Earlier this week, I was chatting with a close friend (and fellow nurse) about the concept of personal wellness. We swapped stories of the moments when we discovered our health had been neglected and we, ourselves were ‘non-compliant patients’.
As we talked, I realized I hadn’t actually shared my exhaustion story with anyone other than close family.
So whether you are new here or an old friend: Welcome! I feel my readers are like family, so it’s time I open up about my rock bottom moment, exhaustion, and how I turned things around.
Side note: I now call my rock bottom moment my ‘ah-ha’ moment because it was like a lightbulb flicking on, illuminating a dark time in my life. And my ‘ah-ha’ put me back in the drivers seat of my own life.
Today I am sharing that ‘ah-ha’ moment with you. The rock bottom that led me to take better care of myself and finally stop the cycle of stress and frustration. It’s the moment when I no longer accepted being a chronically exhausted nurse.
My intention in sharing this, is to inspire you to take the first steps toward a healthier you. To start paying attention to your own health and wellness.
So, without further ado…
Exhausted Nurse: Setting the Stage
I moved to Boston shortly after college. As a newly-minted healthcare professional, I wanted to work at ‘the big-name hospitals’. The ones I read about in medical journals and heard about on the news.
These facilities were on the cutting edge of research and treatments, and had world-class providers on seemingly every medical team. Boston, in my mind, was at the forefront of new and innovative things in the medical field. It was the type of environment where I wanted to grow professionally.
The city itself had the allure of big and busy, but at the same time felt small enough to be a ‘big town’. It was a place I now call home.
After I moved, I immersed myself in all things healthcare. I also enthusiastically sought out grad school and was working on entrance requirements for a Graduate program to further specialize my skills and expertise.
I was working full-time in a demanding unit and I eagerly embraced the challenges of each patient. Grateful for the variety and complexity of each day.
Exhausted Nurse: Things Get Shaky
I felt like I was making a real difference, but that feeling faded when I arrived home each day. My personal life was slowly falling apart.
Homelife had gotten ‘complicated’ so I started working late and picking up extra shifts to avoid going home. My simple 40-hour work weeks soon became much more. Ask any nurse; there’s always an opportunity for overtime and to pick up a shift at the hospital.
My significant other and I had somehow, over the years, become distant roommates. In our limited interactions, we picked fights with each other over the smallest of things.
I had friends I hadn’t seen in ages. Hobbies? What were those? I was depressed and unhappy. I spent what little free time I had in bed, trying to sleep.
A Quick Fix…
This exhausted nurse was surviving on a steady diet of coffee, Dr. Pepper, and gum while at work. My lunch would sit in the staff lounge, untouched. There wasn’t time for even a quick bite most days.
**Are you shaking your head? I’m sure you know what those ‘we are so busy there’s no time to eat’ days are like…
After my shift, I would grab fast-food on the way home. A ‘temporary fix’ for really busy shifts.
You know the type: the ones where you got an unexpected admission, or someone codes, or you transfer out two patients just in time to receive two fresh post-ops. Shifts where things are so busy, you don’t take a bathroom break for 12 hours.
Overtime, my nightly stop for fast food was no longer a ‘temporary fix’. It became a habit. When I worked night shifts, I just opted for the breakfast menu. My body struggled to adjust. I was just trying to get through.
Exhausted Nurse: The Tipping Point
Soon, I found myself overweight, exhausted, and battling frequent migraines. Not to mention feeling alienated from friends and family, with no time for myself or energy to do anything ‘fun’.
After nearly a year of this lifestyle, in a culmination of being beyond tired, feeling endlessly stressed, and battling a misdiagnosed ‘cold’, this exhausted nurse passed out at work.
To say that was a wakeup call would be putting it mildly. When you are lying on the floor in a hospital (ewww), and you open your eyes to see your coworkers standing over you, evaluating if you have a concussion, it’s not really a wakeup call, but more like a blaring siren.
Loud, incessant, and if I’m being honest, humiliating.
Exhausted Nurse: The Diagnosis
After several tests, a couple of scans, and many blood-draws later, it was discovered that I had Mono, chronic exhaustion, and an adrenal ‘abnormality’ that needed further workup.
Side note: Apparently getting Mono as an adult is a bit rare and the test was ordered as a last-ditch effort by my doctor because all my other lab work and results had been somewhat ‘normal’, outside of and elevated cholesterol panel, an adrenal lesion and visible exhaustion.
Having such a public ‘episode’ at work, followed by the diagnosis of Mono (and an extensive workup for the adrenal lesion and a pheochromocytoma) forced me to take time off. Not being able to work meant I no longer had the ‘sanctuary’ of the hospital when I wanted to hide from the world.
Exhausted Nurse: Next Steps
I needed to reevaluate my life and make some changes. Big, uncomfortable, purposeful changes. My health and, as I would soon find out, my career depended on it!
A couple days after my ‘incident’, as I gathered my things from the locker at work, many of my coworkers went out of their way to tell me that maybe I wasn’t cut out for nursing. And that I should think of doing something else.
Further, I was reminded that while I was taking time off, they would be struggling to cover patients and staff the unit. Not quite the send-off I had anticipated. I left the hospital that day feeling guilty and confused.
Back at home, I had to face the very things I was great at avoiding.
Not working meant I had lots of free time on my hands. I initially used this free time for worrying and stressing. Productive, right? (facepalm). Somehow, I still felt exhausted, despite sleeping upwards of 14+ hours a day.
Pep talks and teary-eyed phone calls with family helped. I was encouraged to be brutally honest with myself about how I was feeling and what I wanted out of life. I kept a journal to help organize my thoughts.
Exhausted Nurse: Triage and Treatment
Clearly, my current trajectory wasn’t sustainable. Facing my situation head-on with raw honesty, while uncomfortable, helped me find the courage to take steps toward change.
Moving out, I left my roommate/relationship situation behind. I started regularly seeing a therapist and taking medication for depression among other things.
During my mandatory time off, I did a lot of research and digging. I read books, scoured online databases, and devoured as much literature on stress, exhaustion and mindset as I could find.
I listened to audiobooks, interviews, I even met with a counselor and later, a life coach. An enthusiastic guinea pig and devoted learner through trial and error, I figured out a better way to take back my life and my peace of mind.
I wanted not just a quick fix, but something that would last, long-term, to prevent this from ever happening again. Nursing is a calling, and I fought to stay in this profession because I know it’s worth it.
As I started to feel better, and my medication began working more effectively, I started investing more energy into my health and wellness. My perspective was improving and I was feeling better. I felt more like myself than I had in years.
Daily purposeful movement and self-care were quick wins along the way to keep me motivated. I was also doing serious internal work which would prove to be truly transformative.
Sharing My Struggle:
When I first started my blog several years ago, I wasn’t ready to share my story or my struggles. I wasn’t stable on my own feet or secure in my own truth. I was also VERY embarrassed and ashamed at how far my life had veered ‘off the rails’.
The stinging judgement of my coworkers the night I passed out, was still seared into my mind.
As I have gotten stronger and more resilient, sharing my struggles and my journey back to wellness has become my mission. Life doesn’t have to be a series of stressful or exhausted moments.
There is a better way. I know this because I lived it first hand.
And my goal is to ensure my nursing friends and colleagues are empowered to take care of themselves and follow the advice they so readily give their patients. It’s time to put the health back in healthcare.
The world of healthcare will always be busy and demanding. Our home lives will have their own challenges and complexities. Deciding to make ourselves a priority and focusing on health and wellness, will better equip us to handle whatever comes our way. It sets us up for personal and professional success.
But don’t take my word for it. For testimonials from other nurses I’ve helped, click here to get inspired.
A Place for Change:
This all led me to create Wellness in Healthcare. It’s a supportive community for nurses and other healthcare professionals. Anyone who needs or wants to share tips, strategies, anecdotes, and even setbacks without fear of criticism. The goal is accountability to find and maintain health and wellness. Together, the goal is to tuRN Up Your Health
Let’s fight the good fight against exhaustion and overwhelm. Being tired is one thing, but ‘nursing tired’, that’s a whole other level.
Thankfully, I am in a much better place today. I found a way of living and thriving that works. I no longer need medication, I don’t dread my shifts, and I have reignited my passion for nursing and found my purpose in life. I’m sharing my lessons, anecdotes, and advice with you, so you can take back your health, life, and energy!
My journey is far from over. It’s something that takes effort every day, but I know that I am in control. Most days I take solid steps forward, but some days I slide backward. It’s all part of the dance of life and I can’t wait for you to join us in the community. We truly are stronger and better together.
I'd love to hear your thoughts!