxiety and depression, it wasn't a quick fix to the hard work of getting to know myself and learning to listen to my emotions.

It did, however, provide a healthier environment to work through the hard parts of life. Another thing I've learned is that part of learning to love and care for myself means creating a healthy, nurturing environment. From quitting nursing to drawing boundaries to joining a gym, each choice I make to create a healthy environment has the potential to change my life. 

When I look back on the past year, it hasn't all been chocolate and naps (because aren't those things better than butterflies and rainbows?). It's been tough, and it still is, but in many ways, quitting nursing has allowed me to learn who I am as a child of God. It's allowed me to embrace grace through trial and error, explore the world and principles of freelancers, and celebrate progress in a more meaningful way. I've grown and changed and learned—and that, to me, makes quitting nursing absolutely worth it.

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Mental Health and Spirituality

Guest Post by Brandon Smee

Photo by  whoislimos  on  Unsplash

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash

For years, Sunday was always the day of the week I dreaded most. For most people, church is a place to step outside of the stress of the work week, to encounter the goodness and peace of God, and to receive encouragement for the challenges ahead. But without fail, I would walk out of almost every service on edge, my thoughts spiraling down at an alarming rate.

The same thing was happening during meetings throughout the week, after small groups and worship services. I seemed to struggle to connect with God in worship like my friends, and I became hyper-sensitive to every sermon point, agonizing over whether I was in or out of God’s moral will. I was constantly anxious that I wasn’t satisfying all of God’s expectations for me, and church would remind me of these fears and keep them churning in my mind for hours and days.

I still loved God, and I loved my church and my community there, but as my anxiety increased, my relationship with God and with my church suffered. It wasn’t until I began seeking out help for mental health that I began to understand what was going on and that I was not alone.

Every year in America, millions of Christians experience mental health struggles, and while for many of them faith can be a source of comfort, it can also become a source of distress. For people of faith, mental health struggles often take on spiritual overtones. Many people shame themselves for not overcoming their anxieties with faith, or ruminate over a thousand miniscule spiritual shortcomings. Others may beat themselves up for not experiencing joy or spend hours just trying to feel close to God.

We are tempted to examine our spiritual lives with painstaking scrupulosity, looking for the defect that must be the root of our struggle. “If only I had a better relationship with God,” we tell ourselves, “then I wouldn’t feel this way.”

The reality is that people can experience mental health challenges regardless of the quality of their relationship with God. Great figures like Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon, to name a few, suffered severely with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, yet God used their spiritual walks to impact millions of people.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar and the like are not signs of weak faith but rather opportunities for our faith to shine through. As James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James isn’t saying to stuff our emotions and claim we’re joyful; he’s challenging us to recognize that our struggles test our faith and reveal it to be genuine. Instead of seeing our mental health issues as a deficit of faith, we can realize that God is at work in us, sustaining us and giving purpose to our suffering.

While church can be difficult for many with mental health challenges, there are ways we can find peace, hope, and restoration in our communities in the midst of the struggle. Here are just five tips I’ve learned through my journey.

1. Savor what allows you to connect with God.

When mental health issues develop, it can seem like God is behind a wall. None of the things that used to allow us to relate with him seem to work. It can be hard to focus on Scripture, or wake up early for devotions. Maybe you can’t feel the same emotions in worship, or you find yourself overwhelmed by all the people, lights, and music at a service. Thankfully, God graciously accepts many kinds of worship. There are dozens of spiritual disciplines that Christians have used across the centuries to connect to God.

As you have the opportunity, try different ways of reading Scripture, praying, worshipping, and reflecting. As you find practices that make sense to you, savor them and work them regularly into your life. When Israel was journeying across the wilderness, God appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night; we find that God shows up in different ways under different circumstances, even as God leads us to the same destination.

2. Know your limits.

All humans, not just those with mental health diagnoses, have limits! During the middle of a hard episode, aspects of church can become difficult to get through. If a loud worship service is overstimulating, give yourself permission to walk out (maybe invite a friend to come with you). Don’t force yourself to sit through a service or small group if you’re having a hard time. God desires mercy over sacrifice.

Instead, give yourself space to breath and ground yourself, and go back in when you are ready. Once you realize you are not trapped in the pews, the tension and anxiety around church can decrease, and worship services become less about performance and more about meeting God with the people of God.

Photo by  KEEM IBARRA  on  Unsplash

Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash

3. Embrace community.

A great temptation for those of us facing mental health challenges is isolation. Others can have difficulty understanding what you are going through, and a mental health episode can make you feel like you have no energy left for connecting with people. But God has designed us to function best both in faith and in life when we are walking with other people. When we embrace community, we can find people to pray, seek God, and have fun with.

Moreover, being with other people can help take our focus from our own struggles to those of others, allowing us to have a positive impact in the lives of those around us. Whether it’s a small group, a Bible study, or a volunteer group, it’s a great idea to find people to walk with.

4. Set up healthy boundaries.

At the other extreme from isolation, mental health struggles can lead us to rely too heavily on others, whether we find comfort in them solving our problems or us solving theirs. In Galatians 6, Paul balances his command to “Bear one another's’ burdens” with the admonition that “each one should carry their own load.”

We support each other, but at the end of the day, we should be carrying our own load, no more and no less. When we find ourselves beginning to rely on a relationship or person at church to take care of us emotionally, keep tabs on us spiritually, or make decisions for us, it’s time to take responsibility for these things ourselves.

While it can sound scary to limit the amount we rely on a friend, it is actually empowering and freeing to carry what God has given us to carry, as it allows us to trust in an unfailing God to support us rather than another person. In addition, a mental health diagnosis in no way diminishes our worth or value as Christians, and as such we should not be okay with people taking advantage of our struggle, abusing or manipulating us, but we should assert boundaries as the respect that comes with bearing God’s image.

5. Maintain a perspective of grace.

Grace is unmerited favor, and God extends it to us abundantly. In our mental health journey, we will find that at many turns our spiritual lives are difficult, and as humans we often mess up and sin. In the process, there is grace for when we walk imperfectly, and grace to strengthen us as we continue toward the future.

Moreover, there is grace to extend to other people who have difficulty understanding or supporting us in the struggle. For people who don’t experience a mental health challenge, what you’re going through may be totally unfamiliar, and they may say or do things in response that hurt more than help. There is grace for them and for you as you seek healing and restoration. As we hold onto that grace, we will find peace, hope, and love accessible to us along the way.

Wrapping It Up

Jesus invites all people to come to the Father through him, including those who experience mental health challenges. He healed whoever he came in contact with, and he has the power to restore the broken thought patterns, neural connections, and trauma that underlie these issues. As long as we remain in the process of healing, may church be a place where we find the love of God among the people of God, and receive empowerment and encouragement to move toward recovery.

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How to Support a Loved One with Mental Illness

Photo from Pixabay.com

Photo from Pixabay.com

Years ago, a close friend of mine was going through a heart-wrenching breakup. I had run out of ideas on how to help her, and I was simply unsure what a good friend looked like in this particular situation. So I reached out to someone who did—someone who had been through a similarly devastating breakup—and I asked for help.

“What helped you? What are things your friends did that made you feel loved? What things did they do that didn’t make you feel loved? What are practical things I can do?” I asked.

I was deeply grateful for her response. She had something I didn’t: personal experience. This qualified her to see into the pain my friend was feeling in a way I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.

Similarly, as someone who’s lived with mental illness, people often turn to me for advice when their loved ones are struggling with mental health issues.

As I’ve witnessed how many people contact me because they genuinely want to love their friends and family well, I’ve been motivated to put this advice onto paper (or screen) so it’s more widely available.

I’m not an expert or a mental health professional (though I am a big fan of those people!). In person or on the blog, I’m simply here to offer insight from personal experience. Over the next few posts I've invited several people to share their wisdom on how to support loved ones with specific mental illnesses, but this first topic is just for you!

As you walk alongside someone with mental illness, here are a few things that may be helpful to keep in mind.

1. Caring—just caring—goes a long way.

Photo from Pexels.com

Photo from Pexels.com

As humans, we’re built for connection, and we can tell when someone cares. In the throes of mental illness, the stigma and shame can feel overwhelming. Knowing people care about us can be a powerful force.

Don’t underestimate the difference simply showing up can make in someone’s life. People with mental illness are still people, and connection matters to us all.

 

2. You are not responsible for someone else’s recovery. 

We are not responsible for others’ happiness, for their health, or for their mental wellbeing. We are not responsible for the decisions others make, for their backsliding or for their recovery. We are not responsible.

We are responsible for our own actions. We are responsible for acting in love and practicing compassion. We are responsible for our words and our attitudes. We are responsible for ourselves.

In our pride or our well-meaning love, we can berate ourselves for not doing more or fixing everything. However, no matter how hard we try or wish we could change someone’s mental health, we can’t. 

We are not responsible for their recovery, even if we wish we were.

3. Don’t forget about you.

In our efforts to help others, it can be easy to lose ourselves. We sacrifice time and energy, and sometimes we sacrifice our own identity in an attempt to help others find theirs.

In our devotion to others, it’s vital to take care of ourselves, too—to set boundaries, set aside time to rest, and engage in activities that replenish us in all senses: emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Photo from Pixabay.com

Photo from Pixabay.com

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Reach out to someone you trust and ask for help when you need it. “Help” might look like a lunch date to process how you’re doing or a quick text to a friend asking for prayer.

It might look like going to counseling or receiving training when you’re closely involved with someone with mental illness.

It might also look like asking your loved one with mental illness for help: “Can you help me understand what’s going on?” or “How I can best love you this week?”

Last of all, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from me or anyone else in your life who’s experienced mental illness! We are here for you, to support you and cheer you on and remind you to take a deep breath when things are hard.

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Freedom from Hustling—in Weddings and in Life

This morning I woke up with bobby pins in my hair and with eyes still heavy from sleep. When I was finally upright, I rubbed my eyes and was shocked when dirt came off onto my fingers.

Wait, that’s not dirt. It’s mascara. Whew. 

As the fog cleared from my mind, the events from the previous day came flooding back. 

Preparation. Decoration. Flowers. Makeup. Laughter. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures.

My sister’s wedding.

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

My sister Christina got married yesterday, and it was beautiful. Surprisingly, I had no urges to cry during the ceremony—not even when my dad walked Christina down the aisle in her stunning white dress.

While Christina read her vows, I realized I wasn’t emotional because I had already been treating her fiancé like my brother-in-law. It was a huge adjustment for me when they’d gotten engaged, but he had slowly won my heart as a new brother.

In contrast to my positive emotions the day of the wedding, stress and anxiety plagued me in the week leading up to the big day. Worries about the wedding flitted in and out of my head like gnats that follow you around on a hot summer evening, vanishing for a moment and then stubbornly returning.

Why am I so anxious? I wondered. I’m not even the one getting married!

I took an afternoon to pray and journal, and I finally realized why I was stressed. As maid of honor and sister of the bride, I was convincing myself I was responsible for ensuring the wedding weekend ran smoothly. 

The assumption that I was responsible for these things sounds appropriate unless you’re intimately familiar with weddings (and with my family). The days leading up to weddings are often chaotic and stressful and involve scores of last-minute details and last-minute conflicts.

To put it simply, weddings are unpredictable. No one can guarantee they will run smoothly—not even the best wedding coordinator in the world. We can do our best, but we cannot ensure perfection.

Though I was relieved to identify the source of the anxiety, I was also perplexed. If I wasn’t responsible for a smooth wedding process, who was?

Later that day I took a moment to breathe, and when I closed my eyes a picture formed in my head of God with open arms, a Father ready to care for my tired body and frazzled mind.

Peace flooded my soul as I accepted His invitation—not only to hold me but also to be ultimately responsible for the wedding weekend.

I flashed back to a time months before, when wedding planning was just beginning. My family talked about the key things everyone wanted for the wedding, and the list kept getting longer and longer.

As I sought the Lord’s guidance, I thought of Mary and Martha. Martha hurried about to prepare and was concerned with the details (two key parts in wedding prep). In modern-day language, I’d say she was hustling and busting her butt.

During this time, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Despite the chaos of unfinished projects and in the midst of the time crunch (two more common themes of wedding weeks), she sat still.

And Jesus said, One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

One thing is necessary. 

Just one thing.

It’s not the wedding dress or the catered food or the vows or even the bride-to-be.

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. This was the better portion.

If in the process of planning and preparing for the wedding we sat at Jesus’ feet—if we honored Him and came to know Him better through the process—all would be successful. Even if the wedding schedule was thrown off or the toasts were botched—even if the food was terrible or the rings didn’t fit—there would be no regrets.

Not if we knew Jesus more. Not if He was honored. Not if we were sitting at His feet.

One thing is necessary.

The evening before I traveled to meet my sister and help finish wedding projects, I realized just how crazy Mary was. Mary was the host of a giant party for Jesus (this was no small ordeal! He was the long-awaited Messiah, the actual incarnation of God), and she consciously chose to ignore what I would call bare necessities. 

The food. The seating. The cleanliness of the venue.

Some would call her irresponsible, a poor planner, a procrastinator, or lazy.

Jesus called her the one who chose the better portion. I’m so proud of my sister because I think she chose the better portion.

As I remembered Mary and Martha, I found I had been running from my spot at Jesus’ feet, convinced my hustling was necessary for a smooth wedding.

But there was my Father, arms open wide, beckoning me back to Him.

He was inviting me back to the place where I belong, the place where I can rest and trust He will take care of the details—the details that seem so important that no one else (not even God) can be trusted with them.

In impeccable timing, this song came out last week:

The arms of my Father
Are open to me
Here in your presence
Forever I am free

It’s no human’s responsibility to make sure a wedding runs perfectly, even if we take on the burden and label the task ours.

It’s no human’s responsibility to make sure a life runs smoothly, either.

It turns out that through this wedding process, I have indeed come to know my Savior more intimately. We’re free to trust Him with our weddings and with our lives.

Only one thing is necessary. If we choose the better portion, it will not be taken away from us.

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