Navigating Recovery During a Pandemic: A Nurse’s Story
It seems safe to say that this past month has rocked our world. We worry for the health and safety of our friends and family, and we grieve the loss of our routines and sense of normalcy. Some of us may even be mourning the loss of treasured friends and family members. In times like this, it can feel difficult for anyone to feel positive and motivated for the future.
For those of us in recovery, or even contemplating what recovery may feel like, times like this can feel particularly hard. We are often told the ways that recovery can open our lives and our worlds to fun, positive new experiences, only to have many of those experiences taken away as we are forced to remain inside for our own safety. Being the caring, compassionate, giving people that we are, we think about those who “have it worse”, and try to remain grateful for what we do have. However, it is hard not to feel sad, scared, or even angry about this radical change in our lives.
Throughout my eating disorder, and into my recovery, I have battled anxiety and fear. My family and I faced traumatic medical experiences during my childhood, which created a sense of fear for all of us. At times, this fear has been palpable to my friends, family members, peers, and colleagues, and I have felt deeply ashamed for the moments when I showed fear and anxiety. When I first began my recovery, I thought that I would learn not to feel fear and anxiety anymore, and that I would become “braver” and “stronger.” Over time, I have learned that this is not what recovery means, and that personally, I am often my “bravest” and “strongest” when I am able to recognize my fears and anxiety, validate them, and share them with others when it feels safe. With that being said, there are still moments when these thought patterns resurface.
As a nurse, I put on a “brave face” everyday so that I can help my patients and their loved ones cope with the anxiety, sadness, and fear they may be feeling. I often put my own emotions aside until the end of my shift so that I can continue to work and help others without stopping to cry or feel angry. At times, I even judge myself for what I am feeling, wondering if I would be a better nurse if I did not feel so many emotions throughout the day. These thoughts are especially present now, as people across the world are experiencing anxiety and fear over the pandemic, and I am being looked to as an example of how to cope with this situation. I am proud and happy to do what I do, and I would choose to be a nurse over and over again. However, that does not mean that I do not feel scared, sad, and angry, just as everyone else does. That does not mean that I do not miss my friends and family, and long for the day that I can see them again.
Additionally, as someone in recovery, I learned to cope with my eating disorder by seeking out happy and positive experiences, which helped to fight against the eating disorder voice by providing examples of everything I have gained in my recovery. I wake up in the morning with energy and excitement, and look forward to spending time doing things that I enjoy. I simply did not have the energy to feel this way in the depths of my eating disorder. Now that I, along with everyone else, must social distance and remain at home, I am grieving the loss of my routine. At times, I find myself missing my eating disorder, and wondering when I will be able to return to my normal activities.
While experiencing all of these stressors, thoughts, and emotions, it is easy not to feel “brave.” It is easy to feel pressure to continue to grow in recovery during this time, and to judge ourselves if and when we find ourselves feeling discouraged and missing our eating disorders. It is even easy to judge our reactions to this pandemic, and to think we do not deserve to feel sad and grieve. However, I am here to remind all of us, including myself, that we are brave, no matter what we are thinking and feeling during this time. We are brave for continuing to work if we are able to do so, and we are brave for keeping ourselves and our community safe if we have to remain at home. We are brave for continuing on the path of recovery, even if we are tempted to quit or have experienced a lapse or relapse. We are brave, even when we are feeling sad and scared. We deserve the time and space to experience whatever we are feeling right now, and we are brave for taking this time, no matter what thoughts and feelings come up for us.
If you are feeling sad about missing a prom, graduation, or another celebration, take time for yourself and allow these feelings to surface. If you are feeling discouraged because you are missing out on a religious celebration, give yourself grace and remember that it is ok to feel this way. If you are feeling lonely and isolated, remember how important communication is for human beings, and take heart in knowing that you are not alone. No matter what you are thinking and feeling right now, you are allowed these thoughts and feelings, and you are allowed whatever reaction you may be having to them. No thought or feeling will ever take away your bravery or decrease your strength. I am brave. You are brave. We are brave, and we will get through this time together.
Caroline is a nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a SMASH Ambassador, and is studying to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner specializing in eating disorders. In her free time, Caroline loves going down the shore, being outside, taking ballet classes, and spending time with friends and family.