*Written December 2014
I’ve just quit my job. My steady hours, steady pay, guaranteed employment job. Why? I hear you ask. To be a writer. For an un-steady, un-paid, very small chance of success, stay at home in your pyjamas kind of job, get up at 12 and work till 2am kind of job. There is nothing good about writing.
Except for how it makes me feel.
Braver then I can ever be in person. More real than I could ever imagine. Plumbing the depths of my soul, and all that jazz.
But it wasn’t easy.
Nursing is a great job, a necessary job, a job that if you do it right can make you feel competent and knowledgeable and useful and necessary, and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to feel like that every day when they get up and go to work.
But it wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t enough for me.
It was part of my identity, and maybe it still is. It’s the answer to the question, what do you do?
“I’m a nurse.” I don’t DO nursing. You are a nurse, or you aren’t.
I’m a nurse. A nurse who’s also a writer, but I’m telling you that I found it too hard to do both. And then this job came along, this different, wonderful, easier job with better hours and better pay and no night shifts or getting home at 11pm and having to do all the housework before getting up at 5 to go back to work in the morning, or working a double shift because everyone’s called in sick and it’s the only option.
So this job came along, and the tiny, dangerous voice in the back of my head said, here it is. Here’s your chance. Take the job, quit, and WRITE. It’s what you were meant to do.
My husband even sat me down and said that if I didn’t take this job he would never understand that literally here was every opportunity I could ever ask for and if I didn’t take it I was an idiot who didn’t deserve what I was given (but in much nicer way because he is lovely).
So I took it. I handed in my notice, then spent the next 6 weeks at work thinking about what I’d done. Had I made a terrible mistake? Had I just thrown away years at uni and years at my job where I was probably getting a promotion within the next year or two, and long service leave after that, and what about the fact that after I left I could no longer call myself a nurse? That was the hardest pill to swallow. That was the part that hurt the most. I didn’t want to give that part up. That part wasn’t for me. I LIKE calling myself a nurse, I liked being the one at dinner with the crazy stories about the poop and the blood and the shocked looks on everyone else’s face. I liked knowing things about surgeries with hard to pronounce names, and being the one my friends called for an opinion on whether this colour was normal, or who their mum should be referred to. I was competent, and good at my job, and for the most part I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. No matter how hard I tried, how often I tried to talk myself into it, or when I had a bad shift trying to reconcile that with all the things I thought nursing would be but so clearly weren’t.
So 6 weeks went by, and I pondered, and then it was my last shift, and people were signing my shirt and handing me cards and hugging me, then I walked alone to security, and handed in my pass. And that was that. I went around the corner to walk to the carpark and I couldn’t stop crying. It was grief, pure and simple. My heart recognising what my brain couldn’t; that a part of my life was over and I was sad about it,
Sad that I hadn’t loved it enough to stay, that I hadn’t been strong enough to keep at it, that I wanted something else in my life.
In my first year as a nurse I came very, very close to making a huge mistake with a patient. Fortunately, my want to protect the patient outweighed my ego, and I went and got the manager to see if I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t.
Experience is a brutal teacher, but by God do you learn. We caught my mistake in time, and I luckily did not cause the patient any harm. A friend of mine said to me the other day that sometimes the biggest successes of our lives are actually recognising when you need to make a change. There are moments you can look back on and be most proud of yourself, and those moments for me are when I recognised I was making a mistake. I stopped what I was doing. I put my hand up and said, I need help.
Thinking about crashing your car or falling down the stairs as you go into work, not so badly that you’ll be really hurt, but just badly enough that you have to miss a few days of work is a sign that you’re not okay. Coming home so stressed that you cry if you drop an egg, or yelling at your family because the internet is slow is a sign that you need to stop. Something’s not right.
You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You are making a mistake. Remember that thing five-year-olds can do that adults don’t allow themselves to do? Stop what you’re doing. Put your hand up and say, ‘I need help.’ Treat yourself the same way you would treat a patient, a friend, a loved one – you want the best for them. Why shouldn’t you want the best for yourself? It might not save your life, but it might just save your soul.