In today’s article I describe how I ended up leaving nursing and beginning a life on the land milking cows.
Not recognising or having any idea of what burnout was at the time, I had begun to worry that something was physically wrong. I had an appointment with my GP and we began to run some tests. In my stressed out mind I started to self diagnose all types of physical ailments. Was this Cancer? Was this diabetes at 25? But when the results came back and I had a clean bill of physical health, we started to investigate other possible reasons for my poor sleep, lethargy, fatigue and irritability. This is when burnout and moral injury was first considered. Looking back now, it seems obvious that burnout was a possibility, but at the time it was hard to think about anything clearly.
I remember the day I quit vividly. It was after finishing night shift. I felt brittle, emotional and more ‘fuzzy’ than usual. I couldn’t imagine going back into work for another shift. I didn’t exactly know why i felt so overwhelmed but the next thing I remember is sitting in my manager's office with my head in my hands and a pool of salty water on the floor. I felt disengaged and disconnected. And the hardest part was that I didn't know why I was feeling this way.
With the help of my GP and the support of my manager, I took some time off from work. Unfortunately this also wasn’t the answer. I had no plan in place to try and understand what was happening, so in a panicked state I took a contract at a regional hospital to try another type of nursing.
Despite the change of pace, questions continued to circle my mind day and night. Was I making an impact? How was I going to feel fulfilled long-term in this job? Are these unhappy feelings going to follow me throughout my entire nursing career? With no clear answers in sight, I knew that I couldn’t keep doing this. Burnout had taken ahold of my whole life. And I needed to escape it. I needed to feel whole again. Farming felt like the perfect solution. After all I was a 4th generation dairy farmer, with a proud family history of making a living off the land. Surely this was the answer?
So with my bags packed, house renovations finished and my car in safe hands with my cousin, I headed back home; ready to find healing in the familiar comfort of the known and controllable.
Next week, I’ll discuss what life as a farmer was like, the feeling of connection I felt, what it meant to me to have some time away, and why in the end it may not have gone the distance.
My key lessons from this time:
Journaling about your experiences, thoughts and feelings. Doing this practice helped me make sense of the situation I found myself in. I did wish I had completed more personal documentation regarding some workplace concerns. The Fwards mindfulness feature was built for this purpose.
Talk to a mentor, colleague or friend about your feelings or concerns. This is something I didn’t do well (if at all) and looking back wished I had.
Seek help early from a professional; like your GP, the hospital EAP service or Nurse and Midwife Support to discuss your concerns and get expert help.
Speak to your manager early. If you don’t feel supported and you are in the union, they will gladly help you navigate this territory. Taking a break might not be the answer, but it’s worth a shot to re-evaluate where you’re at.
Consider whether there are other pressures that could be contributing to your feelings of burnout? Identify whether there are other areas of your life that might need change (is your family/partner supportive of your career? Do you have hobbies outside of work? How long is your commute?)
Get help early. If you leave these emotions bottled up too long, the pressure has to release from somewhere.