‘Am I going to be able to do this forever?’ I wasn’t ME. I felt let down and abandoned. The anxiety was horrific.’: COVID-19 nurse encourages healthcare workers, ‘We’ll get through this’

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“I was a new nurse: driven, smart, wanting to help others heal and live better. I didn’t know, after a few years, I would slowly burnout, feel exhausted, and question if I had made the right choice.

When I was a new nurse practitioner working inpatient neurology, I walked with a pep in my step. I had new scrubs, perfect pens, and that new nurse glow. With a smile on my face, I wanted to help as many people as possible and learn as much as I could to be better and do better in my role. I was like a happy-go-lucky sponge! I showed up every day. I was a ‘yes’ person. I’d say, ‘They can rely on me,’ and ‘Sure, I’ll cover your shift,’ and ‘Of course I can stay late,’ day after day. After a while, it felt like I was being taken advantage of, as if my goodwill, good attitude, and commitment to my patients were being exploited. It didn’t sit well with me.

Courtesy of Diana Page

I loved working in the hospital and felt incredibly autonomous and competent as I navigated caring for patients on the floors, in the ICUs, and in the ER. At my job at the time, the nurse practitioners ran the inpatient neurology consult service. There was never a dull moment. Every day was different, exciting, and fast-paced. But the fast pace, the long hours, lack of support, and the endless charting was wearing on me. I was feeling broken and I remember thinking, ‘Am I going to be able to do this forever?’

It took me a while to see what was happening. All I knew was I was tired. I was SO tired. It wasn’t until I was completely drained I realized it was BURNOUT. In fact, it was more than burnout. It was depression, anxiety, sadness, tears in the car on the way home, dissatisfaction, and dread. I had no energy. I wasn’t ME. I felt let down and abandoned. I looked around and saw many nurses and other healthcare workers were feeling the same way. I asked myself, ‘How did we let this happen? Where are we going wrong?’

Courtesy of Diana Page

I hopped in my car after another long shift and tears started to slowly roll down my face. I felt defeated and beyond exhausted. It was day three in a row, working at the hospital, tirelessly taking care of patients suffering from various neurologic issues (stokes, trauma, seizures, you name it). I had been a nurse practitioner for 4 years and now I was starting to feel a strange disconnect. I loved my job, but I also felt like I was slowly getting eaten alive by it.

After many tears and lots of soul-searching, I dusted myself off and took it upon myself to make some big changes. I looked at my life and decided to put my needs at the top of the list for once. I deserved it. I deserved to be me AND be a nurse. I knew I would be successful being a nurse practitioner, enjoy my job, and not sacrifice myself or my mental health to achieve that. I knew by taking care of me, I would not only feel better but by feeling better, I would be better able to care for others and show up for others in my life.

Courtesy of Diana Page

I moved back to where I grew up. I changed nursing jobs for one with a schedule more aligned with my needs and desires. I took action by taking care of myself. I was also journaling, reading, and laughing again. I got married, had two amazing children (while also working full-time), and was feeling in control of my life again. I was joyful. Do I have bad days? Sure. Do they define me anymore… NOPE! All was well.

But then in January 2020, I paused and looked around.

So many of my friends were burning out. Again. I asked myself, ‘Where are we going wrong?’ This time, since I had my own level of resilience and had cultivated the tools to beat burnout, I decided I had to take action for others. I had to help.

I started a blog specifically targeted at topics related to healthcare provider burnout. I created an Instagram page solely for the purpose of education regarding burnout. I aimed to help others take back control and take care of themselves in order to have a better balance in work and life.

Courtesy of Diana Page

I wanted to empower nurses to take action at setting boundaries in life and work, to take the reins, and remember they are human beings, first and foremost. Human beings with needs. Just as I launched these two resources, something horrible happened. Something I never could have seen coming…

COVID-19 hit.

I couldn’t believe it. Our already burned out healthcare workers were now being strained even further. Hot spots were popping up and our frontliners were at war, many with inadequate personal protective equipment as their armor. We watched nurses in Italy struggling, talking about death, inadequate resources, and difficult choices that didn’t align with their morals and caring hearts.

Courtesy of Diana Page

I watched, I waited, and knew this would forever change a lot of healthcare workers around the globe. I knew this mental trauma and distress would have lasting effects forever. It was so incredibly distressing to watch unfold. I went from feeling calm and in control, to terrified. I continued to show up on my blog and Instagram, providing support and resources as I also navigated the anxiety and distress in my own life during the early months of COVID-19. Fear and uncertainty were everywhere.

The anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed in those first few months were horrific, not just for me and my family, but also for all the amazing people I see working to help others on the frontlines. They are still there fighting. Day in and day out.

Courtesy of Diana Page
Courtesy of Diana Page

The already burned out nurses from January 2020 were now faced with challenges they would have never imagined. And it continues. The pandemic rages on. The frontliners are still there. They keep showing up to do their job, sacrificing their own safety and time with their loved ones to care for others. They are incredible human beings first and foremost.

I will continue to show up to my job as a neurology nurse practitioner, COVID-19 testing site provider, mom, wife, friend, and colleague. I will continue to do my part to support healthcare workers struggling to find balance away from burnout. I will continue to show up for myself and practice what I preach in regards to self-care, self-love, boundaries, and wellness. I encourage and ask you to do the same.

If you know a healthcare worker, check on them. Ask how they are holding up. Drop off food. Write them a note of support. Wear your mask, socially distance, and wash your hands. We will get through this, but it will take time, kindness, community, science, mental health support, self-love, and respect.”

Courtesy of Diana Page
Courtesy of Diana Page

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Page. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook and her blog: Catalyst for Selfcare. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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