There are days when I feel defeated, broken, and beaten down, but there’s one thing I can do that helps put everything into perspective. For me, I like to look back at my past struggles and where I came from in an effort to appreciate where I’m at in this current moment. How easily we can forget how bad things have been and how we overcame them anyways. So many times we dismiss our inner strength and the beauty that can blossom through struggle.
For me, I was always socially awkward growing up. I was the shy, quiet kid in class riddled with insecurities and doubts. Social interactions for me were torturous growing up. I felt disjointed and disconnected, like I couldn’t hold a conversation or read people and it made me feel isolated most of the time. I remember I was in college, still struggling with these issues, and I randomly decided to go into nursing one day. Don’t ask me why I chose nursing, because I honestly don’t know what I was think as a young 20 something. I had tried accounting and computer programming and other things and felt disinterested in all of it. I felt like I had to decide on something quick because we couldn’t afford for me to keep half-assing my way through college forever. I think out of quiet desperation, I fell upon nursing randomly.
I graduated and got my first job on a neuro/orthopedic floor in the main hospital in my hometown. For an introvert like myself, especially someone young and still struggling with social interactions, working on the floor as a nurse is one of the last things I expected to do. It requires social interaction on a whole other level, as you are closely care for and try to develop trust with people and their families in the worst of times, through pain, uncertainty, and stress.
Nursing is stressful enough juggling the needs and complaints of six patients and their families at a time, constantly assessing, passing out meds, and putting out small fires for twelve hours straight. But for me, there was an extra layer of difficulty because there was my social anxiety and my perceived social ineptitude walking into every interaction with a patient. I remember taking a deep breath every time I was outside of a patient’s room ready to go in. Right before I knocked on the door, I would prepare myself mentally, as I struggled to maintain a fluid, trusting relationship with my patients and carry a smooth conversation.
It was an uphill battle much of the time and there were many interactions that I walked out feeling like I had made a fool of myself. But then there were interactions that uplifted me, like a patient and family stopping me and telling me how much they appreciated my care and that they made their day just a little bit easier. It was those moments, like footholds climbing up a mountain, that helped me climb out of the depths of my social anxiety and helped me realize that I might in fact have something valuable to offer.
The think back to the lessons nursing has taught me over the years. It used to be so difficult. I would wake up so many days before work, usually from minimal sleep and vomit into the toilet every morning from the anticipatory anxiety of the coming day. But I did it anyway, and now I can see the value, the strength, and the courage I had in my actions each day just putting my shoes on and walking out the door despite my body and mind begging me not to.
I had always been interested in anatomy and so I decided to transition to surgical nursing. Perhaps I have a morbid curiosity but I loved the idea of getting to see traumas and blood and guts. It fascinated me but once again, it was a team dynamic in close quarters so you had to have some level of social adequacy to make it. I’ve been in surgery for a little over five years, and while I don’t see myself doing this forever, it has helped me grow in ways that I am forever grateful for.
I no longer feel socially inadequate, and it’s all because I forced myself to do the damn thing every single day when it wasn’t easy and I wanted to quit. I remember how much harder it used to be for me and the challenges I faced internally that I no longer have to deal with now that I’m into my 30s. I developed a further love for the surgical process and for the people who I called my family. I’ve been traveling now in surgery and the people I have met along the way only further solidifies that people can be wonderful and kind no matter where you are at. I have slowly learned to open my mouth and my heart to the world. I have seen myself slowly build a lasting confidence in my abilities and my feelings. That feeling of progress is indescribable and the best part is I earned it and no one else can take it away from me.
It’s still hard and the stress and challenges of day to day still weigh on me, but not like they used to. Even my worst days now still don’t hold a flame to every single day I worked on the floor some years back. And so, I draw from my past struggles for inspiration and motivation. Looking back when I felt like I was nothing but pond scum, I realize that I was far stronger and more courageous than I could have ever imagined. I want to reach back in time, to my 20 something self and just give him a hug. I know back in those times, I never felt worthy of sharing my feelings, not even with my closest family. I kept it all inside and I dealt with it alone so much of the time when I didn’t have to.
Taking my past and my struggles into consideration, I want to be that friend to myself that I needed so much back then. I want to love myself unconditionally and recognize the strength, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within myself. And the wonderful thing is I can see it happening. I am turning into my own biggest fan now. I can recognize and appreciate the victories and the defeats when they happen, and I root for myself all the same. Some days are tough and there will inevitably be doubts and insecurities that crop up, but when I look back at the journey and I see the progress that has been made internally and externally, I know that there is a deep and lasting hope for the future as I continue to grow and shine.