I Quit Nursing :: 2 :: Recovery
October 8, 2016—January 28, 2018: 477 days of recovery and survival.
477 days of uncertainty, financial instability, fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, and so many tears. When I sent that fateful message that ended my full-time nursing position, I was thrown into survival mode. I swore to do whatever it took to support my family as anything but a nurse. For me that meant selling LuLaRoe, working part-time as a receptionist in a hair salon, tie dying hundreds of baby wraps for Happy Baby, and finally transitioning into making and selling my own handmade dresses and accessories with my online store, Sugs’ Shoppe. Despite the hard work, sweat, and tears, I put into those 477 days, nothing was enough. I wasn’t bringing in the amount of money our family of four needed to stay afloat financially and our small ship was sinking fast!
We had emptied our savings, scrounged for money to pay our mortgage (which was always at least a month to two months behind), and car payments (also behind). Our propane was being threatened with “shut off”. I ignored my student loans and all the calls from collectors for medical bills and credit cards. My parents bought us groceries. My parents bought presents for the boys for Christmas and birthdays because we couldn’t afford them. We over drew our bank account more times then I’d like to recall. It was chaos. Eric would sheepishly ask me every so often, “What are we going to do love? We can’t keep doing this.” I never seemed to have the answer. Meanwhile, my wonderful man worked overtime and side jobs to try to keep us afloat, as this mama sunk further and further into the abyss.
Eric wasn’t the only one asking questions, my in laws, my mom (the nurse), my brother (the nurse), my dad, my co-workers at the salon (who side eyed me when I said I was a nurse but was now willing to work for $12/hour.) My answer to every one of them, “I do not want to be a nurse, I can’t. You just don’t understand...”.
Every single time “nurse” came out of someone’s mouth my muscles clenched, my anxiety peaked, and the guilt flooded in. Nursing felt like the worst thing I could have done for myself. I felt as though this career had failed me. All that schooling, all the student loans that I could now not pay back, I hated it all and I was angry. How did I let this happen!? How did I let this career traumatize me?
I had worked in healthcare since I was 19 years old. It had always felt engrained in me to care for others. I was good at it. So why did I feel so disconnected? Why couldn’t I just go back to work? Why did searching for RN jobs online necessitate a Xanax? I’m sad to admit this but the answer was simple, nursing had traumatized me, I mean literally gave me PTSD. In 12 years I had experienced varying levels of bullying, lateral violence, retaliation, lying, and physical aggression. I had worked in unsafe situations and environments, I had witnessed patient neglect, and worked in understaffed and unprepared places. It felt like a repetitive, never ending loop. Since starting as a nurse in 2012, I held 9 positions: NICU, ER, Pediatrics/Mother Baby, HEDIS RN, Long Term Care Facility 1– which included floor RN, wound care management, MDS Coordinator, Unit Manager, and Long Term Care Facility 2 —floor RN. In every single one of these environments I found myself aching to get out. The disappointment I had felt over the years was overwhelming. In the most trusted profession, in which caring, and compassion are cornerstone—we have a lack of acceptance, safety and empathy for each other, our counterparts in care.
No matter how I ultimately felt about nursing or how badly I wanted to succeed in other areas of my life, the realization that we could lose our home due to missed payments struck that last bar of fear in me. That was it. I had no other choice. I had exhausted every option I could possibly think of. I had thrown my whole self into everything that I did during those 477 days, hoping for that moment that would change my life, take my worries away, but it didn’t come. At least not in the way I was hoping. I had to go back to nursing. I had to buck up and move forward.
Although the financial stress was heavy, I had finally started feeling more in control of my depression and panic attacks on my new medication regimen. It took some tweaking, and some PRN Xanax for breakthrough, panic-stricken days, but I was feeling more in control of my mental health. I made self care a priority, ensuring I was taking my medications, doing daily positive affirmations, some yoga here and there, and lots of creative work.
I told myself that this meant I could handle all the things... that I could do this. I HAD to do this. For Eric, Graeme, Adler, and Ruby. Shit, I had to do it for ME. I couldn’t live like this anymore, I couldn’t give up on the career I spent so many years jumping through flaming hoops for.
I remember the day I started applying. Eric came home and saw me fresh puffy eyes. He hugged me and asked me what was wrong. “Well, I started applying to nursing jobs today. I’m done failing at this, I can’t do this to us anymore.” My breath caught in my chest and the tears started rolling again. He wiped them and told me how proud he was of me. He smiled. How in the world did I get such a patient man? He sat down with me and scrolled through the online searches with me. I hesitantly searched key words ‘breastfeeding, newborn, mother baby, home care’, I had seen a job a while back for a home care mother baby nursing position and I thought that could be something enjoyable for me. Unfortunately, only one listing that was truly relevant came up and it was 120 days old.
I continued scrolling down the page hesitantly clicking through the remaining postings that had appeared and one that stood out for a Hospice Nurse Case Manager with a sign on bonus. The sign on bonus was truly the reason I clicked the post, hell we needed every penny we could find right now! I read through the post, saved it to favorites, and moved onto scrolling and clicking and scrolling and clicking. After a few hours of nothing peaking my interest, another idea came to mind. What if I put it out into the world? What if I asked for help through my network, so to Facebook I went.
It was January 2, 2018 when I took my search for a nursing position to Facebook. I thought it was a good idea, I mean, I had 1,670 “friends” ONE of them had to have a lead on a job that I wouldn’t hate. I hesitantly typed out my post:
“Since Facebook is so helpful today: I am looking for a PT/PRN/work from home RN position. Anyone have a lead?”
Thirty-two comments came flooding in with in what seemed like minutes. There were lots of suggested searches I had already tried, and several suggestions for positions that really were not things I was interested in. If I HAD to go back into nursing, I couldn’t just go back to any old nursing position. I had to feel a connection, I needed to feel some spark of purpose.
Then it happened, the comment that changed everything. A sweet friend that I met years ago, commented that her company is hiring, and shared a link. I proceeded to ask, “How does your employer feel about blue hair?” It felt like a joke asking, but I had had blue hair now for two years, it was kind of a part of me. She replied that she would inquire and get back with me. The position she had shared? Hospice Nurse Case Manager.
I had seen these positions posted on most of the websites I had been searching prior. In fact, I had even clicked the exact post numerous times. There was a PRN and a full time position up for grabs, and the full-time gig had a 5-thousand-dollar sign on bonus. I swallowed hard. We could really use that 5K bonus - but was I willing to go back to nursing FULL TIME after two years off? Would my wavering mental stability be able to handle 40 hours a week? My anxiety was through the roof and there wasn’t enough Xanax in the world to keep it at bay. I cried out of fear from self-doubt. I cried out of embarrassment and shame. I felt so intimidated to go back.
Kat, my sweet friend, messaged me the next day and it just so happens that the management could care less if I had blue hair, they told Kat, that it would match their colors! I giggled - the first giggle I’d had in the last two weeks of searching for a job. If I was going to go back to nursing, at least I could go back with my blue hair I loved so much.
A meet and greet was scheduled with management. On that fateful day, I could hardly breathe. I threw on one of my handmade dresses, a cardigan, a scarf, a pair of leggings, and my tattered boots (hoping like hell no one would notice them falling apart.) I arrived with 5 minutes to spare. I pulled the mirror down, fluffed my blue curls nervously— “Judge me for my brain, please”, I whispered. I grabbed my resume and my bag and left the comfort of my warm car, out into the cold of January in Michigan. This was it. Time to show them what I could offer! I walked into the office, nervously reached out for the doorbell, straightened my many layers. The door opened, a woman with a smile answered with her hand outstretched. She introduced herself and quickly showed me into a tiny office to the right. I removed my coat and set my resume copies out on the desk in front of me. My heart was racing. The director sat across from me and introduced herself, the other woman sat to my right.
The fear I had when I walked into the office quickly dissipated, the director threw a few compliments to me on how colorful I was. We dove right into my experiences, my strengths, and what I was looking for in a position. Most importantly, they asked me what I NEEDED, and proudly said they prided themselves on being a supportive environment to work in. What did I need? I took a deep breath and the words started tumbling. I needed flexibility, autonomy, I wanted to be able to be at home for my kids, to sew and create (because Sugs’ Shoppe felt like something I was abandoning that tiny spark of life that kept me going those past 477 days). We discussed so many options. They had SO MANY ideas! They told me with my facility experience, I could fit in well as their facility Hospice Nurse. That I could work 32–36 hours a week and that I would be eligible for the sign on bonus. Oh, and the kicker, they were willing to create a position for me to help meet my needs.
I left the office after an hour. I had been told to fill out the online application, that their nursing recruiter would be in touch with me ASAP. They told me I would be an incredible edition to their hospice company, that they were excited to have met me, and that they can’t wait for me to start.
It took a few weeks to get everything done—the application, the phone interview, having to explain why I left my last job—to be with my new baby of course (no one had to know that I had walked away during a mental health crisis). I was offered a position: full time facility Hospice nurse case manager. I would start January 29th, three days after my 33rd birthday. I would need background checks, fingerprinting, drug screen, and a TB test. I would need scrubs, no color requirement. I would need a pulse-oximetry, blood pressure cuff, pen light, retractable measuring tape. I would need new shoes. None of these things I could afford. My father bought me two pair of uniforms, he let me pick them out and paid for them online for me. I told him, that I could pay him back—he told me in his thick Puerto Rican accent “no honey you won’t, this is for you. I’m proud of you baby.”
My alarm went off, but I was already awake. How could I sleep!? This was my first day as a Hospice Nurse Case Manager. I had to put on that uniform hanging beside my bed and be Nurse Tami today. There were no excuses. There would be no failures. I made tea, I threw on some makeup, shoved my feet into my three-year-old nursing shoes, and I made my way to the door. All three boys lined up to wish me a good first day of work. I gave hugs and kisses to the littles and hugged Eric for what felt like an eternity. He told me to breathe, that I was going to be amazing. I told him I loved him, opened the door, and took the first steps toward my future.