Struggling With Boundaries and “No”

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I feel like I’ve been struggling lately and don’t know what words of inspiration to provide. I find myself working when I didn’t plan to work to please my boss. I recognize that consistently not holding the boundaries I set for myself is unhealthy and causes suffering and resentment. Establishing and maintaining boundaries is a skill I have yet to master. I don’t know if I’d even call myself competent.

Sometimes I find myself working extra shifts, not because I want or need to, but because I want to keep my boss happy. I want her to give me a good recommendation when I put her down as a job reference. (I work as a COVID tester but am looking for an acute care RN role). However, when I work extra days to please my boss, it costs me a chance to recharge myself, spend time with family, job search, or blog. For example, even though I said I was unavailable to work the day after my second-dose COVID vaccination, I found myself working when I didn’t plan on it because my boss was short-staffed and begged me to work. My arm was sore, and I was tired and achy, but I had no other symptoms, so I obliged her plea for me to work. I had hoped to be taking it easy at home the day after my vaccination to fill out my daughter’s complicated kindergarten applications and other job applications for myself. Instead, I wore myself out by working the day after my second shot. By the time I got home, I felt so fatigued that all I could do was shower and lie in bed all evening. I couldn’t even pick up my daughter from her preschool; my husband did. My boss asked me to work again the following day (a day I usually have off), and I said I could not; I felt like I was fighting the flu! I found myself to the point of exhaustion before I finally said “No,” to my boss.

Being short-staffed seems to be a common theme no matter where a nurse works. (There are so many memes about this!) I am not a bad employee if I tell my boss I am not working extra days. Saying “No” is a skill I know I must strengthen to maintain the boundaries I set to keep myself healthy and balanced. [Un]Fortunately, it looks like I will have plenty of opportunities to practice saying, “No.”

Before I became a nurse, I was the type to cram a lot into my schedule. I still am this way. Usually, I enjoy it, but sometimes it’s stressful, especially when running late from event to event. However, since marrying my husband and having my daughter, I’ve been conscious of my family’s schedule and try not to burden them with too much activity. A nurse- and mom-friend told me her life coach suggested she schedule no more than three things in a day. I’ve been good with this for my family, but I am trying to uphold this goal for myself. I accomplish goals I set for myself more efficiently, and I am more satisfied and less overwhelmed when I create a manageable schedule.

I still have many goals and lots of things I feel I need to do or accomplish each day. Fortunately, I realize 1) I do not need to do everything all at once, and 2) Some things (like working or blogging) may fall off my schedule to focus on completing other things (like job and kindergarten applications). Honestly, I should make one of my goals to stop being such a people-pleaser, and I would be able to say NO guilt-free and struggle less. I am working on this, so thanks for your patience during my mini-break from blogging the past week!

COVID Crisis and Self-Care

Recently, I decided to cut back on the number of days a week I work. I recognize I’m blessed to have the option to work as many or as few days as a contract RN and COVID tester. Not everyone has the financial ability to work less. I know it’s a privilege to have this flexibility. Because I’ve spent my entire adult life working a minimum of 40 hours per week, I felt obligated to work full-time as a nurse in this pandemic, even though I have a per diem contract position.

Me in my “uniform” during a typical workday.

I found myself exhausted after my five-day-a-week shifts and having to continually re-arrange my family’s schedule. I am a COVID tester for a studio. Due to ever-changing production schedules, I don’t often know what time I am to start work until the night before, and I usually do not know what time the workday will end my day has already begun. My start times last week ranged from 4:30a to 5:30a. My days ended anywhere from 2-4 pm. On days I work, my husband has to juggle conference calls while coordinating preschool dropoffs. If I don’t get out early enough, he also has to squeeze in pickups during his workday.

Besides worrying about my breadwinner husband adjusting his life to accommodate my work schedule, I began to worry about my physical well-being from working so much and being exposed to hundreds of people a week. During the past two weeks, four different nurses I work with called off work due to some illness or another. Other people seemed tenser because they discovered more people in their work or personal life had come down with COVID.

Since Thanksgiving, I get tested for COVID every day I work. I appreciated the daily tests confirming I didn’t have COVID but realized my body was feeling worn out. Even though I’m naturally an extrovert, I didn’t understand how exhausting it can be to serve hundreds of diverse clients every week. My unpredictable work schedule was also adding to my daily stress. One day I was so tired after work, I think I fell asleep on my way home at a stoplight. I know driving drowsy is extremely dangerous – I didn’t realize how tired I was.

One of the nurses I worked with is a retired hospital nurse. She is a seasoned nurse who now works per diem for “fun” during her retirement. She shared that when she was younger, she always volunteered to work overtime. It resulted in her developing hypertension and needing medication. Since then, she has become an advocate for self-care and setting healthy boundaries. In addition to her, I’ve heard similar messages from bloggers I follow: Do not do things out of obligation or because it’s what you think others expect of you. Do what is best for yourself.

Despite my co-worker’s advice, I didn’t consider cutting back on the days I worked until a friend suggested it. During a phone call, she commented on how tired I sounded and heard my increased anxiety about people around me getting sick. After some thought, I requested fewer days from my boss this past Sunday. This week was the first week I didn’t work five days in a row! I felt guilty at first. However, as COVID cases and deaths rise here in Los Angeles, I feel more secure in my decision. I’ve also had more patience and energy for work and home since I’ve had more days to rest this week.

Nurses in hospitals are overwhelmed and have contacted me to let me know all their units are short-staffed. The patient loads are high and over ratio. New grads are getting pulled off orientation to help. As much as I feel like I’m struggling to get a hospital job right now, it seems like a blessing I don’t have one. I’m frustrated and relieved at the same time. I’m glad I get to work as a nurse and contribute somehow, but I’m also thankful that I’m not like my friends and family working in hospitals witnessing the COVID deaths and raging illness. They are frustrated when they see or hear about people not following public health orders to wear masks or avoid social gatherings because they suffer the consequences in a more profound way than the general public.

To all healthcare workers right now, particularly those in hospitals, I am praying for you and grateful for you. I hope you are protected and supported and able to do what you need for self-care. I hope this vaccine is effective and able to remove the burden of worrying about getting COVID or bringing it home to your loved ones. I am doing what I think is best to ensure my family or I do not add to your patient ratios. I’m trying to keep myself safe and healthy so that I may be part of the care team in a hospital someday soon! It took a while to be aware of my own needs, but I have cut back on the days I work for my well-being. For everyone reading this, please practice self-care and keep yourself safe!