A study published in the National Institute of Health observed that about 1 in 5 nurses suffer from depression, about twice the average rate of the U.S. adult population. Long hours, short-staffing, difficult patients, and constantly being around sickness and stress seem to be contagious, and it takes a certain kind of quiet grace to swim through emotional environments in which others might drown. Unfortunately, the same strength that makes nurses so good at their jobs may prevent them from reaching out for help with depression, anxiety, and other stress-related disorders.
I won’t insult you by calling you weak. In fact, I think you’re among the strongest people we have. The way I see it: Nurses are like Diamonds.
They’re truly excellent people. I’ve never met a nurse I didn’t like, or at least respect. Each one was beautiful in their own way, and imbued with an extraordinary grace that only comes from doing time and paying dues.
The poetic thing about diamonds is that they start out made of ordinary stuff – dirt, even. It’s their exposure to intense pressure and heat that changes them into something beautiful. And nothing normal will crush them because they’ve experienced times and pressures that normal people wouldn’t ever have to expect. It’s what forged them.
Diamonds wear this toughness like a badge of courage. So they tend to keep taking on more and more to do. They become a shoulder to cry on for their loved ones. They appear to be calm when the world around them is lit up with panic and anxiety. They don’t ever say no, since all they’ve ever known is this pressure that’s built them, given them purpose and made them strong.
But the worst thing about being the strongest is that no one ever asks if you’re okay.
This mythological toughness comes at a cost. Diamonds don’t feel anything, because to feel is to become vulnerable. They’re so unique, that the people around them are awed and intimidated by their sheer presence and don’t ask them to hang out after work. They’re constantly busy and never allow themselves any time off to breathe.
This chaos is normal for the diamond, so it can work for a while. People might even be impressed with how long you can work and how much you can do. This isn’t because they’re doing better than you and being patronizing; it’s just that you make everything look so effortless that no one knows how hard you work when no one is looking.
You know what the tragic part about all this is? Diamonds are undeniably tough – the hardest mineral on the planet – but they’re brittle. It’s not the extraordinary that will break them, but something ugly and ordinary and totally unexpected, like the blow of a hammer.
I don’t know what you’re going through, and won’t even pretend. I just want you to know that you don’t have to be the diamond all the time.
How about – and this one’s a little strange, but bear with me – you try out being coffee instead? It’s appropriate at pretty much all times, always appreciated, and tastes good warm or cold. It takes the shape of the container that it’s in, and helps people feel less weary. It can be sweet and soothing, or exceedingly bitter and strong. It does lose its potency throughout the day, but that’s okay, because it’s always there fresh and ready to see you in the morning. As a wise person once said, and I’m paraphrasing here: Be coffee, my friend: formless, shapeless. Coffee can flow and it can crash.
The metaphor is getting corny but I’m just saying, try being more adaptable and see what it does for your perspective. Take time for yourself. The holidays are coming up, and you might still have to work or deal with the in-laws, but as hectic as it feels I invite you to go outside into nature and see for yourself how the world outside of work and home slows down around this time of year. Trees lose their leaves, animals rest, and there’s a cold stillness in the air that says, no matter how tough you think you or anyone else might be, nature will always be tougher. And it has the capacity to be so tough because it rests, recuperates, and takes time to grow so it can blossom again in the spring.
Just remember, no winter lasts forever – even the ice age melted, right?