EDIT: This post got a little carried away, but recently I have had people ask me how I am able to do so much and not get worn out, and I think this answers it.
Because of the weather forecast for Boston tonight, which involves six to twelve inches of snow depending on who you ask, I have been asked to come in to work a bit early to ensure enough help during the storm. I don't mind that at all, and I have a planned shift tonight of about 2pm to 11:30pm although I know logically that it's the third shift who will have the absolute hardest time getting there and so I may end up working into the night. But here's why I'm okay with that:
Last year, during my first terrible snow storm as a BHCHP employee I stayed on when my relief was late. I didn't mind because I didn't think I could safely get home anyway at that point. My car was completely snowed into the back of our parking lot (we were still located in Jamaica Plain back then) and I would have had to walk about half an hour to my apartment in snow drifts as high as my hips. The woman relieving me had been at work at her other job, at one of the hospitals downtown, where she had just put in an eight hour shift on a med surg flor. She still managed to get to us even with the T halfway shut down. She came in the door rosy faced and covered in snow and ready to keep working. It was pure inspiration, and it gave me the energy to stay for the whole next shift in place of another call-out.
It was one of the first of many moments I would realize how much of a team we are and how blessed I am to work in a place where people really feel committed to each other, to the patients, and to the work we're all there to do. I don't think you can beat that kind of atmosphere in a working environment.
However, I took that energy burst I had from working that shift and I put in way too many extra hours in the next two weeks. I thought I was superwoman. And I ended up crashing hard.
It's easy to get burned out in many public service roles. It happens all the time. It happened to me in 2004 while I was working in Agawam as a CNA. I'm not talking about being tired and overwhelmed and needing vacation. (Which is exactly when you should take a vacation!!!) This was a permanent burn out which required a change of jobs. It's a terrible feeling and it's hard to rise above, even when it's not as permanent as the situation I found myself in.
Since then, I have found that the only way to stay on top of the joy and rewards of work like this is what I like to call a constant reconfiguration of one's senses. Broken down, it means to know yourself really well. It's important to know your own limits and to be honest about them. They may not be the same as someone else's limits. It doesn't do a nurse any good to try to be someone he or she is not. It's necessary to understand your boundaries. And to take time every day to really center and listen to your own needs. And to allow yourself to be gentle with yourself.
Being self-gentle is not related in any way to hedonism, which I despise; it's not my intention to promote that anyone only seek what is pleasurable and easy. I tend to weigh in more on the belief that self sacrifice is necessary for the greater good. I believe that only by sacrificing parts of yourself can you know yourself. But you need to know yourself before you start to sacrifice yourself. I have been in several relationships that have failed due to sacrifices being made all wily nilly without any knowledge of what was at stake.
The beautiful thing about a constant reconfiguration is that you always have room to change and grow. We know we have to push all our limits, because only then can we grow. But you need to take an inventory as you do it. You need to do it with utmost self awareness. It's the difference between changing your mind and being considered inconsistent. Anyone who reads Overcoming Bias knows you can change your thinking patterns, but you have to be familiar with them first and foremost.
Through honesty I own my life more than ever before, even though I still give so much of my life away. People laugh when I say "I do what I want," because I am often talking about leaving the house wearing two different socks. But it 's an easy attitude to maintain throughout every area of my life when I'm honest with myself. Even when I realize I've stretched myself a little too hard, it's alright as long as I admit that and reclaim myself afterwards. I am not overwhelmed by the idea of staying at work tonight because I have mentally prepared for it and it is what I want to be doing.
And it's a lot easier to stay like this when I am working in an environment full of people doing the same thing, which is what makes BMH so great right now. Everyone here is willing to go an extra mile for each other and for the job because we're passionate about what we do and we take care of ourselves enough to stay that way. It's easy to continue to give when the entire team is doing the same thing, and when we're letting each other take turns.
And on that note, I think I'm ready to head into work.