Surviving Versus Resiliency
by Jordyn Redwood
I’ve worked in nursing almost a quarter of a century. Even saying those words amazes me . . . maybe even frightens me a little bit. All of those years except three have been in pediatrics—either pediatric ICU or ER. I’ve seen a lot and dealt with a lot. I’ve protected parents from things I thought would be too brutal for them to see to protect their own psyche, yet stood by their child comforting them, bearing witness to something I thought was too painful for another mother to handle.
Nurses are a proud bunch. We consider it a badge of honor to be able to take the next assignment if one our patients dies with little reprieve. Most people outside of healthcare would probably be surprised at how often a nurse starts caring for other sick patients after one of their own has died—it can literally be minutes. We don’t want to let the team down. One foot set in front of the other, soldiering on until we sneak off the unit to quietly cry in the bathroom.
We all have struggles, each as unique as people are different. Really there are three givens in life: death, taxes and problems. Even the day to day can wear you down. Then life throws you a major curve ball like divorce, a health scare or death of a loved one. Insert your own major crisis here.
We put on a brave face and continue on. I’ve not only done this in nursing, but in my own life. What I’ve discovered over the past couple of years is what I thought was resiliency was merely surviving—and that’s not exactly healthy—it’s a strategy of function.
Within the last eighteen months, our emergency department went through a particularly difficult time. Thankfully, it is a rare occurrence for a pediatric patient to die, but we’d had an unusual string of deaths in a two-month period. We could just see it in each other’s eyes—this shadow of defeat. We were adequately performing our job duties, but that spark that drives nurses to work with kids, was diminished. Our morale was down. Death, at times, feels like a personal defeat to us.
In an effort to help, one of the hospital chaplains was invited to give a talk. Personally, I knew we were hurting, but felt like we were resilient because we were showing up for our shifts and taking care of patients. What he said stunned me. In short, he explained just showing up day to day is surviving. Resiliency is going through trauma or stress and coming out an improved person on the other side.
Big swallow. I don’t know how many of my fellow nurses could claim that. I know I couldn’t.
How do I become resilient? How do I get my spark back? How do I reconnect with my soul?
The chaplain’s advice ended up being somewhat simple. Isn’t all good advice seemingly that way? He instructed us to get back to the things that we were passionate about outside of work. Dedicate time to indulge our creative senses . . . and yes, we all have them! If not, start discovering them.
I tend to be a little quirky. I’m a suspense author which should give a little hint of that. One of my guilty pleasures is needlework while watching a scary movie or murder/mystery show. This, strangely, is relaxing to me. I share this so that you know reconnecting with life doesn’t have to be something like learning a new language (unless, of course, you’re passionate about languages.) Think of activities that you enjoy that decrease stress in your life. Walking your dog. Drawing. Gardening. Doing crafts with your children. More time with God in prayer, Bible study or devotion. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the creative outlets of my coworkers. Many knit, crochet, cross-stitch or write. Drawing a blank? Treat yourself to any type of class that draws on creative energy. Take up an instrument. Sign up for dance lessons with your spouse. Learn to quilt.
Whatever it is that makes you smile—focus on those things. In the beginning, it may be hard if you’ve gone through a particularly stressful or traumatic time, so be gentle with yourself. Don’t make it another expectation of your time. Consider it self-care—a necessity for healthy living as important as getting your yearly physical. Small increments will add up.
Resiliency is defined by change. It is finding a new outlook on life on the other side of stressful events by reconnecting with what you’re passionate about. This gives a renewed sense of self and purpose. Going through life’s challenges can be a positive catalyst for transformation—it doesn’t have to be the end of your story.
Jordyn Redwood is a novelist by day, nurse by night. She hosts Redwood’s Medical Edge—a blog devoted to helping authors write medically accurate fiction.
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