My father told me over and over since I was a little girl that if you can’t say what you want, you can’t expect to get it. In many ways, I do speak up for myself but I am much better at “no, I don’t want that” than at verbalizing what I do want. Even to myself. I made a vision board once and it made me so uncomfortable that I hid it. I couldn’t stand to look at my desires, I felt too vulnerable and I was the only looking st it. What happens when you can’t say what you want? Nothing. My father was right. Or more accurately, a whole lot of shit that is just wrong for you, that does not fit and leaves you quietly aching for something else.
What do you want? What do you want?? What the fuck do you want? I ask myself. When I can bear to. For years I couldn’t even form the question in my own mind. Fear of failure, disappointment and humiliation is a crippling kind of fear. You reach middle age and shit hasn’t panned out the way you thought it would. It is harder to get back up. It becomes terrifying to try again. Fear of hoping is the loss of hope and without hope, what is there? A bottle of wine. A bottle of wine that makes everything fuzzy and distant and makes a burrito incredibly satisfying. And that becomes life. Work, drink, forget, maybe dance clumsily and oddly dead inside, bump into things, fall asleep, go to work, repeat. This. Is not what I want.
Here I am. Seven months and 23 days of choosing not to drink because being a drunk is not what I want. Even being the elusive normal who drinks regularly in reasonable amounts is not what I want. I don’t want that. I don’t want a life that requires the drinking of poison to make it ok, regardless of the amount or the level of social acceptability. Here I am. Alone with myself in the dark, in the middle of the night, goddamned netflix white noising in the background. Asking “What do you want? What the fuck do you want?”
I don’t want to spend my remaining time on this planet working as a nurse. Which is sad because I am really good at my job but my job is not good to me. It demands too much. It forgives too little. We have trimmed all the fat and have long since begun to cut into the bones of healthcare. A CEO at a hospital where I worked once said at a mandatory facility meeting “Nurses are a dime a dozen. If you don’t like it here, quit.” Ok. I did. The trouble is, no matter where I work…I am still me and the job is still the job and it crushes my soul. Not having the time, the support, not even the basic supplies to do my job to the level that I consider acceptable care is crushing to me. So I dance faster, I carry more, I stay later. But at a certain point, you have to admit that the task is impossible. We have crossed into impossible in healthcare. Insurance companies are making money hand over fist while people get sicker and their care gets more compromised and another nurse realizes…I do not want this.
It is sobering…no pun intended…to admit that a career in which you excel and in which you invested tens of thousands of dollars in education is simply not a good fit and likely never will be. I told a trusted work colleague that I am working on a long-term escape plan and I got an earful of how it isn’t healthcare that is the problem, it is that I have very high standards. When the worst thing that can happen is that somebody can DIE due to error, you are supposed to have very high standards. When people are having the worst day of their lives, you are supposed to have very high standards. When somebody is leaving this earth, you are supposed to have very high standards. It is sad that the nurses with very high standards must choose between our sanity and staying in a sinking ship bailing water faster and faster because there are still people who need us. It is sad that one day I will be old and I will know exactly why there are no experienced nurses with high standards to take care of me. But I do not want that life anymore. There are people alive today because I was their nurse, but the system was killing me and that is not ok. Am I not as valuable as those I have saved? Do I not deserve rescue too?
And so I must rescue myself. I am giving myself two years to pay off all my debt and save some cash. I will sell this house. My car and student loans will be paid off in 18 months and I have to buckle down and get the credit card paid off. I will take the GRE. And then I am taking however much money I have saved and I’m buying a one way ticket to Belfast. I’m gonna hang out with my Irish hippie friends and then hop a plane to London. Starting with places I have been before and can kind of get around and eventually striking out for places I have never been. I’m going to France, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Italy, everywhere I have ever wanted to go and I’m staying gone as long as the money holds out. One month. Four. Whatever. Because the days are speeding by now and time slows down with new experiences and learning. I may not live to retire and if I do, will my knees be able to walk the Roman streets? And I’m going alone. I don’t want to bicker with anyone about what we’re doing today, I just want to go see these places that I have studied and move along as I want to. I’ll come home when I’m out of travel money.
And when I get home, I am starting a new career. At fucking over 40. I have a couple of things in mind and I think time will help me sort out which way to go. But I could work another 25 years and I don’t have to keep doing something that is shoving me toward an early grave. As my colleague listed all the reasons that this sounds like a manic episode…and hey, if I was bipolar I’d agree with him but I am not and changing one’s mind is not a sign of mental illness…I found myself not trying to argue my point. Not to him and not to me. If you’ve not worked as a nurse, you don’t get to tell me to just stop taking on so much responsibility. Honey, there is no Fairy Godmother who is going to do the work that I don’t do. I do it or it doesn’t get done. There is actual literature out there that nurses who really give a damn and do the best work are the most stressed and unhappy. How broken is a system where to care about doing a good job sentences you to disappointment, frustration, impotent rage, burn out and despair? I’ll spoil the ending: it is really fucking broken and about to get even worse.
My colleague who listed reason after reason why this is not a valid plan but just a fancy running away from home, I was not angry with him. I quickly realized that because he is married, has a child to support and is older than I and in poorer health…changing careers at 40-ish and taking off to visit European museums for a few months sounds absurd. But I am not married. I have no children. My brother is down with letting my animals stay with him. And the fact that I am unmarried and my womb may as well have been a vestigial organ does not need to be a reason for me to sit with the ghosts of relationships past choking on the general feeling of “well…ain’t that some shit.” It CAN mean that I can still change my mind and do whatever I want.
I can do whatever I want. Ain’t that some shit? Mind. Blown.