Nursing: What Did I Get Myself Into?!
A personal journey about stepping into the world of nursing, and what that really means.
I’ve always been envious of the people who knew they were meant to be nurses right out of the womb. Like they were born screaming, "ADPIEEEEE!!"
I wish I could say I always knew I wanted to be a nurse, and that it made sense right away. To be honest, my journey to becoming a nurse had been quite different. I fell into it rather clumsily, for that matter. I’ve felt lost along the way. I questioned why I was pursuing nursing more often than not. Nursing school was a daily, even sometimes hourly struggle for me. Much of the time I secretly felt like I was wearing a halloween costume when I put my on.
If you have ever felt this way going into your nursing career, or even feel this way now in nursing school, well then grab some hot cocoa and gather 'round the campfire my lovelies, because I have a story for you...
As a very indecisive person who bores extremely easily, for much of my life, I felt like the blue dot on Google Maps. You know when you start in the direction you think you should be going, and then realize that the dot is moving away from the route that you are supposed to be on rather than towards it? I felt like that was my constant state.
Wrong way again; turn around and start over.
I graduated high school a couple years early, which afforded me a lot of time to dabble in all different kinds of majors and torture myself with indecision. Philosophy. World Theology. Psychology. Nutrition. French. Business... like I was doing little taste-testers hoping something would just make sense to me. I wanted to try everything. But at the same time, I couldn’t fully commit to any of the options, because nothing was feeling like it was the one. My career soulmate.
Finally, I dug in and dedicated myself to a major in journalism with a minor in film. I had dreams of becoming an investigative journalist, making documentaries that would expose the atrocities of the world, advocating for the underdog who was standing up against The Man.
After graduation and interning at an investigative unit on a broadcast news station, my annoying little friend, fear, came around. Fear of putting myself out there and being vulnerable to criticism. Fear of making the wrong choice.The panic from the weight of my endless options became so suffocating, that I did what any paralyzed, new grad millennial would do: I took all the bartending money that I had saved up for many years, got a New Zealand work visa, and booked a one-way ticket to Auckland.
From there, I spent a little over a year backpacking my way through Southeast Asia on a strict 20 dollars a day. This was all in efforts to never have to make any decision at all, feeding my inner procrastination devil, who was cackling on my shoulder the whole time. My plan was to receive enlightenment, like they do in all the coming-of-age cliche books and movies about finding yourself. I wanted so badly to be a cliche.
One day I felt my moment coming after a particularly grueling yoga class in India. As I was rolling up my mat and the teacher came and sat next to me.
“You, girl... I am seeing that you have trouble in your life. Why is this?”
Perfect. Im oozing desperation. But please...tell me something profound and meaningful.
“I am just having a hard time finding my direction,” I responded.
He looked at me directly in the eyes for a few, seemingly too long, silent seconds, and then stated in his very thick, Hindi accent, “Don’t look the monkeys in the eye.”
Then he got up and waved me out of the class. He was done with me.
I left having no idea what that meant and was more than a little jarred, but from then on you better believe that I was sure to bolt in the opposite direction any time a monkey crossed my path.
No new-found insight had happened though, and those catch up phone calls with home started to feel a little more impending doom-ish.
"Hi sweetie! Which country are you in now? And...uh...any thoughts of when you’re coming home?"
"Hey Mum! Wow, the internet here is terrible. I can barely hear you! I’ll call you back next week when I get a better a connection!”
Then one day when I was (physically) lost riding a bike through some dirt roads in Cambodia, I bumped into another traveler who seemed just as turned around as I was. As we both tried to find our way back on the map, we started the get to know each other chit-chat. It turned out she was a nurse. She seemed to have this amazing, inspirational, fairy tale life. She got to travel; she was imparting good into the world. She was happy. I had come from a family of artists, and I had never really known anyone in the healthcare field. My spidey senses perked up.
Wait...maybe I could be a nurse...
Seemed stable. Seemed like I could do my part in giving back. Seemed like I could do some world exploration with it. It checked more than a couple boxes on the imaginary job satisfaction list in my head.
I came back home with a new plan. At a family dinner I announced my new endeavor.
“Guys, I have some news! I’m gonna go to nursing school!”
Then laughter from my sister’s direction.
When I stayed quiet, she added, “Oh...you’re serious? I just don’t really, uh, see you as a nurse. But you know...Im sure you’ll be great!”
I got accepted to an accelerated BSN after-degree program in Edmonton, Alberta, in my homeland of Canada. Off I went to begin my new journey, becoming a fresh blue dot on my unfamiliar map with enthusiasm and a new sense of purpose. My shiny textbooks smelled like new beginnings. My fresh, slick pens were so stable and decisive.
And then school started.
So, here’s the thing; I’ve always had great grades in school. I graduated at the top of my class in journalism school, without ever feeling like I was struggling. I assumed I would breeze through nursing school in the same way. So in my first semester, I was quickly humbled when I started getting Cs and Ds on exams. Turns out writing and science aren’t that closely connected in my brain. My spirit followed my grades down the well of despair. The new books quickly transformed into a heavy burden, smelling of mistakes and failure. I either lost my pens or they exploded in my bag.
I couldn’t retain any information from the massive amounts of text-based reading assignments. As someone who gathers and stores information from colorful stories filled with descriptions and emotions, I didn’t know how to make sense of this dense black and white world of memorization of facts. This was a whole new world to me, a whole new language, a whole new culture. I started questioning why I was even trying to be a nurse and felt so naive for even thinking I could take on this battle. I would watch the other students in my clinical group just thrive in med-surg, orthopedic surgery, labor and delivery. The whole time I was counting down the clock every day wondering how I got myself into this mess.
I started having an internal battle with myself yet again. Yes, I could be a nurse on a med-surg floor, or any of the other floors I had clinicals on. That wasn’t the issue. My inner conflict was about how happy I was going to be doing that job. Would I make the most impact there, or would I just be going through the motions? Would I wake up happy every day and know that I was living to my full potential? Deep down, the answer kept rising. This is so not me.
But what I didn’t realize was that I was being extremely narrow-minded; nursing is me. I finally got that aha-moment everyone talks about. My brother, who has been my best friend and protector since birth, struggled with heroin addiction for most of our teenage years and early 20s. If you are familiar with how drug addiction transforms someone you love into someone who is completely alien to you, you’ll understand the rollercoaster of pain, suffering and anger that comes with it. It was there, once I started my mental health rotation, that I started to really identify with nursing. Every teenage boy with a tortured soul became my brother, every desperate mother holding on for just a drop of hope became my mother. It all made sense now.
I left my feelings of inadequacy in my lecture halls. These patients weren’t the faceless, nameless “75-year-old male diabetic patient with left-sided heart failure” from my nursing exams. These were people with laugh lines, people with tear-stained cheeks, people with callouses on their hands, people with bright blue nail polish. People with favorite ice cream flavors and annoying pets. People with loud families who surrounded them 24/7 at bedside, or people who had no one who cared if they were alive at all. People with smiles, laughter, grief and pain.
Nursing isn’t only about how fast you can recall the cranial nerves or understanding the how a beta blocker acts in the body. It’s about human connection. It's about being a source of stability for people when they are in their most raw, vulnerable states, which is where we all are once everything else is stripped away from us.
Now as a psych nurse, I’m still on my mission to fight for the underdog. But rather than standing up against the corruption in society, I’m helping individuals fight deep, dark battles within themselves, and I’m there to hold their hand while they try to exist in a world where a stigma has been unfairly bestowed upon them. And knowing that makes me realize how true I am being to the things I claim are important to me.
I also ended up using my journalism degree after all; I got an unbelievable opportunity to work with Picmonic, an audio/visual study tool for nursing students who need a creative and engaging way to study. It’s a way of learning completely aligned with what I believe in, and I get to help students succeed in a society where we are still educated with a one-size fits all mentality. I've been so grateful to be given the ability to combine both aspects of my nursing and journalism backgrounds into a harmonious new career for myself, one which I wake up every day and can’t wait to create and share with the world.
And a few years down the road, when I want to mix things up (because let’s face it; I’m still me) I can move into a whole different nursing area that will spark future-me’s new interest, because there is no end to the opportunities for someone who wants to do it all. Here’s the thing about nursing- and I’m about to drop a truth bomb on you here- you can really mold your nursing career into what you, as in individual, want it to be.
So, if you decide to take anything from my long-winded narrative, it’s this: it’s ok if you don’t feel like there is one perfect nursing area fit for you. If you feel disconnected to your nursing practice, I feel ya, friend. I’ve been there, and others have too. Sometimes, we just have to surrender to uncertainty and know things will fall into place they way they need to, and you just have to follow who you are, at your core.
And if you are just now starting to think about perhaps embarking on your own turbulent nursing journey, just remember to steer clear of monkeys on the way.
About mar9, BSN
Marlee is an RN who splits her time between Alberta, Canada and Phoenix, Arizona. She travels and explores the world every spare moment she has, and hopes to become a nursing educator one day in the near future.
Joined: Jan '17; Posts: 8; Likes: 23Apr 27, '17Wow! Your life is packed with experiences! It is funny how each experience help you help others whether it be a patient, colleague , family or students. Soon the blue dots will become a blue line as things fall in place!
Remember don't look at a monkey in the eye--!Apr 28, '17"It's about being a source of stability for people when they are in their most raw, vulnerable states, which is where we all are once everything else is stripped away from us."
Love this. I always tell my family that the thing I love about nursing is just how raw it is. It's real peoples lives. It's something that cannot be explained.May 1, '17Beautiful, raw, and inspiring post.
I've always felt a click when I did my mental health rotations or palliative care shifts... but everyone was telling me to get into med-surge or critical care to get the "best" experience. I felt the same way you did, lost, confused, self-doubt after every shift knowing acute care is just not for me. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing!May 3, '17Yes. This! This is exactly me!
I ended up in nursing school through some very interesting and turbulent circumstances. I even failed my first semester the first time with a 74.9% where 75% is passing. Talk about a blow to your ego, holy smokes! That set me back one and one half years as I had to remediate and then wait to get back into my program.
And all of this from someone who said that she NEVER wanted to be a nurse. My first day of nursing school I introduced myself by saying "I've never wanted to be a nurse, I don't know if I want to be a nurse, but I'm here!" which, you can understand, did not make a good impression on my professor. We got over that, and one of my proudest moments was seeing her at graduation.
I loved my psych rotation. During the second week of my psych clinicals I received some news that shook my personal life to the core regarding my (then) homeless 22 year old son's recent diagnosis. How in the world could I have not seen the signs that started when he was 15? How did the universe orchestrate itself so beautifully that I was IN my psych rotation right at that exact moment when I needed to be armed with the information about treating mental health patients? I don't know, but I do know that my experience in nursing school, which was the most difficult thing I have done in my life, was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Like you, I know that I CAN work a med-surg floor, ICU, or any other floor that we are "supposed" to work before moving on to other units in our career. I struggle with that as I consider my options while applying for new grad programs, and I honestly haven't decided yet.
I love how you thought of your as a Halloween costume! I often went into my clinical days, which were sometimes pure torture for me, telling myself that this was a live theatrical production and I was just an actress. I'm telling you, I got through nursing school no matter WHAT it took!
I'm happy to see that I'm not that only one.May 5, '17Heylove, it sounds like we had a very similar path! Glad to see there are many people on the same journeyLast edit by mar9 on May 5, '17May 5, '17Heylove, it sounds like we had a very similar path! Glad to see there are many people on the same journeyMay 5, '17This was simply terrific and what I needed to hear. I am in my 40's, own a theatre company and have always been a creative free spirit. And broke, lol. I lost a husband when he drowned in a roadside ditch while walking home because he was an epileptic and had a seizure. Three years later I lost my only child at age 19, three months after she and her new, bad influence, much older BF started using heroin. We found both of their bodies after not hearing from them for a few days.
I needed to do something meaningful but at heart I was still a rebellious punk rocker and not nearly " nice" enough to be a nurse . Well, I just finished my first year of my ASN program and while there have been some horrific moments (and some really nasty people, not patients, instructors and cohort, why ?? ) I LOVE learning about the human body and I already know that I want to work psych. Hell, I've been doing it for free my whole life !
Thanks for this inspiring article. It helped me confirm that I am on the right path !May 7, '17DahliaDaisy I would love to hear your story, it sounds like you have a very inspiring journey as wellAug 19, '17Really great article; I'm also a person who has a creative/journalism streak and was kind of wondering about how to combine that with nursing. Would be curious if others have had similar experiences or found other creative ways to do it.
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