you guys, i apologize in advance for this epic rant. i wrote a far more succinct and diplomatic version of this post on a flight back from chicago a week ago, after which i noticed my computer charger had mysteriously disappeared from my checked bag (?!) and my laptop sat lifeless for a few days while i waited to get a new charger. in that time, the concept of this post morphed somewhat in my head, and now i feel like there’s just a lot more to say.
as you know if you’ve been reading for a long time, i have a constant push and pull going with my professional career as a nurse, my semi-professional hobby as a crafter, and my 24/7 job as a parent. i’ve been thrown a couple of curve balls since we moved to california that have forced me to dig deep and confront challenges and questions about myself and my identity that i just didn’t anticipate. while i’m growing more competent and confident with age and experience as we tend to do, i still just don’t quite have the answers i’m looking for. i have hesitated over the years to write much about my day job as a nurse, because this is a crafting blog, and because i err on the side of super-professionalism and never want to record anything in writing that might be offensive or negatively interpreted by anyone in the profession. but today, i’m going to talk.
after a stunning first year out of nursing school back in chicago full of learning, achievements, and positivity, i have had a really tumultuous and overall pretty disheartening experience with nursing since i moved to california. it is a career i continue to care about and identify with deeply, and i still love medicine, but in spite of my best efforts, i just have not been able to find a happy marriage between myself and this profession since we got here. after being unemployed for six months, i worked a nightmare last resort job that included abuse, threats, negligence, harrassment, a class action law suit, and hundreds of dollars i earned that i will never receive. i continued to spend hours weekly sending in tens of applications only to continue receiving automated rejections, and when i did make personal connections, i still watched as opportunity after opportunity for a better placement fell apart before my eyes in illogical, unapologetic ways.
so many times, i was ready to give up. i was depressed and downtrodden. and, i had developed another passion that was asking for more of my attention. yet somehow, i just couldn’t abandon the idea that i have to be a nurse. perhaps it is because of the great sacrifices it required of me and my family to obtain my degree. perhaps it is my practicality, and the swimming pool of debt i continue to flail in, compared to the earning potential of nurses in california. perhaps it is my puritanical work ethic that compels me to believe i must always, always be working as hard as i can at the expense of almost everything else. perhaps it is my profound loyalty to everything i invest in. perhaps it is my fear that if i leave so early in my career, i can never come back. perhaps it is because i love medicine. perhaps it is because i am a damn good nurse, and in the growing number of hospitals i’ve worked in, i know that sadly, damn good nurses are not the majority. i know of my own promise and aptitude, and i know i sacrificed precious things (namely, my children’s babyhoods) for this career that i can never get back. i just couldn’t bring myself to leave, no matter how miserable it made me.
finally, a year and a half into living here, i had a real breakthrough and was offered a great job right in my own town. i felt so rewarded and vindicated, and that all of the suffering had been worth it. for months, things carried merrily along. but the picture slowly changed. like former lovers reuniting after a prolonged break up, when i really gave it my all again, it was clear immediately that i had changed too much, that my life had changed too much, for it to work. the burden on me and my family was too great, and the glove just didn’t fit anymore.
as i have changed, our family has changed, and our situation has changed, some things that used to feel right no longer do–i’m no longer willing to make the same sacrifices for my career as i was when it first began, before i’d experienced the mixed blessing of being a stay at home mom. i’m also no longer willing to beat myself up because i don’t love being a stay at home mom–i accept and even embrace that for me personally, working on individual projects and maintaining an identity separate from my family is important. that’s just me, and it doesn’t lessen my ability to parent in a loving, nurturing manner (but it took me years, literally, to accept that). and i’m working really hard on taking myself seriously as a creative professional, but that is for many reasons (mostly in my head) a huge challenge. i’m aware that the biggest thing holding me back is probably me.
i believed, and a part of me continues to, that i can find a balance between the things i love and care about. i tried in the most graceful way i could to continue to pursue nursing in a manageable capacity for me at this time. but my swift and impersonal departure from my last employer, and the ungracious and unprofessional way i’ve been treated since, has just left me gutted and exhausted by this career i have given so much to, and gotten so little in return. maybe business isn’t personal, but i feel nursing is personal, and in a career that requires you to give so much of yourself to better the lives of others, it’s impossible not to feel hurt when you discover you’re considered disposable. i am quite proud of my nursing practice. i have no regrets. i have always, always, given my best to my coworkers and my patients, and i am proud of every single shift, every single interaction i’ve ever had in that capacity. i don’t know how many people can say that, no matter their career. when i think about the all the hands i’ve held, the tears i’ve dried, the wounds i’ve dressed, the courage i’ve bestowed, the encouragement i’ve provided, the strings i’ve pulled, the options i’ve negotiated, the messes i’ve cleaned, the lives i’ve saved, the heat i’ve taken, all the times i know, i KNOW i truly changed the course of someone’s life and the potential for their healing for the best, it’s hard for me to understand how i can’t just continue to play this role in people’s lives. but, i can’t.
as i sat at home tending the wounds from my most recent boxing match with my nursing career, ebola made its way to the us. i watched as two nurses contracted the disease while bravely doing the job that nobody else can or will do, and i watched as the very institutions meant to protect them threw them under the bus to save face. after a few years in this profession, i’m very aware of my place on the totem pole. as nurses, we are the only people who wear every hat. we are the only people who aren’t allowed to say no to anything, ever. everything is in our job description, even when it really isn’t. we are at the bedside, we are at the point of care, we are that critical link and pathway, and thus burdens are placed on us and things are asked of us that are unfair and upsetting and even illegal. we are the first response and the last resort. so many times i have been in a position where i want to scream for help, but i can’t, because we just don’t do that. most days, i feel i don’t have adequate support. it’s no surprise that nurses contracted this deadly virus. we are at the frontlines. we are there in ways that no other healthcare provider is, both physically and emotionally. yet ironically, we are also disposable, easily replaced, and too often scape-goated. and as i looked back on my last few years in this profession, i see hundreds of shining moments, personal connections with patients that will always be memorable to me. but in between, i see a too complex, too painful, too disturbing, too political, too corrupt, too cruel string of offenses, disappointments, ironies, puzzles and just plain wrongs. it shouldn’t be this hard to take good care of people. but it is. and i have to ask myself, is it worth it?
so what do [highly productive] people do when their best laid plans have gone to shit? develop a drinking problem? wallow in self doubt and self pity? go back to school (again?!)? volunteer? sell their belongings and travel the world? for so many months now, nearly two years, my creative career has stepped closer and closer to my “real” career, the one in which i’m pedigreed and highly educated, and like mediating toddlers, i have tried to keep their hands off each other and encouraged them to play nicely together. but the truth is, we only have so many hours in a day, and if i’d like to really see one area thrive, the others must suffer significantly. my pragmatic and practical and logical self, the one who plays everything SO safely, the one who plans, the one who takes no risks, the scientist, just couldn’t bet on the path that is completely unknown in every possible way. but the universe has gone from whispering to shouting that it’s time to look elsewhere for the fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy i keep trying to derive from nursing. i have put almost everything i have for the past few years into a career that has broken me down mentally and physically for that duration. all the while, i have continued to explore an area that stimulates all my senses, provides endless opportunities for learning, makes me happy, is flexible and forgiving, and something that i love every day without exception. but i just couldn’t make sense of it. i kept returning to nursing, because it HAD to be the answer. you get it, right? how could it not be? it makes so much sense, yet at the same time, it seems to make no sense at all.
for over a year, i have been reading and rereading the words of debbie millman, and wishing i was brave enough to heed them. the whole thing is worth a read, but the gist is the following:
“i recommend the following course of action for those who are just beginning their careers, or for those, like me, who may be reconfiguring midway through: heed the words of robert frost. start with a big, fat lump in your throat, start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, or a crazy lovesickness, and run with it. if you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. start now. not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. now.”
i feel like i’ve been building, learning, growing, and getting to this point for some time now, and i’m finally ready to give myself permission to do it. while i remain hopeful that nursing and medicine might someday provide a comfortable place for me, the impact right now is overall too negative. i carry with me from my years in that career countless invaluable lessons that have so profoundly shaped who i am and how i love and communicate, live and function. but i’m old enough to acknowledge when a relationship becomes toxic and you just need a long break to heal, sort things out, and gain perspective. i’m truly blessed to be in a position where i can do all of this with the full support of my family and without inconveniencing or endangering them in any significant way.
and so, here is my radical conclusion to this [step in a] challenging journey: i have hereby declared this (starting november 1) my year of knitting dangerously. what started with a self-challenge to design my own collection of knitwear patterns for kids (still ongoing), has broadened significantly. i want to immerse myself as much as possible into the world of knitting and fiber as i can–like it’s my job, you might say. i want to finally branch out into the rich creative and agricultural community all around me that i have largely ignored until now for lack of time. i want to knit, yes, i want to knit so many things. but i also want to learn about responsible farming practices, environmental stewardship and animal to fiber processes. i want to knit, but i also want to dye, spin and weave. i want to travel, i want to meet all the animals, i want to meet all the makers. i want to go to classes, workshops, yarn shops, farms and galleries. i want to be happy and fulfilled, peaceful and purposeful every day.
no more obsessively tracking 20 job boards, no more establishing and maintaining relationships with people who have no interest in me, no more pandering, no more stream of form rejection letters to my inbox, no more unanswered calls and emails, no more doors slamming in my face, no more being left to wonder where i went wrong or how to do right with zero guidance, no more unfair or unsafe work assignments, no more back spasms, no more fear or dread of what awaits me, no more injustice, no more mental and physical exhaustion on a daily basis, no more questioning every single day my abilities, my worth, my meaning, my life decisions, my identity. it’s so liberating to imagine a life where i leave all of that negativity that has weighed me down for so long behind me. it’s thrilling to think with nothing holding me back, with no constant, nagging reminders of my inadequacies, what i might learn, who i might meet, and where i might be in a year from now.
as i move on to the next stage of my business, i’ve thought a lot about online presence, and how i might adjust it. i sense blogging is going a bit the way of the dinosaur as our society’s collective attention span shortens and we turn increasingly to more succinct (and less personal) forms of contact and social media. however, i love to write, and i think there are a few holdouts who love to read (if you’ve come this far, you must!). in the effort to take myself more seriously, i’m in the process of doing some new web development. i’ve decided to keep the old blog around and not change it too much, but instead will most likely give it a good facelift and add some features rather than take anything away. i’m crossing my fingers for a february release of my patterns (before it’s too warm for people to want to knit them!), and hopefully my upgraded site will launch shortly before that. i also think that seeking out so many new adventures will provide me ample material to write about here, and i do hope you’ll join me on this wild, wooly ride.
so, off i go, with a big fat lump in my throat, a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, a crazy love sickness, and my knitting needles. and for the first time in longer than i can remember, i’m really exited.