In honor of National Nurses Day, we wanted to highlight a story from one of our very own teachers, Jessica Wojcicki, who is a veteran and served in the Army as a combat nurse. Below is Jessica’s story — enjoy!
I’m originally from Decatur, Indiana where I decided I wanted to become a nurse when I was in high school after volunteering at our local nursing home with our school Campus Life group. I then felt led to join the Army while in college. I was a sophomore in college on 9/11 and I retain vivid yet broken up memories from that fateful morning. Some of my classmates, who were National Guard, had to immediately leave classes to go overseas for support operations. I felt like I should be doing something too. One of my friends, who was in the National Guard and in ROTC, told me, “You should join us in ROTC and take care of soldiers.” I enrolled in military science classes and started going on field exercises with the cadet battalion. Soon after I signed a contract committing to commission as an officer upon graduation. After graduation, I was sent to Heidelberg, Germany for my first assignment and deployed from there in 2007 with the 86th Combat Support Hospital.
I returned to Germany after deployment at the beginning of 2009 and had a difficult time adjusting back to life at home. I struggled to sleep, I frequently woke up in cold sweats and I paced my apartment a lot at night. At work, I easily lost my temper over little things and had several panic attacks. I really beat myself up mentally for not being able to return to “normal” after my deployment. I no longer felt like myself and I wasn’t performing to the best of my ability at work. I was directed to mental health by my supervisor, but I didn’t feel like I deserved to feel the way I did because I was never in direct combat; I just took care of the casualties. I began counseling and antidepressants that would become a part of my life for the duration of my career and beyond. I started running (marathons and midnight runs when I couldn’t sleep because my mind felt like it was spinning out of control) and focusing fully on moving forward in my career and completing graduate school. In 2015, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that stopped me in my tracks and left me unable to work, drive, or even care for myself at times. I felt like I hit a brick wall and that everything I ran from over the years finally caught up with me.
Despite these challenges, I can look back at my career and find high points in it. The greatest triumph of my military service was being able to leave the service and eventually feeling content that I’ve lived a noble life, seen a good portion of the world, and made lifelong friends spread all over the globe. I supported service members and their families during what were probably some of the most difficult days of their life; from the battlefield to the Surgical ICU at Walter Reed, to teaching yoga classes to those who were recovering as outpatients at WRMC.
My journey with yoga began in a Hatha yoga class that I took for credit in college in 2001 and continued throughout my military career. I always had a desire that would arise every now and then to complete a yoga teacher training. During my deployment, my battle buddy and I organized some group exercise classes at the gym on our Forward Operating Base. The yoga class on Sundays — which consisted of us playing a yoga video — was always one of the most popular days and one of my personal favorites. Looking back, I wish I was trained to teach yoga knowing now that there are so many pranayama and meditation practices I could’ve shared to the benefit of all during that time. When I found myself no longer able to carry out my duties in the hospital, I immediately thought about teaching yoga and meditation. I quickly dismissed it though, seeing the level of intensity of many of the yoga teacher trainings. I was also no longer able to go to the hot yoga classes and vinyasa flow classes that along with running helped to clear my mind during my last few years in the military.
I soon found The Mindfulness Center in Bethesda, Maryland — a yoga and wellness center that offered a number of gentle and restorative yoga and meditation classes that were perfect for what I considered to be my “broken” body and mind. I also found that Walter Reed offered yoga and meditation classes that were accessible to everyone. It was then that I began to realize that yoga is so much more than the physical asana practice and the innate healing potential that it can bring about in individuals on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level. As I recovered from intense medical treatment for my Multiple Sclerosis, I enrolled in the yoga teacher training at the Mindfulness Center and soon after discovered the Warriors at Ease community as well as iRest Yoga Nidra community in my search for trauma-sensitive yoga practices. I completed the Warriors at Ease Level 1 training and am currently in the iRest certification process. I’m also using my GI Bill for Health and Wellness Coach training and hope to continue on in nutrition and yoga therapy studies. As I continue my own healing process, I hope during my studies to be able to return to work and bring the practices of yoga and meditation into an integrative health setting. Specifically encouraging wellness and living a healthy life for veterans and individuals with chronic diseases is close to my heart.
I feel that God allowed these times of struggle and suffering in my life with some intention that I could better empathize and be present with others as they are going through their own trials.
There is such a high level of burnout in the medical field. The training is intense, the hours can be long and unforgiving, and the work can be physically and mentally draining. Health care providers spend so much of their time and energy caring for others that we often feel guilty taking time for ourselves. The stress, rotating shift work, long hours on our feet, and emotional strain build up in our bodies over the years.
We need to have some way to process and let go of these things or they will eventually catch up to us.
Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if we don’t care for ourselves, we can’t truly be there to care for others. Self-care is a service to our own self as well as those we serve.
If I were to recommend a couple of practices for nurses today, I think an ideal pre-shift practice (this could be day or night, depending on the shift) would include all over joint opening practices, incorporating some Qigong energy building practices, and use of some immune support and awakening citrus essential oils with an ending meditation to focus the mind before entering the work day. I picture a post-shift practice incorporating restorative postures to slow the mind while opening the hips, and relieving tension in the neck, shoulders, and lower back. I would end with a meditation practice to allow students to process the lingering physical tensions, thoughts, and emotions from the day. I love essential oils, so I would offer some calming oils such as lavender, frankincense, or Vetiver.
You can connect with Jessica through our Find a Teacher page.