Life is a curious and beautiful phenomenon we are all trying to sift our way through, keeping our heads above water, each bestowed with the daunting task of deciding what exactly it means for each of us. Life can be tricky and complicated. It’s the new existential crisis born out of abundance, out of oversaturation, out of the void of trust in religion and government and heroes. I have had recent realizations and insights that have made me seriously reevaluate my life and how I am conducting it at this point. There has been a consistent tugging undercurrent in my life straining and pulling me towards something new, anything new.
I have suffered from anxiety and compulsive thoughts for far too long. They consistently plague my ability to be myself, to be creative, and to be inquisitive and passionate about the world and my interests. These waves of anxious tension haven’t completely depleted my happiness and intrigue, but there is no question that these things have caused me to suffer throughout the passing years.
I am a 32-year old adult now, which is crazy to me because I sit here wondering where my 20s went. They were sucked up like a vortex before I could even conceive of the changing tides time has rolled in and out. Time is a strange phenomenon for us. We seem to perceive it on multiple dimensions. On one hand, the pace of each day can linger in the splinter of your mind, as each passing moment carries the weight of eternity. On the other hand, ten years can come and go as yesterday.
Let’s narrow this down a bit. I have been a nurse for eight years now. Eight years has taken a toll out on me, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It happened gradually. I didn’t perceive the slow decay of my passions, interests, and enthusiasms till recently when someone very close to me brought it to my attention. I had boarded myself up emotionally, guarding myself from the endless barrage of stress, anticipation, and frustrated passions of a life that felt imprisoned by my own beliefs. A life constrained by the narrow focus of my potential and identity.
I have come to the realization that I have been possessed by very limiting thoughts. One of these thoughts being that I am a nurse, this is what I went to school for and therefore this is what I do from now on. Don’t get me wrong nursing has an abundance of options, even from a non-clinical standpoint. Nursing can be a very fulfilling and rewarding career for many and the pay can be very good, but it still doesn’t feel like me. Where did these limiting thoughts come from, this expectation that I invested X number of hours and dollars towards this degree and therefore I should suffer in misery the rest of my life for a steady income?
I think back to growing up. There was this expectation from an early age that life was supposed to follow a very specific plan. My parents and surrounding peers impressed onto me the need to graduate high school, go to college, and get a stable job that allowed me to become independent. Nursing was picked out of desperation after two years in college after finding out that accounting and computer programming weren’t for me. People reassured me that nursing would be a stable, much needed job going forward, as people will continue to need nursing and medical care forever. So, I did it and here I am.
It’s amazing thinking back over the past eight years. As an introvert, there were aspects of nursing that I found to be pure hell. The clinicals in nursing school, working on the floor for two and a half years, talking to all the patients and families, having to reconcile disagreements and frustrations with them over their care. It was very socially taxing for me. It took so much out of me as if the stress of juggling six patients’ needs at a time wasn’t enough.
Those first two and half years as a nurse working nightshift on an orthopedic/neuro floor were some of the roughest of my life. Still I didn’t have the self-awareness to consider why I was so miserable. I didn’t consider how the environmental and high-pressure factors of the job triggered anxiety on a level I had previously not experienced, how the social requirements of the job left my introverted self feeling drained and hollow.
I didn’t question it though. This was just how life was now working a full-time job. I had come to that limiting and self-defeating conclusion. I wasn’t listening to my body. I wasn’t listening to the constant tension my body was under, the pressure in my chest, the weighted feeling in my arms, my heart rate, my blood pressure, and the overall sense of dread throughout each shift of work. I was in fight or flight mode constantly, my body was screaming for a change, and I ignored it.
This was just what I thought was expected of me from the authority figures and peers in my life. This was the sacrifice you had to make in order to form a viable, self-sustaining life. Not only that, I had seen this kind of thing first hand growing up. My father has been at the same job since 1979, when he was 19 years old. It is a job he despises and his dismay towards his job is brought up frequently in conversation. During the weekend, I have seen him dread the following Monday countless times, not being fully aware and engaged in the present moment. It is an anticipatory stress that I am all too familiar with at this point. Talking to him on the phone at work, I always noticed a change in his tone. It was a dispassionate droning of a voice from the feeling of apprehension and dread at being where he currently was. This became the norm with which I then based my own life, career-wise.
I had enough of floor nursing after two and a half years and transitioned into surgery. The stress, the weight loss, and the insomnia of trying and failing to adapt to night shift took its toll. It was so strange, those years, even on my days off I stayed up all night to maintain some sense of a routine sleep-wake cycle. I always felt detached from the rest of society. I barely saw my family. It was hell, and I stayed there much longer than I should have stayed, but again it was a narrow, stubborn attitude and a pervasive ignoring of my own physiological and emotional cues.
I found surgery to be much more my style, especially now that I was working day shift. It was a nice transition, as you take care of one patient at a time. My first year or so in surgery I relished at the advantages over floor nursing, but being an operating room nurse for several years now, I still find it to be stressful and thankless much of the time.
The team aspect of surgery work can be exhausting if the dynamic is discordant. Many of the surgeon’s attitudes towards staff have been less than decent. Being treated like something between pond scum and a steaming pile of feces because you’re not a doctor gets under my skin from time to time. Many surgeons are wonderful to work with though so I don’t want to paint the wrong impression, but still, it only takes one bad apple to ruin a workplace environment for me, and everywhere I have been, there are no lack of bad apples. That’s everywhere I suppose but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or disheartening. I still didn’t feel fulfilled or valued at the end of the day. I was still searching, searching for something new.
Time bled on, a few years past, and the urge to experience other places and to move away from my hometown finally boiled over about six months ago. I had finally traveled to Europe on vacation and harbored a further interest in other places and cultures through reading, podcasts, and discussions with others who had traveled. Many of my friends were moving away and experiencing other places so I wanted that too. It seemed like something new was just beyond the horizon. I felt trapped in my hometown and tied to obligations that kept me from being myself. It might sound selfish, but I wanted a change of scenery. I felt stagnant and there were too many triggers in my hometown environment that conjured up stress and anxiety.
This was a first step in trying something new, but not new. I would still be nursing but now getting to experience new places. I summoned the courage to talk to a travel nursing agency and I moved away, first to Macon, Ga, a small town about three hours from Chattanooga, TN, my home town. After that I spent three months in Charleston, SC, a little further, about seven hours away. Now I am about to leave for Denver, CO halfway across the country. I am still doing the same operating room nursing job but now I feel like I at least am seeing new sights, doing something I feel passionate about, travel. There is an intriguing, inquisitive part of me that is being fulfilled now. I have thoroughly enjoyed traveling so far and the prospect of traveling outside of the Southeastern U.S. to the Rocky Mountains strikes me with a sense of wonder and elation.
And still, I feel consumed by stress much more frequently than I ever care to experience. The scenery may be different but the stress is still very much alive, structurally intact month after month, its integrity only eroding at sporadic, fleeting moments when I am occasionally successful at meditation and mindfulness.
I have been conditioned to be complacent in misery for so long. I was told by my parents to be thankful I even have a job and to basically keep my nose to the grindstone. While it is true that I am extremely fortunate to have a stable income in a diverse field, it still leaves me with a sense of wanting. I don’t discredit the fact that I now have a job that affords me the opportunity to live in a new place every three months or longer. It is a wonderful opportunity in that sense. But still, I don’t want to be a nurse forever. Yes, once I want to settle down in a more permanent location, I could gravitate towards non-clinical nursing work that I may find less stressful, I could go back to school and pursue something else entirely like engineering or marketing but I still would not remain true to myself.
There is a personal battle going on within me. I carry with me a deep and longing sense of wanting to do something personal, something fulfilling, to be heard for who I am and what I have experienced, for a passion project that I could viably turn into a revenue stream at some point. I ultimately want to make a living doing something that I create, that is personal and meaningful to me, that is expressive and emotionally and spiritually gratifying. Is that too much to ask for? No, it’s absolutely not but I have been telling myself the lie that it is for way too long.
So, what does this mean for my future, I’m not entirely sure but I have an idea of what I want and I have several ideas of what I don’t want. I know I don’t want to remain in a soul-crushing job the rest of my life. I know I enjoy reading and writing. I enjoy fleshing out ideas I have through writing and talking. When I am engaged with the world and not burdened by stress, I have a lot of thoughts and ideas that stream through my head. I love capturing those and writing those down. This is why I wanted to start a blog, and maybe a podcast soon. It doesn’t have to be part of a plan to eventually make a living, I just want to cultivate an expressive interest, a passionate hobby that makes me feel a sense of catharsis. I want to build something that I am proud of, that I can look back and say “This is me, only I could have done this”.
I think it has to start there. It seems I have found a path in the thick foliage of bewilderment to a potentially more fulfilled life. I have found a path that no longer extinguishes my uniqueness and potential, but that allows me to flourish in my own personal way, even if that is something as simple as keeping a journal. I can still go to work and travel and explore but it’s important to maintain an engaged, mindful, present, and grateful mindset, and to always come back to it. And to always come back to my passion, writing. I feel like writing is a way I can capture my essence and it makes me feel unshackled from the world of other’s expectations. It can start as simply as carrying around a little notebook and writing ideas down that come to me. I love that idea, it’s so simple and tangible. Keep it simple, I shouldn’t overburden myself with too many specifics and trying to get things accomplished as soon as possible. Start small, each day, and slowly water and grow something beautiful that only I can do.
I mustn’t lose sight of that vision. I want to stay true to a clear path of intention and dream up a better life. This is what I tell myself now and I want it to be reinforced every day. The potential is limitless. The depth of my mind and my being is immeasurable. The creative potential of myself and of everyone is without bounds. We will see what unfolds. I am still young and in the middle of history. I am boundless and perfect as the flowing of a steady stream, the blowing of leaves in a gentle summer breeze, the dazzling allure of the night sky. I am all of these things, my borders are an illusion, I am free to be however and whoever I choose.
And when I say I am boundless and perfect I mean you are too! We are all unique specks of experience in the universe. There is nothing and no one like you. If you are struggling with anxiety and self-doubt, I hope you know that you are not alone. I have dealt with it all my life, I continue to deal with it every day, but being honest with myself about where I am in life and building a passion that gives me a sense of progress and purpose has been a tremendous start for me. Even if it means doing something simple each day, 10-20 minutes a day, you can work towards something that makes you happy. And see where it goes! Who knows what can happen with passion, dedication, and intention? If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I am slowly learning about myself each day and will continue to write about my discoveries. There are a lot of issues to unpack. Such is life. Anyways, I hope this helps someone not feel alone. Be at peace.