A lesson in letting go: quitting my job as a nurse

This is an open letter, to whoever needs to hear it. Maybe you’re like me, and you feel empowered when you witness another human, revealing their humanness, their vulnerabilities, their imperfections, freely and openly for the whole world to see. Maybe you’re just curious, looking for entertainment. Maybe you’re tired of seeing the false narrative of perfection being told on the internet and you need a reminder that we’re all in this together. Regardless of who you are, this letter is for you and I hope it finds you well.

In the year of 2020, I made the most money I ever have. I put over $1,000 in my personal savings, began saving for retirement, nearly paid off my car, and bought all kinds of things that I thought I needed. I also experienced some of the most severe anxiety I ever have, felt a complete loss of identity, and compromised (and even forgot about) some of my strongest beliefs. I walked away from making nearly $4,000 a month and from a career that took me 5 years of work to build for myself. This decision to quit weighed heavily on me and still does. I’m still trying to decide exactly why I’m here telling this story, but I am. So, here it is: the story of walking away from my career as a nurse.

The start of my nursing career

I started my first job as a nurse on a busy and understaffed med/surg unit. I knew going into this job that it would be extremely stressful. I told myself it wasn’t forever, I’d get some experience, then move on.

Here’s a little glimpse into what my days were like: Most of my shifts were insanely busy from the moment I walked on the floor until the moment I left. Personally, I like to stay busy at work, but this was a little over the top. I would run around nonstop and if I ate lunch before 3PM, I was lucky. I often barely had time to drink water all day. I had to rush away to pump three times a shift so that I could continue breastfeeding my daughter; she was two months old when I started this job. I’d have to drop what I was doing in the middle of it in order to go pump, or I just wouldn’t get a chance to pump at all because there was never a true “stopping point” where I could take a break. My days at this job were messy, chaotic and disorganized. I would look forward to my days off and imagine relaxing at home, doing nothing at all with my family.

Then, a day off would arrive and I’d wake up with my daughter at 7AM feeling completely drained. I’d look around my messy house and see an overflowing laundry basket, a dishwasher that needed to be unloaded, and clutter everywhere. It would drive me crazy and give me anxiety. I felt like I had a lack of control in my life. Even if I wanted to have a clean house, I wasn’t able to, because I simply didn’t have the time or energy to maintain it. 

I’d think of 100 different things I needed to do. All the while, I was too tired to even process what those things were, much less how to go about doing them. On top of that, I actually wanted to spend time with my daughter, but my time with her felt ruined because I was too busy being stressed about all these other things. Then I would get angry at myself for feeling this way and fall into a negative mindset. 

Prior to getting pregnant, I still had a lot of responsibilities. I worked part-time and was a full time student going through nursing school. I maintained multiple friendships and social obligations and stayed on top of keeping my bills paid. I definitely felt overwhelmed at times, but I could always get through it. I knew what I needed to do to manage my stress. I felt good, I had a handle on my life. So, this wasn’t the first time I was attempting to manage multiple things at once but for some reason, this time was so different.

I think there were a number of things at play that were causing the anxiety I was experiencing. My difficult experience giving birth to my daughter was something I was still trying to process. The stressful nature of my job was causing me to feel like my nerves were shot. Putting my daughter in daycare after doing little research and just feeling like I had to figure something out last minute wasn’t helping. But most importantly, I think I returned to work too soon after giving birth and overall, I wasn’t fully recovered. I was antsy about making money again, I wanted to rebuild my savings and I wanted to feel financial security and use the degree I had worked so hard for. So, I rushed into my career as a nurse and I don’t think I ever stopped rushing around until, well, now. 

It felt like every day off I was facing the same exact issues: feeling pulled in multiple directions, feeling overwhelmed, not knowing where to start with my tasks, having an endless to do list, and overall wanting to spend quality time with my family but still not feeling capable of doing so because I was so hung up on my own issues. 

My boyfriend was working from home, so he could help and even spend time with our daughter to give me a break. But that became another source of anxiety. While I was at work missing my daughter, I would dream about rocking her to sleep even if she was screaming, or changing her poopy diapers. I didn’t care, I just missed her. I wanted to be around her, even if that meant doing the things that sometimes stressed me out about being a mom. But then the days would get there and those little stressors felt like huge stressors and I just didn’t feel like I could handle it. I’d feel like I was crumbling and my boyfriend would have to come relieve some of the pressure. Then I would get even more upset and think “I finally have time off with my baby, and I can’t even handle being a mom. I’m constantly requiring some type of support”. This would make me angry at myself yet again, and the anxiety would continue to spiral. 

Deciding to quit job #1

At the time, I blamed my job for my anxiety but I was failing to see that it was so much deeper than the stressors I faced at work. The stressors I was facing at work were still too much for me to handle though, so I made the decision to walk away from this job. At first, the idea of quitting scared me; I had less than one year of experience in my career and most other hospitals required a full year of experience. Also, I didn’t want to just not work. I needed to make money and I wanted to stay busy. The idea of not finding another job scared me. 

I had a plan in mind. There was another hospital, at which I had spent a lot of time as a student. I knew that a lot of things were different there. The employees seemed happier, there were more resources. I sent out multiple applications in the weeks prior to my giving notice at my job. 

My last day of work was approaching and I hadn’t heard anything yet. The pressure of finding a new job was setting in, so I sat down to do some brainstorming. 

I remember my last day working in retail when my manager said to me, “If nursing doesn’t work out and you want to come back, you’re always welcome!” I laughed so hard about this later, like, yeah right, I’ll never be back. I felt so high and mighty with my nursing degree. Well jokes on me, because here I was, just a few months into my career and thinking to myself well, retail doesn’t sound too bad right now.

Regardless of my open mindedness, I didn’t end up having to return to retail because when I sat down at my computer that day, I had an email. I was being invited to interview at the hospital where I had been wanting to work. 

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. I got the job. There were a lot of benefits to this new job, the only downside was that it would be a one hour commute each way, but I was okay with it. I knew it would be more than worth it.

Starting Job #2

I remember nearly having a panic attack the weekend before I started. I had 4 days off in between my last day at job #1 and my first day at job #2. During which I had to print and fill out paper work, drive an hour to the hospital to do blood tests, provide urine samples, etc. I was remembering how intense starting a new job can feel, especially in nursing. Since nurses have such serious responsibilities, we have to give up a lot of ourselves to start a job. Here I was, feeling the same thing again; pulled in multiple directions, too many things to do. I told myself it was normal to be stressed about a new job and to just keeping pushing, it’ll get better. 

It did get better, in a sense. At work, I was feeling genuinely good. My coworkers were happy, I had a good workflow, I was interested in my work. It wasn’t nearly as negative an environment as where I had come from. But at some point, the anxiety returned. The same exact feelings as before but this time, it felt so much worse. I feel like it was God trying to get my attention.

When the anxiety returned this time around, it was even more intense than before because I would end up feeling so defeated. I had gone out of my comfort zone and advocated for myself, I had gotten my dream job, but still, I just couldn’t manage. I couldn’t handle all of the responsibilities I had in my life. And even though my job was so much better in so many ways, now it was so far away that I was giving up even more of my precious time and the car lag was making me even more tired on my days off. I would wake up at 4:30AM to drive an hour to work and get home and 8:30PM. I’d have less than an hour to shower, wash my scrubs, eat dinner, and pack my lunch for the following day before I needed to rush off to bed so I could do it all over again the following day.

This is when the panic attacks began. My stress would lead to the realization that I needed to quit my job and that realization would cause my anxiety to spiral even more. I just started this job, I can’t just quit. What will people think? This is such a good job, if I walk away, this opportunity won’t come back. Will it cause staffing issues? I don’t want to hurt other people in the process. So many questions, fears and worries would flood my mind when I considered quitting. It was getting to the point where I would just shut down.

I don’t remember what started my first panic attack but I remember it ending with me crying uncontrollably, curled up in a ball on the floor of my kitchen. Something has to change, something has to change. 

Then about a week later, I had my first day off after working three shifts in a row. That morning, I could feel the anxiety creeping in, but I tried to just accept it and let it pass. We decided we would take our daughter to the pumpkin patch and then to a park to swing on the swings. The anticipation was causing me to stress about minor details. Where would we park? What order were we doing things in? Would we get lunch too while we’re out? I was trying hard to be present but I couldn’t stop anticipating and wanting to plan everything.

We were in the car and I was verbalizing these thoughts to my boyfriend, “I’m trying to be present, but I can’t stop worrying about the minor details,” I told him. Then my heart started to race and I could feel it happening again. I was panicking. There were a lot of people out and about walking and a lot of cars on the road. I felt like everyone in traffic could see me and I just needed to cry. I wanted to sink into the car seat and disappear. My boyfriend pulled over into an empty parking lot. I leaned forward, putting my head between my knees and completely lost it. I was crying uncontrollably and gasping for air in between sobs. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t even know where any of this was stemming from. It all started with me worrying about our agenda for the day, but it was so much deeper than that. The hardest part was knowing that my daughter was sitting right behind me in her car seat, listening to it all. 

Quitting Job #2 

This second panic attack made me realize what I needed to do. I needed to quit my job and not get a new one for a little while. Although it’s scary to not have a plan in mind, I needed more time in my life, more space to figure everything out, more time with my daughter. More than anything though, I needed less. Less obligations, less responsibilities, less people to please, less distractions from my mental health issues that I needed to face. 

So, the following Monday, I talked with my boss and told her exactly what had been happening. She was supportive and understanding, and that was it, I was done. I expected to feel an intense relief afterward, but instead I felt scared for the future. Regardless of the fear though, I knew in my heart that I had made the right decision.

What now?

The future is unknown and I’m definitely a little scared. I don’t have a plan but I have faith. Writing this was difficult, because it caused me to relive my panic attacks and that was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt. I never want to feel that again, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I know that I had no other option but to walk away from my job because it was the only way I could open up more space in my schedule in order to focus more on myself. 

When I got pregnant, I was finishing up nursing school. I remember saying, “I’m always going to put being a mom before being a nurse.” I feel like all this time, I was making nursing more of a priority, without even realizing it. It is time to take a step back, hit pause. I’m taking a closer look at my life, working on simplifying things, and living with purpose.

I don’t have any regrets. I may never return to nursing and I spent 5 years of my life working towards that goal but I’m learning that it takes trial and error to find your purpose in life. This is a lesson in letting go. Letting go of the opinions of others. Letting go of how you’re “supposed to do things”. It’s also another example of trusting the process. It’s not about the end goal because we may never reach the end goal. It is about what happens in between; that is when real changes occur. 


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