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Take Care of the Caregiver

I had recently started a new nursing job (after my second time declaring that I am retired). Key word “had.”

Every! Single! Day! was a struggle!

It’s not the job specifically, it’s me. Now that truly sounds like a “Dear John” letter to my job. “Dear Job, I want to break up with you. It’s not you, it’s me.”

I think back through my professional career and I think about all of the new jobs that I started without issue, without doubts. It has been so long ago.

In 2007, I knew that my professional façade was cracking. I began to have thoughts of heading to work as normal but to just keep on driving … in essence, running away. I hated going to work. It was hard to focus. I began to need more “prompting” from my team when an emergency situation occurred. Not good when working in an OB department … well, in any healthcare field, really. And something I had never had happen before that time. Unfortunately, that would become my norm on some days. Thankfully, I worked with some great people! I knew that the unit was closing in a few short months. I couldn’t let my friends and co-workers, our doctors or our patient’s down. So, I held on!

I took FMLA when the unit closed so that I could have a procedure done that I had put off. When I returned to nursing in the Geriatric Psych unit, I literally could not understand what they were saying in report one day. They could have just as easily been speaking French as far as I was concerned. That was my last day in nursing for 3 years.

Then the downward spiral began …

For the first bit of time I was off work, I tried to hide what was going on with me. While we lost our house, our car and many worldly possessions, I put on a happy face and glorified it all as I was retiring. The stigma from what was happening in my mind was hard to face. When the panic attacks started and my children became scared, my husband insisted on treatment. Diagnosis … PTSD, anxiety, depression & some traits of bipolar. But, how do you pay for hundreds of dollars of medication a month, and therapy that costs $100 per week when you have children to care for and are losing everything around you. Well, you don’t…  or at least not for long. I made it two months. Maybe I would have fought harder for my treatment if I had actually felt better. The meds for me made me feel like I was living a lie. I didn’t feel well. My husband commented one day that since I had started the meds, I actually looked happy. All I could say to him was, it is a lie. I was not happy, no matter what I looked like on the outside. Now, I know there are great therapists out there, but I just did not get lucky enough to find one. She actually asked me at one of my visits if I cried all the time or just in her office. I think she thought I was putting on a show. Nope, I am a crier! That very visit, she deemed me well enough to see her every two weeks. That was my last visit.

And, of course my spiral continued. I can remember one particular panic attack in the middle of the night where I literally thought I was going to die. I actually prayed for death to come and relieve my suffering.

During this dark time for me, I cried, I got angry, I hurt my family… a lot!

I also felt guilty. Like a loser. Like a quitter.

My NP (nurse practitioner) was great. She made sure that I understood that it was like a switch in my brain that had gone haywire. She told me that I wasn’t a quitter when I had been a practicing nurse for so long. She encouraged me to look at it as if that path had come to an end and I was choosing a different path. That all sounds perfect to a normal brain. But, most days it is really hard to convince myself of those things.

Despite being off the meds and not seeing a therapist, I was determined to get better. And, by the Grace of God, I was able to pull myself up out of those pits for several years. I went back to work in nursing and was doing well. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I struggled some days. But, I had a supportive boss, great co-workers and a job that I loved.

But, with each passing day, my struggle became a little more difficult. With one situation at work, my mind took over, the actual events got distorted for me and I literally had a week long panic attack. We had the week off for Christmas and it went by in a blur! I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus or achieve any task. I just paced my house for hours every day. I even called my co-workers often with extreme requests (That they thankfully indulged to get me better) to ease my mind. My friend & co-worker finally convinced me to try meds again. I went back to my NP, confessed about why I stopped the meds before and we tried something new. Thankfully, I was able to continue working. Thankfully, I actually felt better for once in my adult life.

But, after about a year, we had a change in management at work. (not for the good!) The workload increased. My hours at work increased. And, so did my issues. With a heavy heart, I left my co-workers & my job to be proactive for me.

My husband and I decided that I would take the holidays off & just take care of me. While I am in my own cocoon, doing my own thing, in my “safe” world, I am fine most days. When I venture out, my world crumbles so easily. I know that I need to get out there and to not hide. But, I want to hide. It is not easy to face the demons.

After this last break from working, I began looking for jobs outside of nursing. Virtually impossible to get any employer to even give you a chance with an interview in my small town. Even harder to convince my brain that I can do anything at all.

So, back to nursing. I understand that every person starting a new job has the nervous jitters. This is more than that. This is not normal. The anxiety rears it’s ugly head. The desire to run far away from home returns. I get angry at the world. It takes all of my emotional energy just to get myself to go to work. I work through the panic attack as I am walking into the building. I force myself to focus, to use my brain. I make myself make it through one shift to only begin immediately to dread the next one. I can sit here and tell myself that I like the people that work there. I can tell myself that I am fully capable of doing the job. I can come home from work and know that everything is ok. I can tell myself that I can do this. But, I cannot make myself believe that. And for those naysayers that think that I am too lazy to work, that is not the issue! I am a good worker. But, when faced with fight or flight, flight will always win out with me. I wish I could bring back that confident, strong nurse that I once was. The one that loved her job and did not hate going in to work.

My husband tries to understand. He tries to be supportive. But, as an extrovert, he just doesn’t get it. He thinks that I don’t want to be happy. He would say that this quote describes me …

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine – author unknown

Of course, our lifestyle changed dramatically since I first left nursing. We set up our new norm to consist of things that did not take my nursing salary to maintain … just in case. Setting myself up for the next failure that I knew would come … eventually.

What disappoints me most in myself is that I am a big chicken. I cannot face people when I know that I am going to let them down by telling them the truth about myself. And, phone calls are not my “thing.” (I remember as a teenage girl, the phone was basically attached to my ear. Now, I do good to be able to call my family sometimes) I know I let my new employer down. But, flight this time involved a no show, no call. It was safer for me. I took the easy way out. I was still on orientation. I knew that no patient’s or other employees would be affected by my absence. Another bridge burnt on my trail of fear.

Back when I first knew something was truly wrong, I wondered why all of a sudden this was happening to me. Truth is, if I really stop and think about it, it was there all along. I was a really moody child. I can remember trips that we took where I would remain in the car because I did not want to interact with others. I was well into adulthood before I ever went through a drive-thru. I went through school covering my mouth as I ate lunch because I did not want other kids to see me eating. And, in my senior year, I dropped out of all of the activities that I loved because I suddenly just didn’t feel like I belonged. When I married, my husband would often push my buttons. I would get so angry that I would throw things, etc.  Sometimes during these episodes, I unknowing put myself in harm’s way. Like the time I couldn’t take it anymore and I left a shopping center in downtown Pittsburgh on foot. We were visiting. I had no idea where I was. I just kept walking. I apparently ended up in a really bad part of town. My husband found me sometime later. I was still so upset when he found me that I did not want to go with him. He forced me to. I could keep listing my issues, but I think you get the point. We can chalk these up to temper tantrums, being spoiled, or whatever you want to call it.  But, I was always a rule follower. I did not like to get in trouble. I have never even experimented with smoking or recreational drugs of any sort. I never drank alcohol until I was well into adulthood. I did not skip school. I did not sneak out at night as a teen. It even makes me uneasy when my husband wants to go through the doctor’s cabinets while we wait. 😮 In truth, I was a good kid. But, during these episodes, I felt as though I was on the outside of my body looking back at me, unable to control what I was doing even though I wanted to. That is what I think, for me, makes these episodes outside of normal.

When I started writing this a couple days ago, it was more to vent about my latest job fiasco. To just work out some of my thoughts here. But, now, I feel more burdened to say that I have let my fear of what other people may think of me or say about me stand in the way of how I have dealt with my situation. I delayed treatment, which could have resulted in horrible, irreversible consequences. People with mental illness do not choose to be sick, no more so than someone with heart disease chooses it. If you or someone that you love has symptoms of a mental illness, seek treatment. Don’t delay!

As for me, I am nowhere near as close to the bottom of the pits as I was before. But, I will be heading back to my NP to see what we can do for me because I never want to be there again. Prevention. Tweaking the regimen. I have to take care of me before I can take care of others.

Side note: This song has been playing through my mind as I have been finishing up this post. So, I wanted to share it with you.

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About nonnymoose2014

I have recently retired from the healthcare field, nursing. As I try to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, this seemed like the perfect time to try my hand at blogging again. In the past, my success (or lack thereof) I believe hinged on my fear of revealing too much about myself. I have a desire to “put it all out there” BUT I want to do it on my own terms … anonymously! Thus came Nonny Moose.

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