I worked in healthcare for almost 20 years, falling into it after I finished university in order to get the ‘hands on care experience‘ that all the jobs I was interested in stated I needed in order to apply. I planned to get the two years hands on experience on my CV, then leave healthcare to do something (not entirely sure what) with my sociology degree. I got a job as a Rehabilitation Assistant at a Rehab hospital, working with mainly elderly clients who had had falls or strokes, and later also working with younger adults with head injuries. Turned out I rather enjoyed working so closely with people, particularly those who had mental health problems, so I changed my vague plans and applied for funding to train as a mental health nurse instead.
I qualified in 2003, and spent the next 14 years working as a Mental Health Nurse, primarily in substance misuse and later in a community mental health team. My most recent job was as deputy manager of a community team specialising in psychosis. I was lucky enough to be trained to deliver the Auricular Acupuncture Detox Protocol as part of working within substance misuse, and this was a massive turning point in terms of developing my interest in holistic therapies. I continued to promote acupuncture, fighting to be able to offer it to clients in mental health services when I left substance misuse and moved back to a community mental health team, resulting in developing clinical guidelines for the Trust and running a successful weekly acupuncture group for over 10 years.
This post is not about the joys and frustrations of the NHS – we all know it has remained vastly underfunded whatever party is in government, and there will always be challenges in trying to provide efficient services on a shoestring budget. For me, there were a number of factors that kept adding up, which are as applicable to other people whatever field they work in. Here are some of the reasons that contributed to finally taking the plunge and handing my notice in.
1. Stress. This is the biggie. Working so closely with other people, in a hectic environment, trying to support clients alongside tackling the paperwork and the never ending to do list, is always going to be stressful. And this is ok, as long as there is some respite to it, and things ease up from time to time to let you catch up a bit and get your breath back. What is not ok, is when the pressures are relentless, the to do list gets longer and longer, and crucially, you have less time for your clients.
2. The job was taking over in my personal life too. This was what drove me mad. I have a life outside work, which I was very protective of. I’d always taken measures to separate my work life and home life. When work encroached more and more on my own time, I felt resentful. Not just frequently working late, but missing my running club or other activities as a result of having to work late. Getting home late and feeling too shattered to do the things I had planned to do that evening. Constantly feeling that I hadn’t got things done, and wondering when I was going to have time to try and catch up.
3. The non-stop, busy-busy, always rushing, never enough time, stressed out person at work had become part and parcel of a work culture that normalised this. Colleagues were working equally hard and were equally stressed out, and because other people were like this, it was hard to take a step back and really do something about it. Despite best efforts at not getting caught up in this do too much, constantly stressed out culture, old habits quickly crept back in and it was near impossible to change.
4. Obviously, the constant high stress levels had an impact on my sleep, which was fairly rubbish. Problems getting to sleep as it was hard to switch off my brain, and unable to relax as my body was always on alert because there was so much I needed to do. (More on the effects of stress and adrenal fatigue in a future post! )
5. Constant stress, exacerbated by crap sleep, is a recipe for serious grumpiness! At work, this meant I had less patience when dealing with people. Most were hopefully were unaware of my internal monologue telling them to shut up, or verbally losing tact when dealing with staff. Tact has never been my strong point! It was my long suffering husband who bore the brunt of my grumpiness though. After a long day, I would frequently have a rant to try and get it off my chest, then remain a particularly grumpy cow because I was knackered. Understandably, he too had had enough and encouraged me to quit my job long before I actually did it.
6. I wasn’t happy. This should have been obvious, but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of the job I loved – some of my colleagues are my closet friends, I thought the world of the clients I had on my caseload but this wasn’t enough. Most of the time I was feeling incredibly frustrated, and downright pissed off. I had empathy fatigue. Clear signs that it was time to do something else.
7. I was constantly thinking about quitting my job! For months it was dangling in front of me like a carrot – a way out from all the crap I had to deal with on a daily basis. I then made the decision that I was going to leave, it was just a question of deciding when. At Christmas, I thought I’d see things through to Easter as this seemed a nice neat time to finish, but fairly quickly had a rethink. Easter wasn’t until April and that was months away! I left in the middle of February!
8. My interests were in holistic health. I had qualified as a Reflexologist seven years ago, and more recently as a Bowen Therapist, although I was able to offer some treatments part time, it was difficult to pursue these further due to being at work. I was encouraged by my managers to look into developing complementary therapies within our Trust, but had no time to do this. It had been a goal on my annual appraisal for at least three years.
9. I had long planned to reduce my nursing hours in order to build up the therapy business, but was only able to drop a day, and this took a year from requesting reduced hours to fruition. There was no further scope to reduce my hours by a day or two, so it had to be all or nothing. I chose all.
Ultimately, it came down to two things. I wanted to pursue my own holistic therapy business, which I couldn’t do while I remained in my current job; and I was burnt out with nursing. Three months down the line, I have no regrets. It’s going to be a long, hard slog to build up enough of a business to replace lost earnings, but I feel like a different person. Other people have commented on this too, so I must have been a nightmare! It’s allowed me to take that step back and really see how much my job had been impacting in me in a negative way, which ultimately was not healthy or sustainable in the long term.
I have lots of ideas, and lots of plans. Here’s to an exciting future!