For the first time in almost three years of practicing as a nurse, on May 1st, 2018, I called out of work to have myself a mental health day (night in my case). The previous night at work started out great and positive, then a series of events happened during my shift that led me to be overworked, exhausted, and not able to give myself a lunch break. The last time I ate something was 11 that morning. Giving report to the day shift nurse was horrible. I felt inadequate and even though I knew I did what I was supposed to do within my power as a nurse, I still felt it wasn’t enough. I had a breakdown in my car after my shift. I laid it all out there; crying and releasing my frustrations. I was praying so hard and asking God to be my strength during my weakness and to comfort me. The previous couple of weeks leading up to this morning were some rocky ones as well, but I held it together. I had to go to work to pay my bills, to keep up my lifestyle, to reach my savings goal, the list goes on. I always go to work, whether we are short staffed, overworked, and when I didn’t want to but had to. When you are a travel nurse, you do not get PTO or sick days so I always took that into consideration when it came to me missing work or not. I place the patient’s needs above my own every single night that I choose to walk out my door. Nights like the previous night aren’t new to me; I’ve experienced these at every facility that I’ve worked. This was the first time that I had to put myself first and think about my mental well-being. I needed a break. A mental break. A whole 24 hours to rest, regroup, and refocus. I was on the last leg of my travel assignment. I had to get back in the game. If that meant taking a pay cut this week for my sanity and well-being, then so be it.
I spent my mental health day reading my Bible, praying, sleeping, talking to my mom, my friends, my recruiter Sarah, and two hours at the dog park with my dog Hugo and my roommate’s dog Nahla. When I tell you that I felt good after doing all of that, I did. It was such a refreshing feeling to cater to my own emotional and mental well-being. Talking about my frustration to my trusted circle made me feel a lot better because I released it. No heaviness or bitterness was left on my heart. I felt recharged and ready to take on my next shift, which would be the following night. I vow to go into every night that’s left of my assignment with a positive, focused attitude and be ready to provide the care and more to each patient wholeheartedly.
According to an article published by Scrubs Magazine on May 5, 2017 titled “Understanding The 5 Mental Health Issues Most Common To Nurses”, these five include but are not limited to: 1. High levels of workplace stress; 2. Depersonalization; 3. Anxiety; 4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; and 5. Depression (http://scrubsmag.com/understanding-5-mental-health-issues-most-common-nurses/) . Imagine if you were in the hospital and had a nurse with one or more of these mental health issues. Would you trust them to take care of you? Your family member? Your friend? When a nurse is not in the right frame of mind to provide care for their patients, that is scary. Lives are at stake in our line of work and we are usually on the front line. One mistake can change a patient’s condition and the course of our careers for the rest of our lives.
When I called out of work, I did not realize that it was the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month. How ironic is that? Nurses that are reading this, well this can honestly go for everyone but especially my nurses: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES TOO. We all say things like “I love being a nurse” and “All I want to do is help people and save lives” and “There’s nothing I’d rather do” but let’s be real: we are human. We get tired. We get stressed. We get overwhelmed. Yes, love what you do but don’t kill yourself over it. Take that day off. Read that book. Go see that movie. Drink that glass of wine (or 2). Relax. Do something you always wanted but never have the time. TALK ABOUT IT. Keep your mental well-being intact. It takes strength to admit that you need a break. Don’t try to be brave and carry the burden and stress. There are lives hanging in the balance and being a nurse is something that I do not take lightly. I love my profession and value it to the fullest, but in order to take care of my patients, I have to take care of me.
Live life, love always, and don’t forget to smile,