Why I left the stability of an NHS post to volunteer in conservation
Change feels too big a word. For me, trying on a new career, a new way of living, has been incremental. It feels less risky that way. So starting in January 2020 I will be volunteering in a wildlife trust three days a week doing ‘practical conservation’. I found myself seeking out time in nature for my own wellbeing, as an antidote to the stressful work environment in the NHS. It dawned on me that perhaps it would be a much healthier choice (physically and mentally) to spend some of my working life outside.
Seeing families in crisis in grey community hospitals that feel far from a conducive environment to build hope feels counter to everything I understand about the human mind and it’s emotional life. Trying out a post supporting staff to avoid burnout and vicarious trauma forced me to confront my own stress levels. The problem is the whole system is stressed. Less people to do more work all the time, and the nature of those in ‘helping’ professions is to give and give with little thought for themselves. It takes a particular strength of character and self-belief to stick your head above the parapet and say ‘no I’m not willing to work this hard, it is no way to live’. When the potential cost is that families who are struggling wait longer for an appointment. But I started to feel I wasn’t practicing ethically. My job is to support families to be thoughtful about their situation, to reflect. I was talking to parents about how much they needed to be in a calm regulated place to respond to their distressed child, whilst feeling pulled in so many directions myself. I have at times questioned my own resilience because so many others are ‘keeping going’ in the face of it. But the ones I know well struggle to get sufficient support, or manageable caseloads.
I don’t blame my colleagues, or even my managers. I think they are all good people trying to do their best in an impossible situation. Since making the decision to take the leap out of a unwell system, I have been struck by how frequently colleagues have shared their envy of what I am doing. People feel trapped because of choices made long ago, or fear of starting again. And for me, it’s a ‘dipping my toe in’ to something else, to see how it really feels. Is the grass actually greener? Many of my peers have fantasy alternative careers, but I can’t think of any who have tried it out.
In order to pay my bills I will be practicing independently for a couple of days a week which also feels a big new change to take on, but I’m fortunate to have trained in something that gives me this opportunity. I hope to find balance, and figure out whether I want to leave Psychology altogether or find some way to combine the interests such as wellbeing in nature programmes. I worry about being able to pay the bills, losing my NHS benefits from working there for 13 years, but a bereavement this year helped me feel it was almost not a choice, it was an important turning point to take this risk. I have wondered about the impact of the ‘stuck’ feeling of Brexit, whether this has also influenced my need to take a leap and make a radical change. Even writing this feels part-cathartic, part-narcissistic. My hope is to hear from others and stimulate further connections, but I am also open to other observations and feedback. I feel excited about doing some new work and learning, and that feeling is something I haven’t felt for some time.