Written by: Megan Weaver Culbertson, BSN, RN
Nursing is a deep passion of mine. At 22 years old, I jumped in eager and ready to care for people. I deeply loved my patients, fellow nurses and healthcare workers, and the profession. I waded through the daily trauma we see as caretakers. As many nurses are taught, I thought I was supposed to cope with what I saw every day. And I did, or so I thought.
In May 2020, I left my staff job as a cardiac nurse and took a travel nurse position just outside of Washington, D.C. When I arrived, the hospital was filled with Covid patients. Every shift was a desperate attempt to keep people alive and off the vent. I had never cared for patients that were this sick. I never endured watching my patients suffer this much. It took its toll, but I was able to cope. Just as I had all my years as a nurse.
In August 2021, I was in Florida when the Delta wave hit. I went home to South Carolina for three weeks in July and returned to a total break in the system. The hospital was once again filled with Covid patients. The ICU: full. PCU: full. I was assigned 6 critically ill patients with no help. Every shift was panic-filled. We were short staffed, short on equipment, and mental, emotionally, and physically exhausted.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression on and off since high school. Mental illness was nothing new to me. In late summer 2021, at the height of the Delta wave, I hit a true breaking point. My depression became debilitating. At work, I became numb and irritable. These were feelings I never felt as a nurse. At home, I didn’t leave my bed.
It felt like I was swallowed by darkness. I lost my ability to feel joy, because the pain of knowing my patients were no longer here to have happy moments was agonizing. The emotional and physical pain I felt every day became unbearable from the guilt and grief. I didn’t know how to describe what I was feeling or how to ask for help. I sank deeper into the darkness with every passing day.
In November of 2021, I knew it was time to step back from being a bedside nurse and begin my healing journey. I could no longer live in pain and darkness and was ready to find the light. I received a diagnosis of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The doctor prescribed medication, and I found a therapist I love. Slowly, I opened up to people who cared for me, and found people who were walking a similar path. I had sessions with a nurse coach who helped me integrate meditation, yoga, journaling, and other forms of self care into my life.
Things gradually began to improve. I haven’t returned to the bedside because of my own diagnosis of long haul covid in January 2022. I’m unsure if the bedside is a healthy place for me in the future. Everyday I continue to grow and heal. It’s been a long process. I hoped stepping back from work would magically cure me. It didn’t. But every day, I make progress, and the light gets brighter.
No Longer Alone
Looking for a way to support fellow nurses, who I saw struggling alongside me for two years (and honestly longer), I started a weekly virtual support group. This led to the founding of Nurses Supporting Nurses, an organization that provides free support groups and other mental health resources for nurses. It is an honor to hold space and help nurses on their healing journey. I am so thankful for the trust they place in me and the role they have played in my own personal healing.
Having community and creating a safe space helped me begin to heal. I share my story because I want healthcare workers to know they are not alone. You can find peace again. Please reach out for help. Find a community that supports you. Join our support group. There are people who will sit with you in the darkness and help guide you to the light.
Megan Weaver Culbertson, BSN, RN has been a nurse for a total of 9 years and is the founder of Nurses Supporting Nurses– an organization that provides free support groups and other mental health resources to nurses. She is passionate about mental health and changing the culture of nursing to include mort support and mental health care.
Website & Support Group Information- https://linktr.ee/nursessupportingnurses
Edited by: Claire Lang, BSN, RN