Saturday 28 August 2021

The agony and the ecstasy

Yesterday I cried on my way to work. There was no particular reason - the tears simply started flowing because I was so tired, and I was driving past the charred remains of the burnt-down woods, and I had seen a dead fawn in the ditch, hit by a car. 
I thought I had pulled myself together when I arrived at work, smiling at my co-workers and patients, talking to the guy on the phone who had fixed my machine, even making a joke and laughing. 

But then I called my friend to pass on something work-related, and I burst into tears again. And a couple of hours later when I talked to my co-worker, the waterworks started again. What the hell?  

When an elderly male patient made the old joke about "by the way, I'm not pregnant, hahaha" I could barely force a smile. So funny, I've never heard that one before, buddy.
It's not his fault, of course. I usually love interacting with my patients, and I don't mind at all hearing the same jokes over and over. 
Doing an ECG: "I don't know if you'll find a heart, hahaha!"
X-raying a skull: "Not sure what you're x-raying, there's nothing in there, hahaha!"
Doing a mammogram: "If men would have to stick their penis in, they would have long thought of a better way of doing these!"

I don't mind because I know they're nervous and scared and try to hide it behind humour (a method I'm well-acquainted with).
But when you have nothing left in your tank, you simply can't muster the energy to joke and chitchat. It takes all I have in me to make myself get up in the morning, after hitting the snooze button at least 3 times. I've never been a snooze-button kind of person, because I like mornings. But lately, the thought of having to face another day is almost more than I can bear. 

Back to yesterday. I made it through the day, and as soon as I got home, I did what I've done every day this past week: I crawled into bed and fell asleep. 

I'm fresh out of spoons. (To learn more about the spoon theory coined by Christine Miserandino, click here.)
By the time I've done what I absolutely have to, which is the bare minimum of personal hygiene, driving to work 100k, doing my job, and driving home 100k, I have nothing left. So I sleep in a desperate attempt to get a couple of spoons to do laundry, pack a lunch for work, and maybe spend some time with my husband. I haven't cooked in a while, I haven't done yoga, I haven't written. Everything that I know would make me feel better I have no energy for. Ironic, huh?

The thought of going on stress leave has popped into my head for the first time in my life. Its seductive voice keeps telling me how amazing life could be without work: I could sleep in every day, have a long, lazy coffee morning, do yoga, and then go into my SheShed to write. I could visit my friends at the coast, see my grandson, take Lily for hikes, go for a few more kayak adventures, binge-watch Dexter with Rich every day until midnight, cook again. I could decorate for fall, mop my floors, play with the puppy for hours every day instead of minutes, meditate. No more Covid-talk, or rants about vaccines, or working short-staffed all the time. I could just walk away whenever someone started unloading their opinion on me, instead of having to listen to it because it's frowned upon at work to tell others to shut the fuck up.

I've never wanted a life where I just work, eat, sleep, repeat, yet here we are. 

But then this morning I slept until 08:30. I had a shower and put on my happiest red dress. I'm alone in the staff house this weekend, so I opened the patio doors and sat down at the kitchen table for my first cup of coffee. It was a gorgeous day with a bright blue sky, the sun shining, and absolutely no smoke in the air. And just as I was taking my first sip, a butterfly flew into the kitchen. It made me so happy, I laughed out loud. I watched it for a while and then helped it find its way back out. I took my coffee and sat outside in the sun, breathing in the lovely fresh, slowly warming air. It was blissful and quiet, and I could feel my stack of spoons slowly replenishing inside of me.

I started writing this post, and the familiar act of my fingers tapping away on the keys gave me another few spoons. Halfway through, the hospital called and I spent an enjoyable hour with my co-workers and patients.  

Because here's the thing: I love my job. I hate the politics and the current controversy about the c-word and the v-word, and how polarising the pandemic has become. I hate how it has divided us into two camps, and how it seems impossible to bridge the divide, because each camp is convinced that they are right.
I guess the only solution is time, to watch how things are unfolding, and it's probably gonna get worse before it gets better. 

My burnout is an accumulation of all of the above, but it's also the result of my own poor judgment. Because I've burnt myself out before working in healthcare, before Covid, and long before any of us knew that we 'd have to choose one of two sides. 

I'm terrible at work-life-balance. Despite having gotten much better at saying no, I still overestimate my abilities all the damn time. I have an especially terrible habit of believing that future-me is some kind of superwoman. Ask me today to work 38 shifts next August, and I'll cheerfully say "sure, no problem!"
When I get emails inquiring to pick up extra shifts on Saturdays over the next few months, I have to restrain my stupid fingers to type back "I'm in!"

I have an idiotic faith that future-me will be better, faster and stronger. No idea why I keep clinging on to that idea, since I've disproved that theory roughly 50 times by now. It's the lesson I can't seem to learn, so it keeps coming back to kick me in the ass like an annoying boomerang.

However, the timing is promising. I'm 4 shifts away from an 11-day break. This is the time where we get offered next year's vacation relief, and right now I know that I'm no superwoman. Know your limits, play within it, right?

I might just get it right this time and do what they taught us in high school: just say no. 

Say no to too much work, and yes to LIFE. Future-me will thank me!    


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