emotional health

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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Lessons from the Bedside: Constipation, Oversharing, and Mental Health

No, not oversharing about constipation. As a nurse, is there ever oversharing about bowel movement woes? There's nothing like the feeling after a really good, healthy poop.

Several months ago, I was talking on the phone to a friend from nursing school and was explaining how it's been a long journey learning to process things with others instead of holing them up inside me like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the winter. 

"Sometimes," I told my friend, "I forget to process things and go back to shoving them deep inside and trying to forget about them. It's so unnatural for me to talk about everything and process it. Every time I go to counseling, I have to relearn to open up. The longer I go without consciously processing things, the harder it is to start again."

My friend graciously agreed, and then the perfect analogy popped into my head.

"It's like I get emotionally and mentally constipated," I decided. "And sometimes it gets so bad it's impacted, and I need an enema to get things going again..."

Too cute. I couldn't resist. ( Stock photo from Adobe)

Too cute. I couldn't resist. (Stock photo from Adobe)

Thank God for nursing friends who, rather than being grossed out, laugh richly and loudly at these kinds of things. In fact, I'm pretty sure she even said she was a big fan of the analogy. Nursing friends. They are wonderful.

Like bowel movements, everything in life flows a little easier when we regularly practice owning and processing emotions, events, and struggles in life. The longer we push the need aside, the tougher it is to begin. When I was a child, I spoke so few words I could remember everything I said to everyone and when I said it. Naturally, I figured everyone else was the same way and wondered why some people would tell me the same stories over and over again. I genuinely believed they were intentionally telling me the story for the fifth time because they thought I needed to hear it five times. I didn't realize until much later it was possible to talk so much you actually forgot what you said and to whom you said it! Though I have since conformed and routinely have more conversations than I can recall, it's still not my natural bent to process life out loud. It's taken a long, long time to develop this habit that's so easy for other.

Of note, conversely, some face the challenge of oversharing and lacking boundaries (the opposite of constipation would be "the runs"). This, as you can imagine, can get really messy, really fast. The nurses who are reading this know what I'm talking about. Sometimes we walk into rooms and have to wonder: "How in the world did they get stool in that spot??"

Sometimes, life gets a little crazy and our ability to process life gets put on hold. Traumas or deaths or major life events alter our habits, and in those times all we can do is lean on each other. We turn to each other the best we can, give supportive care, and clean up the messes as they come. From my own experience, I know we often feel ashamed and judged for our involuntary reactions when life overwhelms us. There was a season after returning from working in a Cambodian hospital I broke down every few hours and breaks between classes were spent in the nursing building's chapel crying. I was embarrassed, but I didn't have to be. Sometimes we lose control. It's temporary, and it's okay.

Unlike bowel movements, learning to share appropriately—enough, regularly, and with boundaries—is a trial and error process. It's one I'm constantly challenged by and one I think we will all continually be adjusting and tweaking throughout our lifetimes.

So I'll keep trying and tweaking. A little daily stool softener like Colace may resemble a phone call to my best friend or a journal entry spilling my thoughts. A little laxative like lactulose or milk of magnesia may take the form of a therapy session. A little antidiarrheal like Imodium may look like the restraint not to tell that person my deepest fears or post a blog about a wound that hasn't yet healed.

The analogies could keep going and going, but the main point is this: we all get a little constipated or have diarrhea mentally and emotionally, and this is okay. Health is the goal, because we all know it's true:

There's nothing like the feeling after a really good, healthy poop.

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