I’ve aged more in the last 9 months working as an ER nurse than I did in the previous 14 years combined. It’s left me feeling a profound sense of exhaustion and sorrow at what I’ve witnessed and taken part in. Before COVID, I felt immense satisfaction, even love for my job. Afterward, not so much. The end result, I’m afraid, has just left me exhausted.
Getting the 1st vaccine 12 days ago was both a huge relief and an undeniable marker of what frontline healthcare workers have been through. Speaking for myself, there’s a certain amount of denial necessary to keep going to work in a large-scale human tragedy, and getting the vaccine broke through that protective wall. It left me feeling old and vulnerable, which is not the mindset you need to be in when working in a busy ER treating very sick people, many of whom have COVID.
Mind you, I’m not feeling clinically depressed – just worn out. I’m not even sure I would call it burnout; more like a world-weary sadness with an eye staring down existential dread. I just feel like I have no personal reserve left.
I can take solace in this, though: many times in my life I have been through prolonged stress that eventually ends, and when it does, it paradoxically doesn’t leave me feeling good. Instead, it usually ends with a brief sense of relief followed by a period of anhedonia and lack of engagement with the world.
But experience has also taught me these feelings eventually end, and life is good again.
So that appears to be where I am. Unmoored, exhausted, and struggling to find my way back from the nightmare of the last 9 months, and the looming specter of perhaps another 9 months of dealing with a job that once left me feeling invigorated and now leaves me struggling, running on empty, and defeated.
Such is life.
This too will pass.