In most dystopian/apocalyptic movies there’s always that one person willing to stay behind to detonate a bomb that will obliterate an asteroid into a million pieces, thus delaying the end of the world and ensuring we get to live to die another day.
And then there’s the other guy, the guy who will fight tooth and nail to make sure he has a spot on the last lifeboat so he doesn’t sink with the Titanic, the guy who runs the other way when it looks like shit is going to hit the fan, the one who gets going when the going gets rough.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this as we enter the third week of lockdown. The reality of what we’re experiencing has started to sink in and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t affected me psychologically. I’d feel like a fraud if I tell everyone to stay positive, because that is the complete opposite of what I’m feeling these days.
I’m a nurse and I work for the NHS. Full disclosure, I don’t have the skill set necessary to work on the frontlines in the ITU, but at the moment there are still other health battles being fought out there that are not related to Covid19, such as cancer patients who need surgery to survive, and they too deserve equal care and attention.
That is what our team are focusing on at the moment: ensuring that everyone who needs an operation can still get one done, while on the background the situation with coronavirus gets worse and worse, hard to ignore, and putting added pressure on an already stressful environment.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have never been one to stay on the sidelines. Its not overstating it to say that I have natural leadership abilities. It stems from the desire to be useful, from the need to make a difference.
But I also have extreme control issues. I often find it difficult to see the big picture because I get fixated on the smallest details. I need facts, and I need clear instructions. I like rules, and I like guidelines, because I think the world would be a much better place if we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.
So its not surprising, with all the uncertainty and fluidity going on, that my nerves have been feeling a little frayed. No one can really say what the best course of action is, so things change from one breath to the next and its driving me bonkers. I felt myself to be on the verge of some sort of breakdown last week, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
In my line of work I am used to being the person in charge, the person people run to when they want someone to make a decision. And normally I would be fine with that, but there is nothing normal about this. I don’t feel equipped to make those decisions. Both as a healthcare professional and as a leader I have never felt more out of my depth than I’ve felt these past couple of weeks.
Every time I had to make a decision, I second guessed myself. It felt like no matter what you do you were doing something wrong. In the space of half an hour you’d have someone complimenting you for a job well done and another telling you that what you’re doing is a complete waste of time and resources.
It got to the point where I thought to myself, I can’t do this anymore. I would rather be the one doing the work than the one calling the shots. It made me realise that we don’t fully appreciate how much of a toll all of this takes on leaders, be it hospital management or government officials.
Its so easy to whinge and point out the flaws in the plan. Its harder when you’re the person people expect to come up with the plan in the first place.
I finally made the choice last week to take a few days off in order to have a little R and R. I spent four days in my living room couch, with a mound of pillows and a wool blanket, creating what my sister called my little “nest”, and having an Agents of Shield marathon. There was an element of denial to what I was doing, focusing on other people and their fictional problems, but I make no apologies for the methods I employ to cope with stress.
And I make no apologies for the box of stuffed crust pepperoni pizza I consumed to make myself feel better.
I guess my point in all of this is to say that sometimes, its okay to be the guy in the movie who’s just doing what he can to survive. Its okay to pass the buck to someone else when you feel like you’re not coping anymore, to say ‘I’m way in over my head here, I don’t know what to do, and I need help.”
Not that I’m urging anyone to be selfish, and I’m not telling anyone to stop doing all they can to make a difference. But what I AM saying is that you don’t need to be a hero, you don’t need to be the person with all the answers ALL THE TIME. No one expects that of you, and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself.
The healthiest thing I did last week was to remind myself that its not all down to me. I need to focus on the things that I have control over and let go of the things that I don’t.
Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Its bad for your mental health. Leave the heroics to the fictional superheroes of the world. The rest of us just live here, doing what we can, and that’s perfectly fine too.