New Year, Improved Me

New Year, Improved Me

I used to think that the New Year was the only time to start over. While it can be a good time to make a major change in your life, it is not the only time you can choose to be a better you. Each new month or even new week can be a time to restart. We need more than one time a year to recharge and rechannel our energy. New Year’s resolutions often fail in January and become a distant thought by March. We end up disappointed if we did not lose a certain number of pounds or follow through with a gym membership, finish a diet, repair a particular relationship, learn a new skill, save more money, get the new job etc. I’m tired of beating myself up for not achieving every single one of my resolutions. This year, I am choosing to be aware of what I do have and focus on gratitude instead. I like who I’m becoming and want to be more aware of my blessings this up coming year. I challenge you to do the same. By being consciously aware of all that you have in your life, you can improve almost every situation you’re in. Don’t think of it as a new you, but an improved you.

With a new decade comes even more pressure to have even bigger and better resolutions. I want to assure you that gratitude and developing/using affirmations are the best changes you can add to your routine for an improved life. Choose to be thankful for one thing each day or up to ten things each day, whatever makes the most sense to you. Maybe choose to make a list at the end of the week or month. I was gifted a New Year’s gratitude journal a few years ago and didn’t fill out more than two pages. Even that was too much pressure. However, this year (and decade) I am taking that pressure away. Even if I just say to myself what I am thankful for each day, tell someone close to me, or write it on a sticky note, that will be enough. The feeling I get when telling a friend ‘I’m so happy we’re catching up and having dinner together’, outweighs anything negative that happened to me that week. As silly as it sounds, even stress from school is a privilege. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to college or graduate school, so stressing over exams isn’t the worst thing you could stress about.

 As a nurse (or any healthcare provider), we have the privilege of taking care of people in their most fragile state. For the most part, our health is intact and we have a job that pays well. No matter how tired, we get to come home to our families after work. Our patients on the other hand, may spend the night in the hospital without their parents, parents may wonder how they will pay for the hospital bills, some may be newly diagnosed with a chronic illness, and some may be at the end stage of their illness. We are likely seeing them during the most difficult part of their lives. This is especially hopefully true for our littlest ones. I don’t say this to compare yourself to people in crisis or serious situations, but to be thankful for all you do have; most importantly, your health. If there is no other change you make in the New Year, make it a priority to remember all that you were given.

10 things I am grateful for in 2019:

  1. Reuniting with old friends. I took the leap and reached out to friends who I lost contact with years ago. I am extremely glad these women are back in my life and couldn’t imagine my life going forward without them.
  2. Starting yoga again. I stopped after undergrad and am glad to have found such a welcoming, inclusive, inspiring, and impressive studio. It’s DYL!!
  3. Whale watching with my mom in Mexico. Enough said.
  4. Seeing Hamilton. It was on my bucket list and it lived up to absolutely everything said about it!
  5. Spending my birthday in Traverse City. I went to my favorite wineries with my favorite people and parasailed for the first time since I was 18.
  6. Going to Sicily with my uncle and cousins. I am reminded why I am grateful for my uncle almost every day, but these trips make me just even more grateful to be alive. The boat rides and swimming with Mount Etna in the background made up for my jellyfish sting on our 1st day haha.
  7. Purchasing a car. I’ve driven a lease jeep since I was 16 so it was a huge accomplishment to finally buy one of my own (also shout out to my dad for guiding me through the whole process).
  8. Surviving my 1st acute care clinical. I was in a pediatric ED and pleased with the confidence I gained and all that I learned.
  9. The health of myself, friends, and family.
  10. Starting my blog. I was hesitant about writing again and making my posts public for everyone to judge. However, I’m so glad I overcame this fear and here we are 😊

I encourage you to create a similar list of ten (or more) things you are grateful for in 2019. Share it on Facebook or read it aloud to your family and friends. Make a list together or keep it private. Let’s also share positive new stories that show the good around the world and in other people. Start your New Year and new decade with a grateful heart and peaceful mind!

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life,” -Rumi.

To Weigh or Not to Weigh?

To Weigh or Not to Weigh?

Throughout my life I have been both overweight and underweight. I have loved how I looked and hated how I looked. If you’re like me, the holidays are an especially difficult time for body image and food guilt. You might be exercising a little more or plan to immediately start dieting in January. However, I just want to send a gentle reminder that food is not the enemy. What you eat fuels your body and mind. What you say to yourself about your body fuels your soul. You are not what you eat, not how you look in a bathing suit, and you are not defined by your clothes size.

To be completely honest, I never cared about my weight until college. I was a competitive swimmer since I was eight years old and on three swim teams during the year in high school. I grew up in a bathing suit and never gave my body shape too much thought. I didn’t grow up with an older sister telling me how I looked or what to wear. My parents never said anything about my weight. I also had practice five to six days each week so I felt like I could eat whatever I wanted. Every Sunday morning after practice I had McDonald’s for lunch as a treat. Whatever I ate was pretty much burned off the next day. Michael Phelps ate over 10,000 calories/day while Olympic training so whatever I ate didn’t compare in my mind haha. I still eat fast food at least weekly and don’t diet. However, I want to make it clear that I never struggled to be an average weight. According to 23andMe (which has been ~95% accurate), I am predisposed to weigh less. I point this out to say that it is not miraculous for me to be average or on the thinner side. I don’t have a great weight loss story and don’t intend to.

My body image journey began around the time I was applying for nursing school. I was struggling with some classes and began seeing a therapist for inattentiveness and OCD-like behaviors. Like Meghan Edmonds recently said, I too am a “stress non-eater.” In combination with a new med I started that had ‘loss of appetite’ as a side effect and drinking coffee for the first time in my life, I began losing weight quickly. I didn’t notice or care at first. However, I decided I was going to try out for the dance team, so I started wearing a leotard again. I would regularly look in the mirror and began enjoying seeing the ribs in my back show. My thighs were thinner than ever and I loved how my leggings looked. The following fall, a friend in my dorm had a scale in her doorway. I truly never tracked my weight until then. I began weighing myself several times a day and panicked if I was over 105. My dorm also had the calories listed for every meal and food item. While this a University initiative to be more transparent, it actually made it a lot easier for me to eat less. I tried to make sure I wasn’t eating more than 1,000 calories a day. This is about half of what someone in their twenties should consume. In addition, I was going to the gym every few days, something I previously hated to do. I tried to wear bigger clothes and hide it as much as possible. My friends and family would make comments about my slim figure, but I usually blamed it on the stress and the questions stopped.

Then, I started dating and began what would turn into a four-year relationship. I slowly put the weight back on. I was eating out a lot, snacking, drinking wine, and pretty much just enjoying life. I didn’t have time to go to the gym and didn’t want to. I started a nurse assistant (tech) job and had a bagel and an Iced Cap every morning before work. I didn’t have my calories listed in front of me anymore, so I lost track of how much I was eating. However, I did have access to a scale. One day at work I decided to look and see. At my highest that summer, I was up to 127. It was surprising, but not enough for me to do much about it. My self-esteem was probably better than at my thinnest. Yet, this weight was not a healthy one for my height. I had a few extra pounds than a “normal BMI” but I was happy. Interestingly, it was the end of this relationship that threw me back in the opposite direction again. I stopped eating, as many people experiencing a trauma do, and lost over 20 lbs. I did not have the intention to lose this amount of weight and I acknowledge that large weight shifts in a short period is not healthy. This is especially true for someone barely over five feet. However, I started to like how I looked in a bathing suit again. I was getting compliments and I felt my self-esteem come back after what was a truly traumatic summer.

As of today, my weight is somewhere in between. I still have my self-conscious days of course, but I am happy with how I look right now. I still occasionally weigh myself, only because I have such easy access to do so at work. I don’t own a scale and never plan to. I don’t think knowing your weight is a bad thing. What is bad, is fixating on the number and affiliating your self-worth with what it says. If weighing your self is good for your own personal goals, then go for it. We all know how to calculate a BMI, so I encourage you to diet or exercise if reaching a healthy BMI is your goal. I don’t belong to a gym but do go to yoga every few weeks. I also have a personal home exercise routine that I do every few days. I try to limit my sweets but treat myself whenever possible. I have been lucky to be able to eat whatever I like since I AM predisposed to weigh less. However, I still try to eat healthy and exercise because it makes me feel strong, healthy, and confident. That is my goal now.

In nursing school, we are taught basic nutrition. In grad school, we have honed in on specific nutritional needs for newborns through young adults. I could tell you all about different formulas, enteral/parenteral nutrition etc. What we have not been taught enough is how to respect your body’s own nutritional needs: how to love and care for yourself in a way that enables you to care for others. We must take care of ourselves before we can effectively take care of our patients. Nurses and other healthcare workers neglect our bodies the most. This has to change or our patients suffer. You have to eat because your brain needs food. Read that again. Your brain cannot survive without food. If you are thinking about skipping a meal because you don’t like what the scale says, don’t. Your body is your prized possession. You will only be hurting yourself, and ultimately your patients, in the long run. Enjoy your holiday potluck without guilt, it’s the best gift you can give yourself.

Night Shift

I’ve only ever worked night shift (7p-7a or 11p-7a) and have slowly gotten used to the lifestyle. I also don’t anticipate switching to days before I graduate. The most asked questions I get are “how do you sleep?” and “how do you stay awake?” I have to preface that I only work two 12-hr shifts per week now. I used to work 40 hours, then 28, and now 24. So naturally your routine will be different depending on how many nights you work. However, I never stayed on a night schedule. In other words, I always switched back to being awake during the day when I was off. My best advice for switching is going to bed right after work and waking up in the early afternoon if not back that night. That way, I’m usually still tired at a normal hour at night. In addition, try to cluster your days so you work several nights in a row to reduce having to switch back every few days. Obviously, this isn’t always up to you but try to request it if you can. I’m a pretty sleep-dependent person so I don’t even try staying awake the whole day after work. What probably makes me so tired is that I don’t sleep or nap before my first night on. I’m up early in the morning (sometimes even go to class all day, sadly) and then stay up all night. I can’t say this is safe or smart, but it’s what works best for me. I am then exhausted and could sleep all day. Thanks to my Fitbit, I know I get an average of about six hours of sleep in between shifts (~ 9a-3p).

Is night shift awful? No. I do miss out on a lot, especially working weekend nights. On my floor we are required to work every other weekend. Yet, it is when my friends work and sometimes gives me enough downtime to do schoolwork. There is a shift differential $$ for working nights which helps make it worth it. I also don’t miss class or meetings since I am never scheduled to work during the day. We do have more patients and a lot less resources though. I also can’t say I haven’t started to fall asleep on the way home. It is terrifying and always makes me say a prayer when I get there. The best way to stay awake in the car is to open your windows and call someone! Call your mom, a coworker, friend, or anyone who will talk to you to make sure you’re still awake. It is also nice for venting after a rough night. Loud music and snacking on something can help too.

How to stay awake at night?

  1. Drink a lot throughout your shift. A nice cold drink every few hours, I like ice water with a Pedialyte powder packet, will keep you hydrated and going to the bathroom. 😉 Coffee, pop, or an energy drink can also help but may give you a crash in a few hours. I always start my shift with a large coffee but switch to water/Gatorade later on!
  2. Walk around. I like to walk for the steps and sometimes (rarely) will do all twelve flights of stairs down and back up. Walking almost always leads me to other people on the floor who I can sit and chat with for a bit too.
  3. Brush your teeth. It keeps me feeling fresh and like I just woke up. It also helps me forget that I’ve been awake for over 20 hours.
  4. Do a quick mini workout. Whether it’s five push-ups or ten jumping jacks, do what you can to get your heart racing.
  5. Don’t study too much. When I’m already tired, reading or trying to focus on anything other than work will almost always make me close my eyes. Maybe online shop instead? Jk…😊
  6. Bring snacks. I am notorious for bringing a small breakfast-like meal (usually only oatmeal) to eat around 1-2 am. Working for 12 hours is like a marathon so bring enough fuel to get you to the end. Especially if you might end up working for 16, small protein-packed snacks are essential. Try cheese sticks, protein bars, almonds, or espresso beans.

How to sleep during the day?

  1. Blackout blinds! This was one of my first work purchases and one of the best things I could have done for my sleep schedule. I got mine here and thought they were super easy to set up and use right away. If these blinds don’t work for your bedroom aesthetic or you prefer natural light, get a sleepmask. They are cheap and often work equally as well.
  2. Melatonin and an antihistamine. I use Nature Made Melatonin (5 mg) and Zyrtec 10 mg when I really need to sleep. Some of my friends take up to 15 mg of Melatonin and others take Benadryl. I don’t use them every day, but they work when I do. Fun fact, Zyrtec will make you drowsy, so we give it to our kiddos at night and pilots aren’t allowed to take it for that reason. If it has “day” or “D” after the name then it is non-drowsy and will not have the same effect.
  3. Shower before bed. I can’t imagine a lot of people don’t, but I need to emphasize it. I use the best body wash from Bath and Body Works, “Stress Relief” (sage & cedarwood). They also have a “Sleep” aromatherapy collection with lotions and pillow sprays that I’ve heard work great. The new ones are Lavender Vanilla and Black Chamomile. Treat yourself to a relaxing, smell-good shower after a busy shift.
  4. Minimize noise if possible. I personally don’t like white noise or the sound of a fan but know there are several phone apps that create these sounds. I also keep my phone on Do Not Disturb until I wake up. Give your friends and family a heads up when you are on a stretch, so they don’t flip when you don’t answer their texts or calls all day. I can never get back to sleep if I’m up halfway through looking at my phone, so I try to minimize sleep disturbances at all costs. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

Nursing Failures

Nursing Failures

Soo how did I end up getting a job I love so much? Looking back, it all started from several events that I considered failures. Way before graduation, I was already looking up NP schools and pediatric programs. It was my end goal and I eagerly (mostly naively) wanted to start as soon as possible. I applied to an acute care pediatric NP Master’s program in December of my senior year. I attended one other informational session, but did I end up only applying to one school? Yes…Probably wouldn’t recommend it if you want to start right away. However, I was stubborn and slightly cockier than I should have been at the time. I’ll have another post later on for how to stand out as a candidate!

In January, I started my senior clinical in the PICU. While it was almost entirely luck that I got this placement, it was the first crucial step of my journey. At the end of January, I was notified about a grad school admission interview to be held in early February. I thought it went well. I vividly remember my dad taking me and going to Angelo’s afterwards to celebrate. I was also doing everything possible to get my first nursing job and went to the hospital career fair in March. At the end of March, I was notified that I was wait listed once again. All I could do was work on getting hired and wait some more. After clinical was over in April, I emailed the PICU nursing supervisor, who I came to know, about a potential job opportunity following graduation. She requested my resume and the process started from there. I spent most of April applying to new grad positions and the finally found out I was admitted to my dream grad program. Then came graduation and I eventually took the NCLEX on June 24. This was a lot later than many of my peers and I unfortunately got all 265 questions. It was awful and I cried the whole day…will have a post later on about how to pass.

On my birthday (July 17), I got my official offer email for a PICU new grad position to begin in early August. Again, this was later than many of my peers. but I was willing to wait as long as possible to get a job I truly wanted. It is hard to get a new grad job in pediatrics unless you have connections such as being a tech on a peds floor. I started orientation, was making new friends, and then reality hit. I started class in early September and together with ICU orientation, I started to crumble. Emotionally and physically, I was spent. I had never been a nurse before, let alone an ICU nurse taking care of critically ill children. I was a nursing aid (patient care assistant to be exact) during my senior year, but it was in adult oncology and hardly prepared me. I started to fail at both work and school. I cried every day. I began to think I was so dumb because I wasn’t doing well in orientation and barely passed my first few exams.

I had several meetings at work about my slow progress and along with some family issues, made the decision to drop out of my dream program in early October. Not only was I devasted and embarrassed, but I then began struggling more at work. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt alone and ashamed. I worked too hard to not be in grad school and to be getting fired from my first job. Failure? Yeah, I thought so. All around I was a failure. I couldn’t stop crying when the manager told me I wasn’t going to continue with orientation. I thought I would never work in pediatrics again…Fortunately, since she thought I was a “good enough” nurse (coupled with her kindness), she helped me to get another job at the children’s hospital and told me to reapply in two years. I ended up starting my dream job on a pediatric general care floor in November, where I still am, and where I have met some amazing people. It was a 40-hour night position that allowed me to gain a strong foundation as a nurse. I restarted the grad program (and at this point switched to the DNP option) the following fall. My current nursing manager is also incredible and allowed me to decrease my hours to 28 once I started school.

That leads me to the moral of the story that the “sun will rise in the morning” Despite what I thought was a double failure, it ended up being what was best for me. If you don’t pass the NCLEX on the first try, don’t get into a grad program right away, get rejected from job interviews, or get fired from your first job like me, don’t give up. Everything that happens to you makes you who you are. As cliché as it is, everything happens for a reason. Just remember, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” -Nelson Mandela