Six weeks. I was a nursing student for six weeks.
Even just writing that one sentence is difficult. I still have a little voice in my head that wants to make me feel like a failure, like I should be ashamed or embarrassed.
Back in August, I was gung-ho and determined. I never imagined that I would completely change my mind by the start of October. My instructors never made it sound easy, and it wasn’t. In fact, they made a point of telling us that nursing school was going to be the most intense, challenging thing we’d ever done. Is this going to be worth it? I wondered to myself.
It turned out that the class I’d feared the most, Nursing Dosage Calculations, was the one that gave me the least stress. The classes I’d thought would be easy breezy, Nursing Skills Lab and Clinical, gave me the most anxiety. I kept wondering why I’d signed up for this, as if I was serving a sentence. I consistently felt overwhelmed, scared, and unsure of myself and the future. During all but one of my classes, I found myself on the verge of crying, or if I could bring myself to actually leave the room, holed up in a bathroom stall and crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t approach my instructors because I felt too upset; I could never calm down enough to have a rational discussion. I’m having a hard time. I have some questions. None of this feels right. Could you just explain this again. I knew that if I even tried to open my mouth, I would just start crying again. Accompanying the tears was the ever-present visual in my mind of throwing up, though thankfully I never actually did.
The part of me that likes to self-sabotage worked hard to convince me that I couldn’t “cut it”. I wasn’t good enough. I needed to just try harder and buck up.
And you know what? I wasn’t actually failing my classes! In fact, I was earning As and Bs. This proves that I wasn’t, am not, a failure.
Believing in yourself is an endless destination. Believing you have failed is the end of the journey. –Unknown
But the thing is, self-sabotage is about working to undermine one’s dreams and goals. It’s beating oneself up and “proving” one’s own failure. Yes, becoming a nurse was a goal of mine. But I realized it wasn’t my dream. My anxiety wasn’t the sort that accompanies a difficult-but-worthwhile struggle. I never thought This really sucks but I love the work I’m doing so far and I’m going to push through. I thought This is not what I’m supposed to be doing. It just wasn’t right for me. I’m not a methodical person who handles numbers easily. I don’t always operate well under stress and I hated the idea of needing to be in charge of many patients at once.
On the first day of Nursing Fundamentals, the instructor went around to each student and asked why we wanted to be a nurse. What did I say? Some stuff about having been a good medical assistant eight years ago. How I was a nurturer, and it was important to be of service to others. How I’d always been attracted to pregnancy and birth, and there was nothing more important than supporting others in times of need.
Were any of those reasons wrong? Of course not. Did those qualities disappear? Nope. But nursing involves so much more: Lots of chemicals and funny smells. Trying to feel a pulse or hear a heartbeat on an ailing elderly patient. Being confident of your findings and ability to decide the next course of action. Endless paperwork. Making sure you administer a medication properly: right time, right dosage, right route, right patient. Handling bedpans full of human waste.
I wanted so much for all that to feel right and for my plan to work out. I was scared to admit to myself that staying in the program would have been harmful to my mental health. I was anxious knowing that would mean I’d be untethered, full of questions and blankness and a lack of direction.
This was when I learned that you have to give up your life as you know it to get a new one: that sometimes you need to let go of everything you’re clinging to and start over, whether because you’ve outgrown it or because it’s not working anymore, or because it was wrong for you in the first place. –Kelly Cutrone
One morning as I sat in the nursing home during clinical, it all finally hit me and couldn’t be contained any longer. I had my meltdown: I needed to leave the building, I couldn’t stop crying, my instructor was worried for me and called the school counselor so I could try to sort things out. Linda, the lovely counselor, had a lot of magnets with inspirational or funny quotes all over her office. One of them stood out to me: Advice is what we ask for when we know the answer but wish we didn’t. And I knew. That magnet said it all. I took another week to really marinate in the idea of not being a nursing student anymore, what it would mean for Andy and I, the change I was embarking upon. Then, I withdrew from all my classes. I’d let myself free.
So September was terrible. October is when the withdrawal happened and I had to sit with my shame and embarrassment and try to figure out what it all meant. Gradually, I began to feel lighter, less burdened. I’ve been working since the end of October as a part-time nanny, and let me tell you this: I am so glad with how things are right now.
The biggest indicator that withdrawing from the program was the right thing? I haven’t regretted the decision once. I’ve been more and more happy as time goes by. I never could have written this while I was going through the worst of my anxiety. I felt like the world’s biggest failure, when what I actually did was make a smart, rational decision for myself.
I’m not blissfully happy, and that’s not what I’m aiming for. What I am is at peace: with what’s happened and what I’m doing. I will take this doing okay over the anxious, depressed, mess that I was a few months ago, and last winter, and the winter before that. I may not be a nursing student anymore, but I’m not a failure, either.