Self worth is a difficult thing to quantify, it is not defined by the possessions we have around us or even by the love others feel for us. I know this as I am loved beyond measure and have everything in a material sense that I actually need and yet most days I feel like a stain on society. To those looking from the outside I have it all, a nice home in an affluent area, a good husband and a wonderfully spirited little girl. I have a new career which I love and which affords me the opportunity to enjoy time with my loved ones but I worry every day that I don’t deserve this life. Let me start by saying how settled my mood is, I am not experiencing any symptomology of depression despite how negative some of this blog post may seem. My self esteem has been better than this and I hope this will once again be achievable. Self depreciation has always been my default setting but throughout my life I have had periods of being better able to challenge this. Right now I am struggling with this.
I knew the transition between student nurse and qualified nurse would be a tough one, I was insightful enough to recognise that the added accountability of being a registered nurse would add pressure on but I hadn’t expected to end up questioning my very sense of being. After a bit of self done CBT I have come to understand where some of my fear lies and am trying incredibly hard to face this head on but am not getting anywhere very fast. If you have read my blog for a while as I know lots of you have you will be aware how I was UK Head of Human Resources for an international charity and how I had worked so very hard to get to that position having left the family home at sixteen due to abuse. I had put myself though university twice to become qualified to post graduate level and pushed myself to the very brink working long hours probably in hindsight to validate my worth. This career was then snatched brutally from me by the stigma that surrounds mental illness; I was highly educated and experienced yet unemployable. I then set up a business which I had no choice but to close when I relapsed in my mental health so you see this career as a nurse isn’t just my second chance it is my third chance so means more than anyone can imagine to me. Its more significant to me than my employer giving me a job, for me this is about society giving me another go and not letting me rot because of my recurrent mental illness which is what my experiences taught me to expect.
With every decision I make as a nurse I shake inside, I fear a hand on my shoulder and someone saying to me that there has been a terrible mistake and that I need to continue to access services rather than provide them. Some days my teeth actually hurt from gritting them, most evenings by the time I have walked across the car park I have convinced myself that I am the most inferior and insignificant nurse on the ward. This doesn’t always even come after a particularly busy or eventful day where I have had to make major decisions this can be on a settled day (who am I kidding I work on an acute admissions ward so settled days are a rarity!), I find myself homing in on something someone has said or something I wish I had said and berating myself for that. It is akin to preparing myself to fail so it won’t hurt quite so much this time when my career is taken from me. I don’t think I could bear to lose nursing and can’t imagine how long it will take for that fear to diminish or indeed if it ever will fully.
So I can see where my self worth issues originate from with regard to nursing but then I find myself questioning whether I am ‘good enough’ in every aspect of my life, am I a good enough wife/mother/daughter/friend/Christian? I run an internal monologue which scolds myself with an over familiar regularity so as I am often unaware of it as I tell myself I am a waste of oxygen. I look in the mirror and tell myself that I am repulsive, a monstrosity and find myself distracted when people talk to me sometimes wondering why they would bother. I am my own worst enemy as I put all of the energy I should be putting into challenging these thoughts into masking the emotions generated by them, ask those who work with me or those who have listened as I have spoken publicly (although always well hidden behind a lectern!) and they will tell you about a woman who speaks with confidence and humour. They won’t tell you about the woman who uses humour to save you looking into her eyes and seeing how fearful she is because they don’t see that. I don’t allow anyone to see that side of me. Since being a little girl I have perfected the art of hiding my fear.
As I said at the start of this blog post I knew it would sound negative but my mood is not low. I micro manage my mood now and jump right on any fluctuation to try and avoid relapse which has worked well for me thus far. This is more about my sense of being. Self esteem is such a difficult thing to quantify, if only I had a target that I could work towards then improving it may be easier.
Various schools of thought exist on self esteem from psychologists through to sociologists but they all come to very similar conclusions on that self esteem reflects the persons overall judgement of their own worth, or worthlessness in my case.
It is a while since my sense of self worth has been so noticeably low to myself, maybe I am less good at masking it or maybe I just don’t have the energy to continue to use that mask? Maybe I am just a little bruised by my experiences and can’t expect to adjust so quickly? What I do know is that I am surrounded by kind and compassionate people who prop me up on the days when I question myself more than others. I have a wonderfully, and sometimes annoyingly, insightful mentor as I work through my preceptorship as a nurse, she will point out when I deflect praise and try to encourage me to stop thinking about work as I leave for the day. She promotes reflecting on the good decisions I have made and uses them to bolster my confidence and sometimes that works. Some days I am able to challenge those thoughts and occasionally I allow myself to believe that I have made the difference I came into nursing expecting to make daily.
I am doing better at challenging the thoughts about me as a nurse and sometimes even forget about the hand on my shoulder when I am busy so its the thoughts about generally being a good enough person I need to concentrate on. I stand at the park and presume the other parents are better than me and look at couples with a desire to be a better wife and yet my husband and my daughter love me unconditionally so if I pick this apart and rationalise it I can see that I don’t need to exhaust myself with these questions and wonder if it is now more of a habit that I need to change? Some days I wonder if I simply can’t believe my luck that a woman like me could have all of this.