Packing list, headphones, laptop, toiletries, four dress casual outfits, grief. That was my basic packing list as I headed for a nursing conference I had been scheduled to go to for over a year. I couldn’t imagine leaving, I was having a difficult week mentally and felt exhausted just thinking about it. My plan was to bring my laptop and hide out in my hotel room after the end of each session, maybe I could get some writing done. I felt guilty for leaving my family, still struggling in the wreckage of loss and even more guilty knowing that soon after I returned, my husband and I would be going to Mexico on the nonrefundable trip we had booked way before our lives were demolished.
The group of nurses I was with was mostly younger and energetic. I didn’t figure I would have much to say or have much to contribute. I had been feeling discouraged by all the drama in our workplace. My goal was to keep my head down and get through the week. The young leadership would take over and I could fade away in the background. My expectations were so low, and I kept wondering why I was there.
One of the keynote speakers though really touched on something that had always been a philosophy I had lived with, but she applied it at home and in the workplace. She believed that everyone has within them the power to do great things and that self-reflection couldn’t happen when you were stuck complaining and venting. That these two parts of your brain could not function at the same time. I have always said you should never offer a complaint without a solution, and now I was energized by her delivery of how to end drama in the workplace. My entire group was excited to take these ideas back and try some encouragement for engagement.
During the last 8.5 months, I have found the same realization with grief. When I live in guilt I cannot heal. The two functions cannot happen at the same time. Neither can anger and healing. Guilt is such a strong emotion that I believe it can eat a person up like moth larvae in a closet of silk, guilt will turn us into cheesecloth. Guilt is a killer it is the opposite direction down the road to healing. Similar to venting, you cannot focus on love, forgiveness, and acceptance with you live in anger and guilt.
After only two months of losing my daughter, a surgeon asked me, “What would you have done differently, knowing what you do now?” She was concerned because she had a friend of her son dealing with severe depression. The question haunted me. I turned her to the new resources I had found, but I was filled with guilt. I thought, first of all, I didn’t even know the depth of her depression, that would have been helpful, then came other thoughts of guilt and anger. Her friends that knew how she was feeling and didn’t tell us, the doctor that turned her away where I work, her friends that gave her substances to “help” that only helped to take her from me. I decided to write those feelings down, and acknowledge them. I cannot go back and change the past, but what could I do to change someone else’s future? This has become my focus. As the old Native American story goes I cannot feed two wolves. I cannot feed hate and love at the same time. http://www.nanticokeindians.org/page/tale-of-two-wolves
The conference went on and finished up with a famous speaker, Dr. Patch Adams. We were all excited to see him. He was to be speaking on joy. Out he walked dressed in his clown-like attire and immediately began attacking marriage, Christianity, and then began to describe depression as a made-up illness by the pharmaceutical companies. I was appalled.
I sat there building with anger, how dare he use his platform in front of 10K nurses to increase the already damaging stigma of mental health! I was sitting in a row complete stuck. The speaker was being recorded. I decided I didn’t care, I stood up, walked in front of the cameras and I walked into the bathroom and cried. Instantly my phone blew up. My group wanted to know if I was ok. I said I would see them afterward and I was fine. I stepped out of the bathroom to see my entire group had left in solidarity. My heart kind of swelled.
We went out that evening and had an amazing time. I felt moments of guilt bubble up for laughing and even dancing a bit with the young nurses that still know how to move. I told that voice that my grief was still with me, I was just taking a break from it for a moment. I refused to let guilt sucker punch me. As almost a little sign that it was ok to laugh, the gal that was working the counter gave me a souvenir shirt, she was wearing a buffalo check shirt. Buffalo check is the attire of the organization that I have been working with for suicide awareness.
On the plane home I reflected on the two speakers and how different their messages had been. I thought about applying the first speaker to the last. If I had had that platform of 10K nurses, I would use it to describe the stigma of mental health, the statistics and conversations to be had. I decided someday I would find that same platform. I am not sure how, but I will get up there myself someday. I would continue to push guilt aside from all the things I wish I had tried or known because in guilt I cannot heal. I can, however, use my grief as a platform to help others as I walk this road. Instead of being angry at Dr. Patch Adams and his ignorance of mental health, I thank him for giving me the resolve to move forward.
The conference had actually been a good experience. I was able to see that there were ways of moving forward at work and in my personal life in a positive way, even as a broken nurse and mother. I had also been reminded that things aren’t always what they seem, the young nurses were thoughtful and inspiring, the world-renowned speaker was a joke. It didn’t mean that I was leaving without my grief, I packed it back up and took it home. I was leaving the anger and the guilt. It was not the wolf I would choose to feed.