A Depression & Identity Milestone: No Longer a Nurse

An identity milestone: the end of my career as a nurse - cartoon graphic of a nurse with a syringe

I mentioned in a recent weekend wrap-up that this was coming, and now it’s here. As of today, I’m officially no longer a nurse, which is a pretty massive identity milestone for me.

This isn’t an abrupt transition by any means. I’ve known this was coming for a while now, and I’ve already been through a shuffling of role identities. My nurse identity has been on the back burner for quite some time, and it’s been pretty clear since about mid-2020 that returning to work just wasn’t going to happen.

I resigned from my job a few weeks ago when my disability application was approved. The annual renewal date for my nursing license was at the end of February, so I didn’t renew that. I could have renewed it for another year, but that would have been about $500 US, which just isn’t worth it when the chances of me being able to work this year are extremely slim.

Because “nurse” is a restricted title, I can no longer use it. A few weeks ago, I started going through my profiles on various websites where I have a presence and changing “nurse” to “former nurse.” That was a bit weird.

I first started working as a nurse in 2004. It was a big part of my identity, and I really liked what I did. I started working on my master’s degree in 2012; there wasn’t any specific reason I was doing it, just that I wanted to learn more, do more. Then in 2016, I left my full-time job because the shitshow was damaging to my mental health, and it’s been downhill from there. After that, I only worked a couple of casual jobs, picking up shifts here and there. As my illness became more disabling, I worked less and less, until I stopped working entirely at the end of 2019.

That decline over time was one factor that helped me ease out of the nursing identity. Another factor was blogging. Building up a new and meaningful identity meant that there was something to take the place of the nursing identity as it rode off into the sunset. The meaningful part is important because the nursing identity was very meaningful. I was one of those rare people who really loved their line of work.

Earlier this year, I got rid of some of the material items I had that reminded me of a pre-depression and pre-disability life. My mental health community resource and contact info binder when I worked at a community mental health team. Study notes from university classes seem pretty irrelevant at this point. Items related to social activity, like entertaining people at my home. Things related to a style of travel and adventure that’s totally off my radar now.

It’s weird how you never know what might happen to change the course of your life. Hitting this kind of identity milestone, in this way, is not something I would have imagined. But life gives you a certain hand, and that’s what you’ve got to play with. And the past? That doesn’t live here anymore.

73 thoughts on “A Depression & Identity Milestone: No Longer a Nurse”

  1. A beautiful share as always Ashley Leia. I can totally relate to your last paragraph….we never know the hand that life will deal…”but that is what we get to play”. Well said!

  2. I’m glad you have a new identity.

    I’m wondering if I’ll ever be a librarian again, or if I could handle a library job without screwing it up… 🙁

  3. Lovely post. Memories are important but you are right, we can’t keep living in the past. Too many times I’ve wished things were different … it’s not with wasting time with ‘what if’s’ and maybes. Good luck ❤️

  4. I can really relate to this Ashley. Being a nurse since 1997 until I became physically disabled in 2011 and was medically retired 🙁 Becoming a blogger, writing about mental health and nursing gave me a new lease of life.

  5. Your knowledge and expertise stays with you for life and I’ll always look up to you as a nurse.

    A nursing instructor once told me that we need to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of others. Nursing really does takes a toll on our well-being and mental health.

  6. What a wonderful attitude! I was ‘forced’ to stop working at the end of 2010 (needed to do it, my husband required almost full time care) and it was far too busy afterward for me to consider the identity loss, but it happened. I congratulate you on achieving your Masters, that’s an important milestone/goal even without having a job to apply it to. Plus I hear that if you’re inclined and healthier in the future, you can more easily go back to work with that paper than those of us who never got even a bachelors in something. It’s a tough world regarding employment and employers. It’s totally different from when I left and I would never be able to fit in now. Congratulations too on your taking the step towards the next phase with grace and aplomb. I do hope you keep ‘dispensing’ your wonderful advice here even if you don’t have the title any longer.

  7. It can be so difficult to let go of something that’s been a part of your identity for so long. While you may not have your licence anymore, you still have all of the knowledge and experience gained from working as a nurse, and that’s something to be immensely proud of. Wishing you all the best in what you do next xx

  8. That’s a healthy attitude to have. I only worked in offices, doing what I do well but hardly something you would forge an identity from – working vs not working, okay I had a problem adjusting to that but I got over it LOL

  9. Top quality and healthy attitude Ashley, nicely done. You may not be a nurse anymore, but you have acquired an incredible knowledge which still helps you today enormously. The way you craft your posts, the way you write your books.

    Good post.

  10. Ashley, I am sorry that you have had to make this decision. From reading your work and interacting a bit I can see and hear the strength you possess. I experience your written work as highly informative and insightful. I expect that a new future is unfolding. I believe it is true that when one door closes another opens. My care is with you as you venture the possibilities ahead. 💗💗

  11. I am proud of your attitude about your transition. Mine has gone pretty similar. I stopped working in September of 2019. I bartended for two weeks at a local bar and then covid hit. I am in the beginnings of applying for disability. I am so grateful to have received unemployment and stimulus money. That all comes to an end soon which I why I started delivering but I hope to do that 20 hours a week. I just can’t work any more either plus my “profession” is no more. I still seek my new identity but I am in no rush.

  12. Well done Ashley for making the transition and good luck! Your compassion shines through your writing and I bet you were a great nurse – sad the good ones often get pushed out somehow. Your writing delivers care in a different way to many people 💞💞

  13. Ashley. i wholly admire your expression on how you are handling this change in your life. thank you so much for sharing. i wish you all the best.💜

  14. Great post. I’m glad that blogging has helped you transition. When I was younger, I was very intent on “being a journalist.” My first job out of college was as a newspaper reporter, and I hated it! It took me a while, though, to drop that professional identity.

    I agree with what someone else said. Just because you’re not working as a nurse anymore, you still have all that experience and knowledge that you’ve likely taken with you. Which is probably the reason you’re so good at the mental health blogging!

  15. Identity and life stage changes are always tricky and very reflective times. But thank you for sharing your story and helping to normalise that change is okay, as is taking care of your health before work. Good luck with this new chapter.

  16. Those bullies at your old workplace are a disgrace. I think you’re a wonderful blogger, so I’m glad you get a sense of meaning from it, because you’re definitely helping others.

  17. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a similar identity shift, or even if so, definitely not one that would be similarly important to me, but I think I can imagine how difficult and weird in a way that must be. I think though that, even if you can’t use the nurse title anymore as such or work as one, you still are a nurse since it’s been an important part of your life and that’s what you have been doing for years, it’s not like it all doesn’t exist anymore, after all, even though it’s in the past. Kind of like when you are a mother but your child dies, I think that doesn’t make you any less of a mother even though you don’t have a child anymore. I’m really glad that you have something like blogging that you can replace that identity with and also that it’s also another thing you like, I think it would be very important to have something instead in such situations.
    Hugs. 😊 😸

  18. Oh Ashley, I don’t know what to say. For what it’s worth, when I lost my job due to ongoing surgeries, I was a fucking mess. I still am. I’m technically self-employed earning peanuts and working my arse off for nothing, but the loss of a ‘proper’ job really hit me harder than I cared to admit.

    I know you’ve spoken quite some time ago with wondering what to do with regards to work. Even knowing the day may come it doesn’t make it much easier to deal with, and yet you hold such grace in your post. Your attitude is heartening and I love that last part about how the past doesn’t live here anymore. Being a nurse would have made up a big part of your identity, your routines, your life, for so many years. It’s a loss to grieve, but also a gigantic success and achievement to celebrate. It’s a new chapter (as the cliche goes) and I have no doubt you can handle anything that comes you way and that you can figure out the future one step at a time. I definitely think this a milestone to celebrate all the good you’ve given to the world and to others in your work as a nurse. xxxxx

  19. My wife stopped being a nurse after she developed fibromyalgia. It hit her hard, but she ultimately went back to school for social work and loves her current job. While it can be derailing to lose a part of what it felt like was “you”, you are not defined by your job. You are still you. And, from the little I know of you, you’re amazing. No degree or job, or lack thereof, will change that.

  20. I became a nurse in 2000. I consider my self a recovering nurse meaning I’m done being brainwashed or selling the propaganda put forth by private institutions and our government that this profession is about helping people because that’s a lie. One time maybe in the beginning but the over regulation, including licensure, has killed the quality of the patient care it so desperately wants you to believe is the central point around which all institutions and over government focus on. From using licensing as a means to control entry and force exit from profession to letting practice be dictate by those who don’t practice to a for profit system only concerned about making money I could write a novel on why this identity is a illusion and a mental Illness in and of itself. The education breeds poorly trained know-it-all dangerous practitioners with only concepts of “right vs wrong” and it refuses to change and subsequently more and more poorly trained nurses hit the floor and do not last. The sell a delusional euphoria of helping sick individuals but in reality you are talked down to, shamed into working sick or 70 hours a week and the high level of care the worse the staff gets. I know as all my 20 years were in intensive care environments. I spent 11 years in one facility then the last 9 traveling to 20 different facilities so this is my opinion, but it’s an educatied one. I careful thought about it all before I walked away. Maybe it’s because of how you stopped practicing that upsets you so but don’t romanticize it into the ideal or the occasional great experience. It’s a profession that is dysfunctional on many levels and in desperate need of overhaul.

    1. I’m sorry you’ve had such negative experiences, but that doesn’t translate into you being in a position to speak to my identity or my career.

      1. I just shared a story. I’m not what you took issue with that you thought it was about you or it wasn’t enough about you? If you want to be a martyr or have a pity party? That’s on you as is e whatever your issue is with the comment. Thank you for reminding me why I don’t waste time commenting it’s pretty common in social media people only want to post something for the purpose of attention. If a comment is all about you it should never of been made 🤣🤮🙄

  21. Nursing’s loss is the blogging world’s gain. The world (including me) has really benefitted from your writing, thank you. You’ve been a big help and support to me – I appreciate it.

    You’ve got a really positive attitude here, I admire it. And I’m glad you’ve been able to transition gradually – it hasn’t all come as a sudden shock.

    My memory sucks so I’d forgotten about your workplace bullying. I’m sorry you went through that. Do you feel you’ve fully healed from that experience, or is there still work to do?

    If I can be even nosier – to what extent is your illness related to the bullying, do you think? I’m sorry if you’ve answered this elsewhere. And I hope it’s OK for me to be curious. Feel free to say if you’d rather not disclose those details.

  22. Johnzelle Anderson

    You’re definitely doing great work through blogging. Definitely a reminder not to take any component of our identity for granted

  23. Hi Ashleyleia,

    I am happy for your decision.
    I’m sure you did contribute a lot to your past workplace with your passion and dedication as seen from how you eventually decided to pursue your Master’s degree. I believe that your current transition is very much needed and it comes at the right time. As we all believe, our identity will keep growing. I am glad and totally agree that you have developed a strong blogger’s identity here. So far, I have enjoyed and learned a lot from reading your posts.

    Much love🧡

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