Out of the night

May

When I punch in the code for the door, it feels as though I am literally punching the keypad. There’s a great deal of feeling being expressed on my exit from the building…none of it very positive.
The sad thing is, it was a good shift. Nobody died. Nobody hit me. I wasn’t overwhelmed and my workload wasn’t excessive.
But there’s a psychological stink these days, like dread and exhaustion have inhabited the walls. Maybe this place is haunted, not by ghosts of residents passed but by the negative emotions of the caregivers.

It’s hard to tell which is causing the other: are we exhausted because we dread coming to work or do we dread coming to work because we’re exhausted.
I don’t know. All I know is that I was content until I came in and now as I’m leaving I am numb. My mind is so full of echoes that I can’t hear my own voice; other people’s opinions and frustrations have filled me to the brim and I can’t find the line between what I feel and what everyone expects me to feel. Herd mentality? Peer pressure? Too many overworked aides with no relief in sight? The door clicks open and I walk out of the building. The outside air is cool, crisp. It stings my cheeks and finally my thoughts stop chasing themselves in circles and start to sort themselves out.
I was fine until shift change…if not fine, then at least coping. Then shift change happened and it seemed as though report had less to do with the residents and more to do with the situation. Did you hear so-and-so put in her notice? Well, this girl just walked out. Damn, you worked another double? How much more can we take? This place is a joke. Let me tell you girl. They don’t care.

I draw in a deep breath of the cold air and suddenly I feel like screaming in frustration…and it’s not the situation driving my agitation. It’s the gossip, the drama, the constant complaining. Isn’t it bad enough the I have to put up with the situation, the exhaustion, the dread without having it all shoved in my face every day? I’m told I am naive and gullible when I try to see “their” point of view. Every time I say “but”, I feel like I’m either going to be shouted down or glared into silence. Am I burying my head in the sand or am I resting my eyes when I don’t join the negativity train. Why, exactly, do I have to have a staring contest with the abyss?
Yes, I know things are bad–but I can’t help feeling like the constant repetition of the unfairness isn’t doing any good. There’s bringing awareness to an issue and then there’s fueling misery. It’s like some of the aides get off on working themselves and others into a state of resentment. And I haven’t got the energy to be both resentful and responsible. My poker face sucks: if I’m unhappy, I am utterly miserable and everyone knows it…everyone including my residents. And my residents deserve better than the worst version of me.
I can’t be flailing or flaccid. I won’t be. I hate reactionary people, so I’m going to have to be active in my own life.
Leave or stay. It’s not inaction or action, a choice or complacency.
I either choose to leave or choose to stay. But it’s an active choice either way. If I choose to leave, it can’t be because I’ve flown off the handle and walked out. If I stay, it can’t be because I’m paralyzed and afraid of change. I owe it to myself and my residents to do this the right way.
Exhaustion can curb many of our mental functions, it can impair judgment…all this is true and yet I do not have to surrender my willpower to it. I might be at the bottom of the ladder, but I am not helpless. I don’t have to be a victim of circumstance, bad though they are–I can still choose my way.
Leave or stay. Action, not a reaction to the grumbling of others. I don’t have to leave because other aides are and I don’t have to stay because other aides are.
My choice. What do I want to do? What is the right choice for me? Maybe the poem “Invictus” wasn’t just written for kings and presidents. Maybe CNAs can also claim a measure of their own destiny–or at least, claim the right to decide for themselves what they think and what they do with the circumstances and crap dealt us.
I arrive at my car and slowly open the door. I’m still bone-weary, but the heaviness of dread has lessened. Exhaustion I can deal with, I think. Maybe even exhaustion and the situation. But not dread. That stays here in the cold night air. It doesn’t come home with me.

I feel several ghosts lighter when I finally drive away.

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