By P. Pharm, RN

It didn’t take much to set me off into that rapid, swirling decline of drowning despair.  I had been heading in that direction for years.  The nosedive began when I watched my best friend among others being bullied, shamed, and pushed to the breaking point by management.  The hospital’s administration had molded its culture into a self-serving business model that took a no-prisoners approach to leading its employees.

The nursing staff existed for the sole purpose of providing optimal patient satisfaction with the final product of maximum reimbursement.  The cost being too high for the emotional, spiritual, and physical livelihood of its employees.  There was no 99 percent one could give.  You either operated at 110 percent or a 0 percent failure rate.  I believed that I was supposed to be a perfect nurse.  Any mistakes meant total failure and shame which sent me into a depression.  This was reinforced by my superiors through threats of written warnings which took away the only annual bonus offered.  If a mistake was made, everyone knew about it and it was placed in our permanent record.  That mistake followed you wherever you went.

I watched a nurse make a medication error which resulted in no harm to the patient.  She took the policy enforced path of self-reporting the error to the physician and her superiors.  She was counselled, written up, bonus taken away, threatened with possible termination, and shamed.

I witnessed another nurse openly voice her burnout to management which resulted in multiple future write-ups and a strong suggestion that she find work elsewhere.  She slowly emotionally deteriorated under the pressure.  The manipulative tactics used were geniusly executed.  I was horrified over how sly and calloused leaders in the medical profession actually are, as they dress up in the costume of healthcare servitude.

A fellow nurse admitted to me she was on 8 prescription medications just to function. Another one said she has never been on as many antidepressants in her life as the present. Another was diagnosed with Colitis.  Another Crohn’s disease.  Fibromyalgia.  Cancer. Obesity.  Depression.  Drug addiction.  This list goes on.  We were all battling something. Yet, it was barely talked about.

The quantity and frequency of my panic attacks grew and grew.  I couldn’t control the suffocating feeling that overwhelmed me during my shifts.  The patients may have been stable but I constantly convinced myself they were about to code or I was on the edge of making some catastrophic mistake.  This feeling took over and there was no way to conquer it.  And this monster kept growing bigger and its behavior more unpredictable and out of control.

I heard the term “self-care” thrown around by administrators.  Honestly, I tried “self-care” but the true self-care came when I chose to leave this toxic establishment.  Massages and meditation can only go so far and probably only temporarily band aid a small fraction of the true problem.

While others outwardly voiced their displeasure, I was imploding on the inside.  My health declined and I found myself withdrawing from people and life.  I slept more with no change in the overwhelming fatigue I couldn’t beat.  I fought more with my husband and I wondered if we would make it.  I couldn’t stand being around my children yet I missed them terribly.  I was dying in every way.  I contemplated not existing anymore.  I couldn’t stand my job and couldn’t stand the person I saw in the mirror.

One day, I just started cutting.  I watched the blood run down the shower drain.  I was shocked that it didn’t hurt.  It actually felt good.  Bringing the evidence of my internal pain to the outside was a release.  Until, I felt the stupidity of it all.  Why was I hurting myself over a job?  Why was I allowing myself to be a victim?  Why was I allowing in all this pain and misery?  And, possible infection?  What the heck was I thinking?

I called in sick for my next few shifts.  I saw a counselor and a psychiatrist.  Amazingly enough, they said they had many nurse-patients with the same symptoms as myself.  My symptoms were finally validated.  I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.  I was placed on a leave of absence and I gave myself permission to emotionally and physically heal.  It didn’t take long to feel a renewing of my soul and body.

Most of this article is about the mentioned evil healthcare machine and I paint myself as its victim.  But, I place much blame on myself for not taking a risk sooner and leaving.  I let fear dictate my future.  I was scared every job was the same.  I feared I couldn’t measure up to anyone’s expectation of who I was or what I should be capable of.  I put too much emphasis on a paycheck instead of my own sanity and well-being.  I was stuck in a self-dug trench full of lies I had believed for way too long.  No longer.

It took me less than a week to find a new job.  One that wasn’t oppressive or abusive.  They really do exist.  Nursing with respect and dignity for the professional is not some made up fairy tale told by nursing schools for recruitment purposes.  So, know that if you feel your situation is similar to my story,  I want you to know you are not alone.  Many have been there and recovery is out there.

Please don’t let a job, a person, or a situation destroy you.  Your feelings are real and deserve to be validated.