“Guilt can stop us from taking healthy care of ourselves.” ~ Melody Beattie.
This week I found myself in a familiar role, one that is not mentioned in my job description, and probably is outside of my scope of practice also. Nurses have a whole section of state statutes covering our practice (the Nurse Practice Act), and one of the first things we teach our nursing students in the class on legal and ethical aspects of nursing, is how important it is to know your scope of practice. Listening to a friend’s symptoms and suggesting a diagnosis? Outside of our scope of practice. Telling someone a medication to take for their latest complaint? Also outside.
But I am sure most teachers of any kind find themselves filling many roles that don’t fall within their scope, especially during these peculiar times. We have grade schoolteachers who are having to triage students, monitor symptoms and practice personal precautions against this pervasive virus. Then there are the emotional issues, social issues, and a whole lot more. Nursing students are particularly prone to moments of self-doubt, overwhelmed by the stress of nursing school (but as I tell them, being a nurse is stressful, so getting there is going to be stressful too!). And many students are carrying burdens that are heavier than their book bag (after all, most of their books are electronic now!).
In my role as listener-in-chief, I hear students’ concerns about what they think is unfair, or what may be adversely affecting their grade. Of course, I always try to remind them that the idea is to do everything you can to understand and learn the big concepts and the grades will follow. For the most part their concern is the grade first. But these listening sessions often give me the opportunity to dig a little deeper, or help a student put things into perspective. In one such recent conversation, I found myself sharing about a time in my life when I realized that I had to do work on me, rather than fix everyone around me. I had picked up a second-hand copy of the Melody Beattie classic, Codependent no more, and started to realize that I had many unhealthy patterns that needed to be corrected.
The codependent person is very good at partnering with people who need fixing, or getting into a profession like nursing where you have tons of people to fix! That means you don’t have to work on fixing yourself, you are far too busy with everyone else. And trust me, we all need a whole lot of fixing! At the time I was a young working wife and mother, and like many others, I was at the bottom of a long ‘to-do’ list, everyone else’s needs came first. But having had four kids in six years, I realized that I would never be able to take care of anyone else if I didn’t take care of me. At the time there was a L’Oréal ad with the punchline ‘This I do for me’ and it became my mantra. As I sailed into the OR for my tubal ligation (despite my fear of not waking up from anesthesia) I was chanting: ‘This I do for me!’
Last weekend we went to the Everglades, a place of primal beauty, a reminder that we are all just specks of dust on a planet in a universe. On one of the boardwalk trips, the highest spot in the park some four feet above sea level, we saw mahogany trees along with the gumbo-limbo and other tropical hardwoods. In the forest nature does her thing. Hurricanes, or other weather events cause huge trees to fall and lay there, where they become part of the terrain. We saw the bottom side of a huge root system, a piece of art that would not have looked out of place on the wall of a hotel lobby. But we also saw a sign describing the ‘nurse log’. This is a downed tree that is no longer alive, and yet it still provides nourishment and life to a host of living things. Ferns and epiphytes sprout on its collapsed structure, insects thrive, and birds feed off it. Even in death the nurse continues to work!
For my student who often found herself taking care of everyone else in her family, I had to remind her of the lesson provided to every airline passenger. If the pressure in the cabin drops, and the oxygen mask appears, if you are traveling with a dependent, place the mask on your own face first. I had to explain it, as she had immediately leapt to the assumption that it belonged on that other person. When you are raised to put everyone’s needs ahead of your own, the thought of placing your own needs first seems alien and produces guilt. But if we don’t learn self-care, we won’t be there to take care of anyone else.
It is good at such times to let the student know, that I am an expert on the subject only because of my own life. Those of us who fall into the category of codependency, even if we have grown beyond that role, often need reminders, just like other recovering addicts. For me it comes naturally to take on more roles and responsibilities than I should. It is often easier to do than to delegate. But I have to accept responsibility for my own self-care, and call up on my old mantra: ‘This I do for me’.
For anyone who needs it, nature is there with its lessons of acceptance and inclusion, its vistas of beauty and calm. If you ever need to learn patience, watch a great blue heron stand motionless for minutes on end, the only movement the ruffling of feathers in the wind. If you need to be reminded that we are one family, point out a turtle to a total stranger who is visiting a park for the first time. If you’re lucky, you may catch sight of a Florida deer (smaller than the cousins up north), too shy to let you grab your camera, white tail bobbing off in the distance.
On this Friday morning, on the eve of a chilly weekend, I am sending a reminder to anyone who needs it: place the oxygen mask on your own face first. Have a wonderful weekend, Family! Bundle up, South Florida!