Year of the Nurse
A 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic Memoir
I came out of 2020 and early 2021 profoundly angry and forever changed.
I had (have?) PTSD and I’m still working on incorporating the old me with the new — the woman who thought she knew where she belonged in the world, and what the world thought about her, versus the new me who’s picking up the pieces now.
Year of the Nurse is my effort to get back to ground-zero again, a book both my therapist and my friends suggested I write, collated out of my journals, emails, tweets, and thoughts from last year, in an effort to acknowledge what I — and millions of other nurses — went through, to try to find some peace and rest.
Year of the Nurse is available now in all your favorite bookstores.
Below is an excerpt of Year of the Nurse, from December 4, 2020, when the holidays as a Covid nurse were on the horizon, and everyone in healthcare was well aware so many people were going to die.
Please note that I was a liar then; I definitely needed therapy, and I am still in it now.
It’s been a hard day to concentrate, really. I can feel the wheels falling off again inside my head, re: work and covid and people online and in the world still being maskless, anti-vax dumbasses.
Because I don’t know that I’m strong enough to do all this again for a second time. It hurts so bad and it breaks my brain. I’m so angry one minute and then so indescribably sad the next—it’s like my thoughts are treading water endlessly, with nothing ever to let them rest.
Some things are still good—my health, my husband, our relationship—but watching the upcoming unending wave of darkness, this tsunami on the horizon, just overwhelms any particular personal brightness.
And there’s not even a point in trying to escape it because it just is. It’s everywhere, and it’s not going to go away, and it’s going to take months and months. And people (who I am related to, even!) are still so terribly fucking, fucking dumb.
It’s really hard to have empathy for everyone, and to some degree I don’t want to anymore. I just want to hog it all for myself and people who listen. Being a good person fucking sucks (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). It sucks even when you’re getting paid to do it. Maybe more, because you legit have buy in.
I’ve spent my whole life thinking about myself in one way—and then this year I had to walk through a tar pit, and I feel like it almost got me—and it took me months to put myself back together into this current version of me. New Cassie, Now with Dents!
And so just knowing more tar is coming, more endless stupidity, more dealing with the fallout of people’s bad decisions, listening to people weep on facetime because they killed their grandma, having made decisions THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO MAKE because they were let down governmentally, systematically, educationally, by their churches, etc., is heartbreaking.
I don’t know how I can do my job without feeling things, because that’s not good for my brain—I can compartmentalize like a fucking mofo, but I know doing too much of that leads to disassociation, which is also very not good, because then I feel so distant from the world.
I always lowkey do that anyhow, but this just makes it so much worse. Between people not believing things on the internet, and just in general—I had this happen when I was a burn nurse. No one wanted to know what my job was, really, because it was gross and frightening. It was just my burden to bear, solo, and I got used to it.
But at the same time—I never had to see anyone wander around outdoors with lit matches, you know?
I was OK holding things in back then, when it was just a pact between me and the patients and my coworkers. But now that I see people wander around in society, trying to, looking to, going to get, burned (metaphorically) by this—it’s really fucking hard.
(And in my darker moments, it makes me want to grab their faces and curb them against the pavement, which is not a very nursely thought at all. I don’t enjoy being a violent person on the inside. I’m so angry, y’all. There’s so much rage in me. I want to quench it, but to be honest I don’t know if it’s safe to do that. What if that’s the only thing holding me together, keeping me putting one foot after the next, just sheer fucking spite?)
Anyhow. I’m trying to stay connected right now, really. I know the drill: people, gardening, exercise.
But this is just a lot, on all fronts. It just is.
My husband keeps telling me to go to therapy, but here’s the thing about that—I never once needed therapy as a burn nurse, for being a burn nurse, because I had that shit on lock. For being a morbidly depressed author? Oh yes. But never work related, heh.
If I hadn’t, though—what would’ve been my ethical responsibility there? Because I can close my eyes and conjure up shit that would make you puke on your shoes. If I couldn’t have hacked that, if I needed to share that with someone else—what civilian could I have ever expected to help?
It wouldn’t have been ethical of me to give that shit to someone else’s brain.
And that’s how I feel about covid now, too.
It’d be different if I saw a therapist who lived on Mars, I guess, who wouldn’t also be participating in this society. But, obviously by default, any current therapist would—and I don’t know what they’re going through. I don’t want to spew shit out at someone who may very well have lost, or be going to lose a relative, and scarring them too.
That’s not right.
I don’t even know what I’d say to them anyways.
“Hi, yes, I’ve been epically betrayed by my country in general and my relatives in particular and there’s Not Anything I Can Do.”
“Yes, I think I have PTSD. No, I manage it pretty well casually, thanks.”
What would even be the point?
All this shit is situational, and realizing that is the only leverage on my brain that I’ve got—and I don’t need a therapist to tell me that.
I just have to tough it through, again. Despite the fact that round one almost broke me. Getting the vaccine will help. Watching people die who didn’t have to, well….
I hope I like the new version of me, the one I’ll get to be on the other side of all this. She’s going to be tougher and more distant and more weird and have an even harder time being present, and people are going to talk to her in the future and be all, “Wow, that must have been so hard for you” and she’ll get to smile tightly at them and say, “Why, yes, yes it was,” because that’s what people who move in polite societies do.
Eh, it’ll all fit in a box again someday.
Just have to keep getting bigger boxes to shove things in, is all.
And make sure I don’t fall in myself.