I Quit Nursing :: 1 :: Burnout
I looked down at my watch... I had been in here for 20 minutes and I still could not catch my breath. My pulse was over 120, respirations in the 30s, my body was shaking uncontrollably, and I was light headed. I felt like running—fast—out of the bathroom, out of the facility, sprinting to my car to drive anywhere but here. Every time I felt like I had collected myself, the tears began to fall again, and the words drifted into my thoughts "you are failing." I texted the hubby as he is typically my calming force, but it was 0100, and he was asleep. I felt as though I was losing my mind. I still had 6 hours to go before my shift was finished. I had only been here for 2.5 hours...seriously!? My preceptor was just beyond the door, buzzing around on the floor, probably rolling her eyes at the dramatics I was uncontrollably displaying. I was having a panic attack, that much was painfully clear.
On the other side of the bathroom door were 32 patients that I would be in charge of starting that next evening. Thirty--two! This alone was enough to cause someone to panic, but add on to exacerbation of postpartum depression, anxiety, recent loss of a managerial position, and transfer of locations and shift, and you had the perfect recipe for disaster. I was now back on nights. I hadn't been on this shift for nearly two years and I wanted, no, needed to stay away from that shift. My mind was racing, my body was aching, I knew that I coudn't leave, that I had to finish the shift... it was only my second shift in this facility. I did some deep Ujjai breaths (think yoga), took a drink of water, dried my eyes, collected myself the best I could, and exited my sanctuary. I quite literally forced myself to do basic tasks. I was stuttering and finding myself pausing in shadows to breathe and check the time.
The sun's rays began hitting my swollen eyes, so, so, swollen. I pulled into our long driveway, sniffling the remaining snot from my nose, I had somewhat composed myself in the 20 minutes of silence on the ride home. I gathered my bag, the lunch I hadn't eaten, and shuffled down the path to our porch. I quietly entered the house, as I was hoping the babes were still sleeping, I wasn't feeling up to a bum-rush from two toddlers at the moment. I slid my sneakers off, laid my junk on the floor and escaped to the bathroom. I shut the door and sat on the toilet. I lowered my head into the palms of my hands and began weeping uncontrollably again. I was supposed to work that evening. The plan was for me to sleep, Eric would take the kids to daycare and I would sleep and then go to work for my shift. I could not breathe. "I can't go back. I can't go back. I can't go back..." kept repeating through my brain, over, and over.
I stripped out of my uniform and crawled into bed with Eric. I melted into him as he wrapped his arms around me, and the flood of tears and emotions ensued. That poor, unsuspecting man. Bombarded with his wife's panic stricken brain, all while he is trying to catch two more minutes of sleep before the boys come busting in the room.
I told him I couldn't do it. That something was really wrong. That I was crazy and needed help. I told him how I wanted to run away, that I have never felt a pull like that in my life... to run... anywhere. I told him that I was breaking, if not already shattered on the floor. I told him I was going to call to make a doctor's appointment for today. Then I sheepishly added "I think I am going to call in tonight too...." I remember, feeling the ping of guilt when I said those words, waiting for him to reply with something to negate my sentiments. Alas, he hugged me tighter, wiped the wild curls from my forehead and told me "Do whatever it is that you need to do love, I want you back, I support you."
Parent life quickly ensued. A little boy came trudging in, whining that he wanted breakfast, with a younger babe squawking in his crib, boycotting brother's exit. Eric got up, shuffled out of the room groggily, shut the door, and tended to the kiddos, as I lay crying silently into my pillow in the room.
After Eric left with the boys I gained enough strength to make the necessary phone calls, doctor's appointment, and calling in for the evening. The doctor's appointment was a breeze, although I couldn't get through the phone call without busting into tears... again. I was able to get an appointment emergently, so I packed up and headed out. On the way, I attempted the call in, which did not go as well as I was hoping.
I called and explained myself to the only person that was available to listen to me at the time, I shared the experiences I had the last evening, how I was having uncontrolled panic attacks, and that I was going to the doctor today to get some help. I had already reached out the previous day to my administrator, letting her know I was having some difficulties, they told me to keep in contact, that they were there. The initial response was a blanket of support, " I am so sorry you are going through this, we are here for you..." then twisted into a guilt trip, "so you are really calling in for tonight then? Now that makes us two nurses short instead of one. Does this mean you are calling in for Saturday and Sunday as well? You know, if you call in tonight, you are going to have to come in next weekend mandated Friday to Sunday to make up for it."
I specifically recall feeling a shift, from borderline control, to losing my shit. I told the administrator that I would not be coming in tonight. That I would call and update them in regards to Saturday and Sunday. I pulled into the doctor's office and pulled down the mirror... absolute train wreck. I was going to have to walk in there a mess, unhinged, cracking, I needed them to help me put my pieces back together.
The receptionist made eye contact with me immediately and asked me if I needed a water, tissues, anything?! I signed in, hands still quivering, and before I could sit, they were taking me back to a room. I was beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to freak out in a private room rather than in the lobby of my doctor's office. A nurse practitioner followed me in and listened to my woes. My job change, the retaliation I felt, the new position, night shift, the feelings of worthlessness, guilt, panic, failure, throw motherhood and breastfeeding, and weight loss to boot. She listened intently and commiserated with me when I shared my administrator's response to my plea for help. After what felt like hours of crying, she prescribed me atarax- which is like Benadryl for anxiety, and Zoloft. She suggested I go home and rest, that calling in this evening was a good call, and that she would write a doctor's note for me. She agreed night shift was going to be a hard move since I have had previous work shift dysfunction with nights. She hugged me before she walked out of the room. I sniffled, gathered my bag, and walked out to the desk, eyes swollen like you wouldn't believe. I paid my copay, verified where to send my prescriptions, and walked out to the car.
I got on the phone with my mama and started rationalizing quitting. I had just started selling with direct sales company and thought - if I really hit the ground running with it, maybe I could actually leave this job. I had a few more panicked moments before I pulled back into my own driveway. I headed to the couch and waited for my mom to come.
She arrived in angry mama bear mode, “They have a lot of nerve! How could the nursing administrator disregard someone's mental crisis?” I told her I couldn't go back. I literally couldn't even think about going back without starting to feel out of control. She told me to quit. That there are other nursing jobs, that I could look for a job today. I busted out in more tears, "I DON'T WANT TO BE A NURSE DAMNIT!" The rage I felt when those words left my lips. I was so past done, past being disappointed, feeling unappreciated, taken for granted and retaliated.
I was tired of the stress, tired of the responsibility, tired of how JOYLESS it was for me. She looked at me long and hard, a nurse herself for the past 25 plus years. I could see the disappointment on her face.
I looked at my phone, which had been receiving messages from my administrators since I had returned from the doctors. Same messages from three different people. "Are you calling in Saturday and Sunday?" "Do you understand that this will mandate you for next weekend?" "We need to know ASAP." I hit and surpassed my boiling point, I was seconds from throwing my dinging phone out the door.
I started writing a message in response, I could feel my heart rate rising, my palms were sweating, "After deep consideration today, I have come to the conclusion that my mental health, and the health and safety of myself and my family take precedence over ANY job. I will no longer be working for your company." It was typed, but hell if I was sending it. It's what I wanted to say... it’s what I needed to say. I was so disappointed I that a mental health crisis wasn't taken seriously. I looked at my mom and the tears were trickling down my face once more, " I can't send it...I can't..." without hesitation my mother took my phone from my hands and pressed send.
"I can and I just did”, she said.
It was done. A reply vibrated through the phone, "You've got to be kidding me. Are you serious? Wow." I didn't reply, I couldn’t. I threw my phone into the couch and cried. I had just left a job with no notice. The fear I felt was too intense to explain, the guilt was like a thud in my stomach and a sinking feeling in my heart. I, the woman who always supported our growing family financially, up and walked away.
If you are struggling with mental health issues, I have included some resources here: