September is my favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest. The weather starts to change, and it’s the beginning of the new academic year. This time of year energizes me with memories of going back to school and the enthusiasm of new students. September is also the month I came home from my military deployment.
I deployed in a war zone always knowing I was not completely safe. I lived in a bubble. My life rotated around going to work, the gym and the chow hall (and an occasional trip to the market). I couldn’t go anywhere without my personal protection. I saw the same people every day, and contact with my family was by email and an occasional 30-minute phone call during which I never spoke about what was really going on, because it was hard to explain and I didn’t want them to worry.
Does any of this sound familiar to you and your current reality?
When you redeploy (come home) there is a period of reintegration. The world you come home to seems familiar, but so different. A mental health nurse practitioner told me it often takes a year before you start to feel normal. As this pandemic abates, what will our reintegration be like?
The trauma of this crisis, which we are all experiencing, is associated for some with burnout and compassion fatigue, but it also sets the stage for resilience, wellness and growth. Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is the process of positive change that can occur after a life crisis or trauma, including growth in personal strength, new possibilities, improved relationships, appreciation for life and spirituality.
While most PTG research focuses on those who experienced a trauma or cared for those experiencing trauma, I was interested in nurses who are both care providers and in harm’s way. A study of military nurses who deployed to a war zone found that they experienced PTG, with the greatest growth in “appreciation for life” and “personal strength.” These findings feel hopeful to me.
Many excellent resources are available to support our journey toward resilience and wellness. And, what about PTG? Richard G. Tedeschi, a leader in the science of PTG, suggests five steps to enhance growth: education, emotional regulation, disclosure, narrative development and service.
Narrative development — written in the aftermath of trauma to integrate the experience into one’s life — is not new, but for me it suggests a way to acknowledge our reality and move toward a hopeful future. The exercise is not an objective recording of your life – it’s your story and you get to write it.
While some chapters have already been written, I am hopeful about the chapters ahead. This is our moment to shape the narrative before new chapters are written. You may write alone, but the story is also about your group – your unit, your organization, your AACN chapter. Already, we are fortunate to experience the powerful narratives of our community through Your Stories, including the Dear World project and the AACN Nurse Stories Project in partnership with StoryCorps.
Last month I asked you to think about wise hope; balancing reality and a hopeful future, as you filled in this sentence: I will ______ because I hope _________________________.
“I will” is what being All In can mean for you and your group. This sentence captures your hopeful future and defines what you will do to drive toward it. As you consider this idea and what you’ve learned, think about what you want to keep and to what you say, “never again.” The narrative is yours to write, and it can become a part of your growth as we emerge from this pandemic.