Hi there, I miss you. It has been 30 days since my clinic has been closed. For the first week, everything felt wrong. This week, most of what I am doing feels right. What changed? Certainly not the state of the pandemic.
I began to lean naturally on the fundamentals of my knowledge and who I truly am. The first week of shutdown, I took out all my textbooks from my two university degrees, determined to identify what I needed to brush up on. Flooding back to me were memories of just how nerdy I was, or am. I sat front row in every class. I never missed classes or tests and I studied like it was my job. This whole pandemic has been a reminder of my immunology and epidemiology education, so that was enough with those textbooks. Then I read the contents page of three textbooks from community and family nursing classes. The table of contents were enough to spark the messages I need to bring to you today. I haven’t forgotten very much. My nerdiness feels like it is paying off.
Nothing felt right the first week because I was off track. We all were. The track changed and we were all left to re-calculate. Healthcare, businesses, travel and economy, communities, families…we have all had to shift to get back on track. This track is temporary but when we are not in line with our environment, we all feel sick. So, I am here to give you some answers. They are nursing skills to share. That is what community and family nurses do. We analyze and we identify the culprit and we assist our clients to empower themselves. We guide families and communities to wellness, with families and communities at the wheel. Now that I know what to do with myself, I am back on track and I need to share it for it to be meaningful. Here are some strategies for your mental health during this situation.
Firstly, re-employ old coping mechanisms. This is for those of you who are struggling hard with this situation. If this feels like one of the hardest things you have ever had to do, I want you to think back about other difficult times in your life. Remember the strategies you used to get through it. These are coping mechanisms that worked for you once, they will work again. We often forget these things, naturally we only remember (or sometimes completely block out) the pain. But do not re-invent the wheel. Your previous strategies are tailored to you. They are some of the most powerful tools you have. Use them again.
Secondly, if you feel powerless, this one is for you. Remembering my shifts on the palliative unit, I was amazed by the way you can empower someone, even when you think they have lost it all. This is so backwards. This is the best example I can provide of the power of having choices that YOU make. Take the time to consciously determine which two, or three, or more choices you must choose between and pick the one you want for you. This is a tactic to gain control. If you are really feeling powerless, even a conscious decision to have eggs rather than pancakes for breakfast is a start. Make many of these conscious decisions every day. Build on them and keep track. Slowly but surely, you will find you have gained the feeling of power and control back in your life. I think we often take these little choices for granted. That happens when we are on track, but remember right now, we are off track and it’s ok to feel like you have lost some control. Time to get it back. One small decision at a time. You are training your brain out of stress.
How about this one… have you felt yourself becoming emotional for no apparent reason? Easily able to cry? Angry quicker than usual? Euphoric out of nowhere? During crisis, even if you feel you are holding it together, continual surroundings of uncertainty will linger in your subconscious. It is there in the form of unseen stress that can boil to the surface very quickly. I was driving to the clinic to water my plants and seeing a beautiful deer in the field made me tear up. You are not crazy and everyone else is experiencing this too. You may not even notice this happening until you take a moment and suddenly it comes to you, “that’s what that was all about!” I don’t think this one has a resolution, I just want you to be aware of it.
Ok. Life stages and identity are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. This is applicable to almost everyone reading this. If you know someone who has lost their job, has had to become something they are not used to being, then you know someone who is vulnerable to an identity crisis. What we do every day is often the first word we use to describe ourselves. For example, one day I was a practicing nurse and the next day I was not. March 14th I was and March 15th, I was not. I identify as a nurse when anyone asks about me. Because of our culture, I often state I am a nurse before I say wife and mother or friend. So, with one big swoop, my identity was questioned.
Familial roles are even shuffled. The bread winners of the home are now sitting at home, unable to leave except to get groceries. When someone loses their role, they could feel humiliated, powerless, confused, emasculated or depressed. I want you to know this is real evil that many are facing right now. So please have kindness and consideration as you see people grieve (whether or not they know it) their identity. Give space and share this knowledge with them. Sometimes just knowing what is happening to you is enough to help you cope. Be compassionate and determine that anger and emotions are the behavioral translation of someone who is grieving.
Lastly, (not really, I could go on much longer but instead I will just write another letter soon) you must take hold of whatever togetherness you have. I day-dreamt the other day that I joined the frontlines BUT I never came home until this was over to be certain I did not put my family at risk. So, I imagined what that would look like. The comradery I would require in the hospital and the support I would want to be for others was important in my dream/reality for the moment. I dreamt I would show strength when I called my husband and son so not to make it harder on them than it had to be, and then leaned in on my team at work when I needed to. This was fake, but even in my dream my brain decided I needed support. It was not ideal compared to what I get to have now, but it was real because my brain was coping for me. Thanks brain! But seriously, the family is a family because you say it is. It is who you naturally lean on and connect with. In my dream, my family was also the medical team around me. My brain made that ok by finding a way to show my team as “together.”
In nursing, we stopped determining what family is for you. Family is what and who you say it is. So please remember to use them. What does that mean? That means make togetherness important. Eat at the table with those under your roof. Every day. Forget the TV. Live alone? Cook virtually with your friends. Communities and families can be unwell the same way a body can be unwell. These familial engagements are a way to keep you well, one meaningful moment at a time. When one family member is not well, the whole family will feel it. So even if you are feeling great, one of your family members may not be and eventually it will make its way to you.
I hope you read all of this and can take something away from it. Thank you for helping me get back on track. The more I do these things, the more I feel right. So, I will continue to employ this strategy for myself, and for you. I will continue to put out there what I know and am positioned to help with. If this was valuable to you or others, I would be honored to know it. Please reach out in any way you like.
When life resumes, I will still be a cosmetic nurse with increased devotion to help you on your aesthetic journey. But I will do it and at the same time, not be afraid to employ my community and family nursing skills with each one of my clients. I know I have always done this, but now its value is heightened. It is educated empathy and guided nursing process, both of which have a place in cosmetic nursing and nursing factions everywhere. That lesson was worth learning in my downtime. Stay strong, get yourself on your new track and stay safe.