It’s one of those things that gets talked about, but, it is done so in the most abstract of ways. There are enough descriptive words attached to it, that we can imagine it but cannot quite grasp the enormity. It’s just like if you have only read about the Grand Canyon but never actually visualized it with your own eyes. You know it is profound, but you have no possible idea just how overwhelming it is.
I am talking about compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout.
We talk about ways to prevent it. We think of ways to avoid it. It’s discussed around meeting tables and joked about in text messages. How many of you haven’t said at least once, ” I am so totally burned out!” ? I know I have. But, the joking aside – have you ever really spoken with or met anyone who actually admits to having burnout? Well, friends, now you have.
I cannot believe I just wrote that and am sharing that with all of cyberspace. It’s often talked about in hushed tones, as if it is an embarrassment. For me, admitting it to myself was the hardest part. Me? Burned out? Come on now. But, I cannot deny my own truth. I am human. I work in a profoundly difficult and emotional erratic branch of nursing. Imagine someone’s death being your everyday occurrence?
Nursing is my passion. Sure, I would love to drive an ice cream truck, but, the bitter truth is that I can never imagine myself as anything other than a nurse. Hospice nursing was an area of nursing that I sort of stumbled into a few years ago. Immediately, it felt like this was the nursing that I was called to do. Sure, I miss the chaos of a hospital but, being able to devote myself entirely to a patient and family during a visit, being able to use my nursing wisdom to help a patient in their final fight and compassion and empathy for their family – this is me. This is where I am supposed to be.
But, just because I feel I am where I am supposed to be doesn’t mean I cannot fall victim to burnout. I had an older nurse tell me recently that, “your big heart gets you in trouble”. Sure does, but, just as personalized to me as my green eyes, that heart symbolizes who I am. Take it away, dull it or change it and it’s simply not me.
Anxiety was my first clue – there were days when I felt like I had an anvil on my chest. Just this unending feeling of worry that no matter what I could not turn off. I would find myself doing something at home and agonizing over a decision at work or a conversation with a family member. Then, the crying jags started. It was almost like I would cry so hard because I was trying to get that weight off of my chest. Cry because I was angry. Cry because I was sad. Cry because I haven’t finished charting. Cry because someone else had seen my patients and she found the stupidest of oversights and she would run to the boss. Get the picture? I had become the Niagara Falls of Nursing.
Here comes the part that makes most uncomfortable but, I have to be transparent all of the way. I just didn’t want to see patients. I was literally dreading visits. Sometimes family members would complain about something and I would think about my own problems and try to mitigate theirs. Everyone feels like their problems are bigger, worse and more profound than anyone else’s. I just felt like I was being such a fraud – having such internal struggles but no one could tell on the outside. Keep it together, HKH.
I am the first to admit, I was not self caring as much as I should. In an ideal world, I would be working out everyday. I wasn’t. I have been doing keto for 3 weeks and ended up gaining 10lbs. Can you follow along? End of my rope here. Send the life raft.
I wrote this not for anything more than to help put a face to burnout. It happens to us who believe it will never happen to. Like a silent thief, it robs you of your feelings. It makes you question everything. It makes days but wrenchingly hard. It forces you to find the tiny moments, like drops of honey and cling to them with the ferocious tenacity that has never before been present.
Burnout will not win. It might have gotten a few past the goalie in the sense that I might have been more short with my family and maybe not as outgoing with friends. But, this game is far from over. With the hat trick of self care (yes, that does mean working out for physical and mental benefits), setting limits and being honest, I have hope.
Please don’t ever feel alone if you feel burned out. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It is so brave to come forward. Know they there are people that care and people that do know exactly what you are going through.
I contemplated a lot writing this and being this open. What if my boss sees it? Will I get in trouble? But, if I help one person realize their feelings are not just felt by them or help them open up and start healing, it’s all worth it.
Caregivers and nurses are often thought of as those that are the glue of any given care situation. After a while, that glue might need a bit of a touch up in order to help keep things together. Does that make the glue any less potent or any less strong? Not one bit.
We give everything. We ride an emotional and mental rollercoaster every day. Burnout is real. Burnout happens. But, it isn’t forever.
Some say that burnout is price we pay for caring. For me, it’s a price I am willing to pay.