by Avery Thatcher
Trigger warning – Intensive Care Units, brief mention of resuscitation efforts, COVID 19 pandemic
I woke up in the middle of the night, completely drenched in sweat and feeling like I could throw up. It was a few months into the COVID 19 pandemic and I just had one of the most intense PTSD flashback dreams that I’ve ever had.
Most of my PTSD flashback dreams are around things I’ve seen while working as a Registered Nurse in the ICU. Although this one was also centered around one of my most challenging experiences as an ICU nurse – this time it was different.
This time, instead of me being one of the nurses trying to keep this patient alive – my colleagues were there, short staffed, burnt out, too exhausted to cry, looking at me in the dream and saying “Where are you? We need you! We need help. We can’t keep this up! Why aren’t you helping us?”
I got up out of bed to get a drink of water and ended up not being able to go back to sleep for the rest of the night. Everytime I tried closing my eyes I saw their desperation, pain, and struggle.
On the news the week before was saying that ICU nurses were being asked to come out of retirement to help with the overloaded units, and anyone with ICU experience was asked to come and help. Even some of my colleagues from when I worked in a pediatric ICU were being asked to go over to the adult hospitals to help because the ICUs there were so overwhelmed.
They were double and even triple bunking patients – meaning that two or three patients were going into an ICU room that was only meant for one. This was something that hadn’t happened since the H1N1 outbreaks where I remember working with two patients in a room because we only had so many people who were trained to run the ECMO machines (the heart-lung machines).
Life has thrown me hard punches before, but this time it hit differently.
Not being able to help in a way that was familiar, not being able to work in the ICU during this time, well, it hurt beyond emotional pain.
I felt this pain of letting my colleagues and friends down deep in my bones. The feeling of helplessness was absolutely devastating especially when I knew that if I wasn’t sick, I could have helped out. I hated both my illness and myself.
The therapist I had at the time said she often saw what I was going through in people who were released from the military. The sense of chosen family and duty runs deep – and that is exactly how I felt.
I was letting my family down, neglecting my duty – even though my body had no chance of being able to make it through a 12 hour shift with really sick patients.
Absolutely, I allowed myself to sit in the pain for a bit (because the only way out is through – check out my other episode on this if you’re interested in learning what I mean) but then I realized that even though I couldn’t help in the way my heart wanted to, I wasn’t ready to give up.
I still had some fight left in me.
I was going to figure out how to still make a difference in my corner of the world during this unprecedented time.
So I decided to open up my stress management and burnout recovery programs for free and welcomed over 50 people to the Optimize and Elevate group programs. Of course I knew it wasn’t the same, and there was still a lot of struggle to make peace with the part of me who still felt that it wasn’t enough – but I didn’t let life take the fight outta me, and I figured something out.
It’s really easy to feel like we should just throw in the proverbial towel and stop trying, stop feeling, and just accept that life is fucking shitty sometimes and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Believe me, I’ve been there. More than once if I’m being honest.
But the truth is, there is something we can do about it.
We can be like Spiderman.
There have been so many Spiderman movies over the years, and some of them I enjoy more than others, but there is always a central theme: Spiderman keeps getting back up and does what’s needed, no matter how many times he gets knocked down.
Spiderman is persistent, focused on their goals, and determined to make their corner of the world (or the universe…or multiverse) a better place.
To find your own inner Spiderman and learn how to roll with the punches, here are a few ideas along with some really meaningful lyrics from the song “Fight Outta You” by Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals:
Stop waiting for the next bad thing to happen and enjoy life now
“I would rather take a punch than not give you a shot. I’d rather find out who you are, then who you’re not.” ~ Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
The objective hard truth is that life’s going to keep throwing punches. Life isn’t perfect, easy, or fun 100% of the time, and it’s not that it’s okay or not okay – it just is.
We can either choose to not trust new people because of what someone has done or said to us in the past. Or we can allow people to show us who they really are and then decide where they fit in our life.
We can either choose to live from a place of fear, wondering when the next bad thing is going to happen to us because inevitably more struggles are coming. Or we can allow ourselves to fully experience the beautiful possibilities of our life right now, just as it is and not worry about what could be coming next.
This is something I’m still working on myself, and when I feel the fear and dread creeping in again, I remind myself that I can’t do anything about the next bad thing until it happens. So might as well not worry about how I’m going to handle this mystery struggle until the time comes.
Stop trying to prove to others that you’re “good enough”, and create the chance to prove to yourself what you’re capable of and who you really are
“There’s always someone younger, someone with more hunger. Don’t let it take the fight outta you.” ~ Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
Recently I stopped posting to social media and deleted all of the apps from my phone and blocked the sites on my browser because the comparisonitis game was just not helpful at all. Yes, I know I’m not the only burnout recovery mentor, impact strategist, yoga teacher, and app owner out there.
And I know that there are people who are better at this than I am, younger than I am, more knowledgeable than I am … but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop pushing forward.
I’m not an inherently competitive person, however I am a high achiever and that means that although I am content with where I’m at and what I’ve accomplished so far, I still continue to push myself to learn more about who I am, how I can help more people, and how I can improve the system and frameworks I use to guide people to find themselves and feel at home in their body again.
I truly believe that we are only meant to be in competition with ourselves and that we should strive to be a more aligned and aware version of ourselves than we were yesterday. Because when we really tap into this desire to grow (from a place of contentment) we’re able to make the most out of the time that we have and can tap into the superhero version of ourselves.
Combining ancient Vedic wisdom through the Jnana Yoga Path with modern science, this account shares daily strategies on how to find stillness and calm within the chaos of our fast-paced modern world.
My personal account: sharing my poetry, life and thoughts about living as a highly sensitive high achiever with a chronic illness and invisible disability.
This is where I really nerd out, showing you how to recover your energy, optimize your habits, and elevate your impact so that you’ll get off the cycle of burnout – for good!