Do you identify as a broken toe?
I have a confession to make, I hate the word burnout. It sounds so final, like a terminal illness. It’s so all or nothing, you’re “fine” or you’re burnt out. The word itself carries an aura of hopelessness around it, and the aura is laced with shame and a sense of failure.
When this fog of burnout starts clouding our vision, we lose sight of the things around us, of the nurses around us.
I am thinking about this as I attend the national AANP conference this week. For the first time in the last 3 years, 3500 NPs have gathered together. It always takes my breath away as I walk into the standing room only general session and see a room full of MY people, a room full of people that share not only my job but my core values and my desire to have a positive impact on the world. Thank God the lights are dim because I literally cry every time.
And as I experience this, I think about how research has shown that one of the protective factors against burnout is a sense of community. Like many NPs, I have only one other NP in the pain management department of my practice. Very rarely do I have an experience where I get to be in a group like this. So, it would be easy to feel alone as I attend a conference this size by myself.
But as I walk in, I feel that nursing is a living, breathing organism. If there is one thing in life that I am 100% confident in, it’s the ability of nurses to care. I could ask any one of these NPs to help me and I know they would, without thinking twice. I know that when my patient is terrified of going into the hospital, I tell them to talk to their nurse and they will be taken care of. When I think of the 80-100 patients I see a week and then I look around at all the other NPs doing the same, I realize that collectively, the people in this room are making a difference to 350,000 patients per week. That’s 1.4 million per month, 18.2 million per year. And that’s just the people in the room with me today. It’s breathtaking, and inspiring.
If I see myself as part of this living organism, dedicated to care, I can never really be alone. As I look around, the fog of burnout is pushed away by the sheer magnitude of the people dedicated to helping people just like me, just like you.
It’s like when you break a toe, the other leg automatically takes over the weight bearing, your hips shift and the rest of your body accommodates to relieve the pressure on that foot. For days and days. Your body works as a whole to protect you, to minimize your pain and to allow healing. Nursing is like that. Even if your whole department is struggling, others of us can hold you up, relieve your pressure and allow you to heal. You are an intrinsic part of a much larger whole, a whole that doesn't blame you or think you're a failure for being a broken toe.
A broken toe is not a terminal illness, it is not hopeless. Burnout can be like a broken toe, or maybe a broken hip. It hurts like hell, it affects your ability to get through your day with ease and without struggle. It may leave some lasting marks. It can seem overwhelming. But not all of us are there right now. Some of us have already been a broken toe and are here to hold you up because we know how.
I heard a beautiful comment in one of the sessions yesterday: asking for help is just asking another person to participate.
That doesn’t sound so awful. It definitely doesn’t sound like failure.
Can you allow someone else to participate in your life?
This may be all you need to do to start dispelling burnout and feeling better.
Find your community, you may not need to look that far.
I am here for you if you need me.
Click here if you need some help finding your way out of what you are going through right now.