A Healthcare Worker’s Journey: Seeking Presence in the Midst of Chaos

A Healthcare Worker’s Journey: Seeking Presence in the Midst of Chaos

We were so honored when a customer and member of our community reached out to share her story as a nurse and her experience with Rasa. Here’s Rachel’s Story.

In reflecting on my seven years as a nurse, I’ve been thinking a lot about my evolving relationship to presence. I think that’s why many of us go into healthcare in the first place – for that privilege of being witness to those watershed moments in other people’s lives. There’s nothing quite like it.

For the majority of my experience in healthcare, I was a Neonatal ICU nurse. I saw new life come into the world as well as the medical miracle of supporting premature birth. I was there for important milestones, like a father’s first diaper change or a baby’s first bottle after months of using a feeding tube. I’ve also been present for an immense amount of grief, physical suffering, and loss of life. All these experiences have shaped who I am, and I’m so grateful for the patients and families I’ve interacted with.

In having such a high-stakes role, there’s a way in which presence becomes elusive. As a healthcare provider, you eventually start to learn what to look out for. You start to think five steps ahead at all times. You have to. When a patient is declining, it becomes your critical thinking versus the disease. Every subtle change in symptoms can be a potential for future catastrophe. The faster you can get out ahead of it, the better chance the patient has. Over time, ‘disaster-planning’ becomes a habitual way of thinking.

Like many healthcare providers, I struggled with bringing the stress of work home with me. I would worry about my patients on my days off. But it was more than that. Hyper-vigilance bled into my personal life, and I started to think five steps ahead in every situation. I was always on the lookout for disaster and hardly ever resting in the present moment.

My life started feeling less like a safe home and more like a game of whack-a-mole. As much as I loved the work I was doing, I knew I needed a break from inpatient nursing.

Along with stepping back from my career, this past year has rattled my nervous system in other ways. I suddenly lost my 4-year-old canine soulmate to lymphoma. I’ve also struggled with a slew of mysterious health symptoms.

I found that coffee worsened my symptoms, and I reluctantly admitted that I had to stop drinking it. I started researching caffeine-free alternatives, and found Rasa. As a decade-long caffeine addict, I thought I’d give it up kicking and screaming. But I actually found that I was happy to trade in the speedy feeling of coffee for the deeply-rooted calm energy of Rasa.

In this time of transition, Rasa feels so supportive of my shift back into a slower and more mindful approach to life. It is a balm for my soul and nervous system that is so deeply needed right now. Despite life’s uncertainty, I’m able to reach a level of calm that I didn’t know I had the potential for. Because of this, I’m more awake to the full spectrum of this wild, difficult, and beautiful human experience.

In this current era of COVID, my heart breaks for suffering patients and family members who are grieving the loss of loved ones. My thoughts are also with the frontline healthcare workers who are witnessing trauma and devastation that I can’t even imagine. To say that this year has been difficult for many is an understatement.

I’ve been thinking how we can hang onto a state of presence in the midst of such chaos, and I often come back to this quote by Mary Karr:

“There’s a space at the bottom of an exhale, a little hitch between taking in and letting out that’s a perfect zero you can go into. There’s a rest point between the heart muscle’s close and open—an instant of keenest living when you’re momentarily dead. You can rest there.”

While my pursuit of presence is ongoing and imperfect, I’ve found space in the smallest shift towards noticing. Noticing when my mind wants to disaster-plan. Noticing the not-so-insignificant choices of what I’m consuming, both physically and mentally. Noticing my visceral experience. Noticing this breath, right now, and then the next one.

In the simple act of paying attention, you can create that space for yourself – that refuge from chaos. You can rest there.

Rachel-Louise Taylor