My first experience as an inpatient was at 8 years old when I was admitted to our local village hospital with bronchitis. That would be the first of several visits that I welcomed with open arms. I felt incredibly safe and cared for under the watchful eyes of the nurses. Jump ahead a decade to my oldest son’s first admission for asthma. I was mesmerized by the level of caring and compassion the nurses showed to both me and my son. Aside from the impeccable care they provided my ill and very cranky toddler, they made sure that I knew they valued my presence. Always including me in their ‘rounds’, I was never wanting for a kind word of encouragement or a warm cup of tea. What I witnessed was nursing at its’ finest, the true heART of nursing.
I knew at that moment exactly how I was meant to serve my time here on earth. As a spiritual dominant person, I believe that we are spiritual beings experiencing a physical existence, albeit for a short amount of time. I had just realized my mission. Now, I had to figure out how to manifest it.
One day I will write a book about my journey, but for now, I will focus on sharing how the Canadian Institute of Integrative Nursing Development & Education was founded.
I experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACE) beginning at a very young age. Without a strong family support system, these experiences ultimately led to years of struggling with anxiety, depression and low self-worth. In reflection, I believe the lack of nurturing and stability in my formative years was at least, in part, a driving factor in my need to care for others in a way I felt every one deserved to be treated.
The first decade of my nursing career was magical. It was at a time when hospitals were well-staffed and nurses had time to give patients back rubs to aid in a restorative night’s sleep. We had time to be present and listen, to truly practice the art of nursing care.
I believe nurses still long for that connection. I also believe many have given up hope.
Being drawn to the profession of nursing with a deep desire to care for others, I was guilty of burning the candle at both ends. Despite holding down two nursing jobs, I never refused an extra shift. I put my heart and soul into everyone I cared for, whether it was as a nurse, a mom, a wife, aunt, or friend…until one day, I no longer could.
Somehow along the way, I didn’t learn the importance of taking care of myself. I wasn’t taught this at home and I certainly didn’t learn it in nursing school. My life, my whole world, was about caring for others.
In addition to struggling with my mental wellness, I lived for years with varying degrees of chronic pain. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in my early 30’s and relied on acetaminophen to get me through the day. I was an expert at shifting my focus off of myself and onto others or my work. At that time, taking time for yourself, your own self-care, was considered selfish or self-centered. Yes, we are making great headway now in understanding the importance of self-care and healing practices; yet, I still find myself in daily conversations with people, especially women, who find it challenging to adopt this mindset.
In 2013, my health started to decline significantly. It would be my first experience needing a wheelchair because my hips were too painful to walk. Later that year, I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which explained the unrelenting pain. EDS is a connective tissue disorder that comes with a host of complications such as bruising from delicate blood vessels rupturing, to unstable joints and poor healing, among other things.
I’ve had two major surgeries related to EDS- reconstruction of my palate and jaw, and pelvic surgery that involved five different repairs. I am grateful for modern science and western medicine. Prior to these surgeries, I had migraines so intense that I was admitted to hospital, and lower back and pelvic pain that limited my mobility to the point where I unable to walk more than 10 minutes at a time.
Unfortunately, the chronic systemic pain and joint pain continued. My physician was a wonderful support at the time. I had regularly scheduled appointments and together we explored and tested out options to control the pain so that I could continue to work and enjoy some semblance of a ‘normal’ life. Using a Western approach, we tried various medications, and combinations thereof, to treat the pain, constipation, depression lack of restorative sleep. She also introduced me to an 8-week mindfulness program. This would be the beginning of my journey into holistic health.
Lifestyle and mindset changes don’t happen overnight. Change demands hard work and dedication, as well as deep reflection and introspection. What I learned about the connection between mind-body-spirit and environment was pivotal. A positive mindset is crucial to our overall well-being. Perspective can represent the difference between ‘resisting pain and exacerbating suffering’ to ‘easing discomfort and finding peace’.
Aside from learning to value care of self above all else, the other important lesson I learned was that perspective (that daily inner dialogue we feed ourselves) is paramount in our overall health and well-being. There is literally a plethora of literature that demonstrates that negativity not only depletes our immune system, but it creates disease and exacerbates other symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and pain. I needed to change how I talked to myself and how I viewed my world. I needed to be kind and compassionate with myself. I needed to learn to say both yes and no when I knew it was for my higher good.
I immersed myself in learning and practicing holistic approaches to self-care such as whole nutrition, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, breathwork, energetic healing, aromatherapy and spending more time in nature. I also released myself from the need to be everything to everyone. I gave myself permission to just BE.
And, I started to heal…
I am a lot better at not pushing myself beyond my limits and I have started listening…listening to my body and responding to what it is telling me it needs.
I still have days when the discomfort gets my attention (usually weather related), but I am a much healthier happier person now. I am no longer on medications for pain, constipation, sleep, depression and anxiety. I have learned how to reach within to access my inner strength and resources.
If we, as nurses, can learn to intertwine these healing practices and mindsets throughout our day in everything that we do, we just might find ourselves in a much better place to enhance our own healing and help promote healing in those we care for.