I am new to the provider role, but not new to the role of shouldering the continuous weight of my brothers and sisters who can no longer hold themselves up. I have spent the past 6 years serving the underserved, supporting the lost, the frightened, and the souls without hope. I’ve spent my time in the emergency department day in and day out, catching people when they fall. I found myself working tirelessly to piece together stories and histories of everyone under my care, some of which have no place in reality. Many people are ill. Many people are dying from lack of resources, lack of hope, lack of being understood, and lack of appropriate and affordable healthcare. It was my honor to stand beside these people and walk with them in their pain. Though there were many nights I went home feeling weighed down and broken myself, I knew in my heart I had done good work. I knew in my heart that my work mattered.
Now I am in my second month transitioning from bedside nursing in the emergency department to being a provider with a window in my office. The privilege and honor of serving remains the same, but the burden is quite different. Instead of gently transferring the weight of my patients off my shoulders and onto those of the next shift nurse, I find I have no one with whom to share my burden. My patients cycle in and out of my cozy office with a window by the dozens, and I leave at the end of the day with no one to talk to about all I’ve seen and heard. In her recent article, “What happens when mental health professionals also get sick?“, journalist Lydia Smith states that many clinicians are “struggling with their wellbeing.” I can now relate to that. My insurance has just kicked in, so my plan is to find a person who can help me unburden myself. My hope is that this positions me on a kind of ladder. While my right hand is reaching up for help, my left hand reaches down to grasp and help another.
The other day a wonderful thing happened. I had a patient who returned for a second visit. He told me he felt better. His beautiful face lit up when he said, “For the first time in years, I am not living with anxiety on a daily basis.” For the first time in my career in mental healthcare, I got to see someone get better. In the emergency department (and the inpatient world in general), I helped people through crisis, but I never got to see them get better. This moment was incredibly poignant and memorable, sitting in my cozy office with the sun streaming in through the window, highlighting the face of my patient as he spoke of hope. That is why I do this job. That is why I will prioritize my own mental health and wellbeing, so I can hear many more stories like his.
By: Kelly M. Mahoney, PMHNP-BC
Licensed Professional Counselor – Wake Forest