As I drove to work yesterday, I found myself singing out loud- silly little lines which I made up on the spot and sang with gusto in the privacy of my car. I looked at the blue sky and was grateful to be heading off to a job which pays me well. It felt good to be clear headed and relatively well rested and I realised that what I was feeling was not only gratitude, but happiness.
I felt happy. And it was lovely. My day continued and the nice feeling stayed with me. I did my job well and at the end of my shift the manager asked me if I’d be interested in picking up more shifts. I immediately felt a little uncomfortable, but I said ‘yes, I’d love to!’ and then muttered something about contacting her tomorrow to discuss which shifts I was available for on the next roster.
‘Oh, I’ll just book you in now, it’ll only take a minute or so’ she replied and five minutes later I left with 9 shifts booked. Anxiety sat in my stomach like a lump of unchewed bread .
The problem was this: I have been so unreliable and have called in sick or cancelled shifts at the last minute so often over the last couple of years, that my direct manager informed me at the beginning of this year that I could no longer book blocks of shifts. In fact, I was so untrustworthy, that I was told I could only book one shift at a time. And so I’ve toed the line, book a shift, turn up for that shift and book another for the following day. Over the last month I’ve managed to be able to book a couple of shifts in advance at a time, depending on who is doing the booking- one person in particular flat out refuses to do this. It’s annoying and kind of demoralising but it’s what I have to do.
But now, here I was, in a position where someone was going to, possibly in a matter of minutes, call my boss to book a stack of shifts and they were going to be told that they couldn’t book me, because I have been so unreliable in the past. So I rang my boss.
I explained what was happening, how ward X wanted me to work there in the future and that they had offered me multiple shifts over the coming month. I asked if I could move beyond simply booking one shift at a time.
The reluctance in her voice was palpable. She was willing to stretch it to a couple of shifts in the future, but no more. My last ‘sick day’ had been four weeks prior.
Four weeks. One lousy month.
In my mind, it’d been months since I’d last called in or cancelled. Months, not ONE month.
As soon as I got off the phone, I looked up that most recent sick day on the calendar in my phone, where I track when and how much I drink. There was nothing entered so I looked at the day before. I had drank the equivalent of a bottle of wine that night. The memory of waking the following morning at 5am and realising I was far too hungover and ill to go to work surfaced into my mind. I recalled calling in sick an hour before my shift started, using my special ‘sick’ voice to add strength to the lie coming out of my mouth.
I’d completely forgotten about that occasion. Probably because it was just one of so very many.
And so the gratitude and happiness I’d felt earlier in the day morphed into shame, disappointment in myself and the realisation that although 19 days is great, it’s not nearly enough time to repair the damage I’ve done to myself and my life over the last few years. I’ve earned a reputation of being a nurse who does a great job when she turns up. I’ve earned a reputation of being unreliable and to alter that is going to take time and continued hard work.
By the time I arrived home, the shame and disappointment had turned to sadness. Sadness for all of the time and opportunities I’ve wasted due to alcohol and depression, sadness for presenting to the world a small, diminished version of myself and sadness for thinking so poorly of myself and having such restricted coping mechanisms that I turned to alcohol again and again.
As I lay in bed later, snuggled up with my warm, soft children and my cat curled up in a contented ball at the foot of the bed, I felt gratitude once more. I had experienced and managed a spectrum of emotions throughout the day, some of them unpleasant and I was ok.