Episode 3 | Kara Acheson
Care2Listen Podcast | Season 1 Episode 3
Kara Acheson is a healthcare practitioner. During this episode, Sean and Kara discuss how Kara’s years in healthcare have transformed her – both in her career and personal life.
Sean Burke: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Care2Listen podcast, where we interview frontline workers and healthcare experts who will share their stories and passions. This is a podcast to let you know that you’re not alone. The goal of this series is to reduce the mental health stigma in healthcare and provide accessible support for caregivers just like yourself.
This episode is brought to you by the Care for Caregiver’s peer support line, Care to Speak. Care to Speak is a peer-based phone, text, and web chat service that provides free and confidential support to health and social support workers in BC. Connect with us Monday to Friday from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM Pacific time by texting or calling 1-866-802-7337 or visit our website by Googling Care to Speak to chat with us.
This podcast discusses topics that may be triggering for some viewers. Please read the show notes for a detailed description of the topics being discussed. [00:01:00] Today’s episode is being broadcasted to you on the unceded and traditional territories of the Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm), Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw), and Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ) Nations.
Joining us today on another episode of the Care2Listen podcast is Kara Acheson, a healthcare practitioner.Thanks for joining us, Kara.
Kara Acheson: Thanks for having me.
Sean Burke: So you are somebody who comes with a lot of experience in the healthcare industry. You’ve seen and gone through many different roles and come with a lot of lived experience. So today we’re gonna touch on a little bit about that, talk about how that’s transformed you both in your career, but also in your personal life. So maybe just to get started, can you share a little bit about yourself?
Kara Acheson: A little bit about me. I wear lots of different hats. I’ve worked in healthcare for over a decade. I actually got my 15 year pin just a couple weeks ago, which was a bit shocking.
Sean Burke: Congratulations.
Kara Acheson: Thanks. I guess I showed up every day. So they’re like “here, you’ve been here for 15 years.” So that’s my professional [00:02:00] career. I do have a family. I have two little ones, I have a spouse. I’ve worked in a couple different roles in healthcare and I just transitioned into a new role two weeks ago.
Sean Burke: What’s it been like over the last couple weeks transitioning into this new role for you?
Kara Acheson: I’m nervous to fail. I guess you’re always worried that you’re not necessarily good enough or that you might not succeed, or likewise, is this actually what I want to do? Because it’s something new. It’s exciting. It’s bringing more hopefully meaning and a bit of a different knowledge test for me at work, and then I can make some different connections.
Sean Burke: Even just hearing you talk about it, having that safe place to talk about those emotions and feelings is obviously something that we’re trying to do here with the Care2Listen podcast. So Kara, you’re somebody who has been in the healthcare industry for a while now. Would you be able to share a little bit about what that means to you and [00:03:00] how these ideas of ensuring that people have safe places to build a mental wellness practice, how is that ultimately important and why is that important to you?
Kara Acheson: It’s interesting cause you go through school and you are set free and you get to care for patients and clients and all these different type of people. and you’re so excited. And then the wear and the tear and the stress of the everyday starts to add up. And I didn’t learn that in school necessarily how to take care of yourself. It was, put your patients first. They come first. They come first, and then you go home. And then you have to do all your home responsibilities if you’re a parent or a spouse, or family, all that kind of stuff.
It almost feels like you don’t have a moment of rest until, for me personally, when I’d be lying in bed and my brain would kick on and my body is exhausted and then you wake up and do that again the next day and day after day and year after year, that really, [00:04:00] started to add up, which I thought was really interesting cuz I found myself in public health and that’s all about the prevention and promotion of health and I’m doing that for my patients, yes I don’t seem to have that quite figured out for myself.
Sean Burke: And was there a specific moment or a specific incident that really sort of helped give that recognition for you, when it came to some of the challenges that you were going through?
Kara Acheson: There’s one moment that really sticks out in my mind. But it was a slow buildup, so it was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back, I guess, if you wanna say that. I was at my desk and I had a superior come and he asked something of me, nothing. There was nothing ill in what he was saying. It was just another thing being asked of me that day. And It just was overcome with emotion and I wanted to cry and I’m not a crier.
I usually push those [00:05:00] feelings down and aside and that was my coping strategy up until that point. And when I was done having a conversation with him, I ran to the bathroom and that was the third time I was in the bathroom stall crying that day, and I came to the conclusion like, I can’t do this, this isn’t normal.
Sean Burke: So when you were going through that experience, what was the aftermath? What followed being in the bathroom stall and recognizing that, you know, you weren’t in a good place?
Kara Acheson: I had done a bit of prep. I had reached out to some of my healthcare providers and I had a note that allowed me to take a stress leave from work. And I knew I had to use that. I knew I had to connect with my boss. I secretly knew that I probably wasn’t coming back and I don’t know if he knew that I wasn’t coming back, but.
Sean Burke: Well, and so many times when we speak with healthcare workers, we hear the stories of suppress, suppress, not acknowledge those feelings or [00:06:00] emotions that are coming up and have it manifest into something that is obviously insurmountable and something like this experience happens. Could you talk a little bit about what was holding you back from having that conversation, prior to going into the bathroom?
Kara Acheson: There’s a lot of denial. My way of dealing with my emotions was to avoid them. So all those uncomfortable emotions I would, you know, put in a nice pretty little bucket and push them aside and continue on.
I think that’s something that’s not unique to me, working in healthcare. I’m totally taken back to when I was fairly new and I was on a break and I came back from a break. It was a night shift, so I was already half out of it trying to get through the 12 hours. And one of my patients had passed away and I was like, whoa.
But they were just, and the nurse I was with was like, [00:07:00] “Let’s go. Let’s do what we need to do.” And it’s that you have to literally take what you’re feeling and put it aside, to deal with it later, maybe, but you have to put it aside because you have to get done what you have to get done. And especially, I had been doing that all my career and I did that in my personal life too.
So it wasn’t something unique to just my job. That’s, if something’s uncomfortable, we don’t talk about it. We just push it aside and deal with it. We’ll, hopefully it just goes away
Sean Burke: Sitting here, I’m really grateful that you’re willing to share your story and to actually be able to help somebody else and to provide them with that level of hope so that maybe they don’t need to get to that stage.
So I’m curious from your perspective, why now? Why are you telling this story? Why are you sharing?
Kara Acheson: It’s still second nature to me, to steer away from those uncomfortable feelings. But I’m really trying not to. I have two kids and I [00:08:00] want them to have some better coping than what I have. So when you see them struggling with their own emotions, And that triggers like, just push that down.
I’m like, no, that hasn’t necessarily served me well. Trying to push my own comfort, I guess, to help not only my kids, but I can see it in my colleagues.
Sean Burke: Let’s talk a little bit about the workplace culture. When did you feel supported when you were in that scenario? Were there such high expectations that added to the level of stress?
What was that experience like for you leading up to your specific situation?
Kara Acheson: Workplace culture plays a huge role into, I wanna say, how successful you are at work. And it’s not necessarily successful money or prestige or job title, but from a wellbeing and a happiness and a contentness.
[00:09:00] So I’ve definitely sought to improve my workplace. Either the people around me, so removing myself from that like I did, or being very cautious on where I go and where I seek employment. Hindsight: Yeah, there’s lots of support. I reached out to my family physician. I reached out to my naturopath.
I had already been connected with a counselor previous for postpartum depression, and I was considering reaching out to them. The tricky piece was, to see any of those people, you have to either take time away from work or you have to take time away from your family life. And I didn’t necessarily feel like I had the time to take that away from work because then I would have just more work to do when I went back.
Sean Burke: What were some of the considerations that you had to take in terms of taking that time off for yourself?
Kara Acheson: I’ve prided myself and I’m a hard [00:10:00] worker and I can always get done what I need to have done, and I’ll show up and what you need of me I can do. Um, so taking a step back from that was really calculated because it was nothing I had done before, but I knew I couldn’t help myself if I stayed there and I knew that if I kept staying there, my health was gonna be jeopardized and I would be forced to take a step back, not only from my career but then from my personal life. And that really terrified me to know I would be forced to take time away. We’re a dual income household, so my income’s needed, so it wasn’t an option of not working and not having an income, cause then we would have to make big life decisions that way. So it was, what can I do to not lose all the years and seniority that I have with this company? What are my options that [00:11:00] are available to me in taking a sick leave was the most feasible and accessible because I could start it today sort of thing.
So while I was on my leave, I interviewed and accepted another temporary position, but that was also terrifying too cause it was a lateral move. So I was doing the same work just with a different, department, and the department was 10 feet away from my old department. So I could literally see them and I could hear them.
And I left on a Friday, I just pulled the shoot and left, just my manager knew. So I had no clue what was shared with my old team about why I left and then to see me 10 feet away. So that was really nerve-wracking and I actually, I still have it in my phone. I had to make a note about why I left so that I could keep reminding myself like, I did this for a reason. I needed to do this, and it has nothing to do with my [00:12:00] worth or my ability as a healthcare professional. In fact, if I do this, I’ll be a better employee and colleague, and I had to read that and I had to remind myself of that.
Sean Burke: So what was it like, you know, in terms of the stigma that existed in the workplace? Like how do you see stigma showing up for healthcare workers?
Kara Acheson: It can be subtle. I alluded to that whole earlier in my career, having a patient pass away on a break and coming back and then having to continue on my shift and deal with that. To me that’s it right there. Hurry up. Keep going. And it’s almost if you hesitate or stutter step and be like, whoa, that they’re gonna look at you almost like you have two heads. To be like, what this is, this is it? Like this is what you signed up for. Come on, let’s go. So that I’ve struggled with, [00:13:00] I have a quieter voice. I’m an introvert. It’s hard to share the emotions and the feelings that I’m having. So being in a situation where it’s, come on, let’s go, hurry up, let’s go, it’s hard to know what just happened and to process that. And when you finally are processing it, and you can’t put words into it, then it’s really hard to share that with your colleagues, or likewise. “Well, why are you suddenly getting to slow down and feel those and share those emotions? Come on, we gotta go.”
So, I mean, I’m guilty of it too, and that’s something that’s really changed for me is taking that time to make those connections to simply asking, “how are you?”
Sean Burke: Do you feel like the industry itself needs to provide more spaces, more opportunities for people to express [00:14:00] their feelings and their emotions and get the support?
Kara Acheson: It’s so hard because the business of healthcare is to put the patients first and to make sure the patients have the best care that they can have. And I think that almost puts those working in there. It’s almost, not robotic, but you almost forget that if they’re not healthy and in a good health space and you know, and their optimum health, then the patients are actually gonna suffer.
So as long as the patients are doing good, then wonderful. And then you talk about, oh, short staff and all that stuff, and you’re like, well, why? Why is that? And I said, because the healthcare workers have finally had enough and they can’t cope and they can’t keep showing up.
Sean Burke: This podcast is really meant to be that space where we can provide a platform for you to tell your story and to be a place for [00:15:00] hope for others that may be suffering in silence. Having had that initial conversation with you, that really stood out to me as to why you’re here, so we thank you for that. When it comes to your key message or your key takeaway that you hope somebody listening to this show might take, what would you say that is?
Kara Acheson: The thing that keeps going around in my mind is everyone deserves a life free from burnout. And that’s what I’m calling my experiences. Burnout is that chronic stress that just added up. added up, added up, and I couldn’t take any more of it. And you can successfully work in healthcare and not burn out, or you can prevent yourself from burning out. And if you are burnt out, you can feel like yourself again.
Sean Burke: Let’s talk about some of the strategies that you have in place now. What are you currently doing [00:16:00] to prevent yourself from burning out and supporting and honoring your own wellbeing?
Kara Acheson: Yeah. I am still working in healthcare, I’ve been kind of in non-traditional roles for the second half here of my career, kind of behind the scenes, which is really neat, to interact more with other healthcare professionals versus the patients.
So I’ve looked for work that aligns with not only my personal values, but also gives me a sense of fulfillment. Being in my work environment and kind of seeing what’s missing or challenging if I see that dysfunctional work environment, reaching out to my leadership and saying, Hey, Like, I’m gonna do all these things, which are part of my job position, but I’d also like to mentor new staff.
Um, I think in healthcare we’re forever teachers and educators, so I’ve job crafted my way into helping other people, I guess, reduce that stress and bring back that fulfillment [00:17:00] in their job. It’s interesting because I use my calendar a lot to book meetings obviously and other people book meetings in, and what I found is if I don’t protect my time in my calendar, I’ll be in meetings back to back to back to back, and I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom.
There’s always the saying, you know, why are your healthcare workers so miserable? It’s because they haven’t been to the bathroom during their whole 12 hour shift.
Sean Burke: Okay, that makes a lot of sense.
Kara Acheson: Holy cow. That’s so true. Because there’s always something that needs to get done or has to get done. Then what you need falls on the back burner, which is what happened to me.
So trying to push against that norm and saying, well, what do you need? Okay, well, you know, we have X hours or minutes of break. Schedule your breaks. So I’ll block my breaks and no, you don’t necessarily have to do that, but then other people aren’t gonna book your time in, which is kind of neat.
I’m working more [00:18:00] remotely so I don’t get to stumble upon people at the water cooler anymore. So purposely sending 15 minute meetings just to connect with them. Or if I’m hosting a meeting, I always joke, I’m like, yeah, here’s our agenda, but we also need to have a laugh if we want to.
Sean Burke: Yeah. That’s something that for sure we make sure that we create that space and container. The beginning of all of our meetings, we start with the check-in ask, the person how they’re feeling and typically, as you mentioned, if someone says, I’m fine, I’m good, or I’m tired, it’s kind of like, well, what’s underneath that? and really trying to support somebody and meet them where they’re at. So when we come back a little bit to the dynamics of the workplace, do you feel like there’s a need for teams to come together and support one another in, in different ways?
And where I’m trying to go with this is [00:19:00] oftentimes, as you’ve mentioned already, it’s this attitude of we gotta go, we gotta do, we gotta solve, we gotta get this problem done. There’s a million things; we’re understaffed, but what’s the consequences if we don’t pause and go to the bathroom or take that break?
What does that look like?
Kara Acheson: Well then, you don’t have enough staff that’ll show up the next day because eventually you’ll keep pushing and your body’s gonna push back and say no. I can remember when I was in school, my mom, I could see he was pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and overworking herself.
And she was forced to take a leave. She had cancer. And no one’s ever gonna say, well, you got cancer because you’re too stressed at work. But then when you look at why people get diseases and how that happens, stress and all these external. [00:20:00] things can impact, but it’s not necessarily this causes that.
So if you don’t recognize what’s going on in your body from a, “I’m tired”, “I’m overwhelmed”, “I don’t feel good today”, “I’m hungry”, “I need to pee.” Like just those simple things. If you ignore that and keep pushing, your body eventually is gonna say, “I tried to tell you. I started with a whisper and now I’m gonna yell it.”
Sean Burke: Let’s talk a little bit about incivility in the workplace. That culture of we’re all gonna go and hustle and get it done, and if somebody else is, is putting up their hand and saying, Hey, I need a break, what was that experience like for you? What was the fear of judgment around colleagues?
Kara Acheson: It’s interesting cuz you can go at 110% for so long and I’m totally great on cramming to meet a timeline. And when I [00:21:00] experienced this, we were trying to get a project for a deadline and then the deadline kept extending and I didn’t know when this hustle was gonna end.
My colleague and I had talked about how this was too much, but we were in it together and I said I would stay there as long as she stayed there. And if we both had to leave, we’d leave together. And I left. And she stayed for another six months. And I still have guilt about that, thinking that I’m struggling, we’re both drowning, our whole team’s drowning. How much worse off is it gonna be when I leave? That felt unbelievably selfish, but unbelievably the right and scariest thing to do because I wasn’t of help if I couldn’t be there from a [00:22:00] physical ailment either.
Sean Burke: Being a mother in the healthcare profession, and having all the additional demands and challenges that comes with, I’m curious, what was it like for you when you had your first child and what were some of the changes that you ultimately had to go through?
Kara Acheson: Oh, wow. Um, that rocked my world. I worked in a job where I supported pregnant and postpartum mothers.
So I knew, the best practices and all the things you’re supposed to do. And then there’s the reality of it’s not textbook. I felt really lonely, which, was hard because that was a time where all those uncomfortable emotions. Um, I couldn’t really share. I couldn’t name them necessarily in myself, so I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I just knew it was uncomfortable, so I just tried to move [00:23:00] on.
I ultimately had some complications medically after postpartum. And when those were taken care of, I realized that I wasn’t doing well emotionally. Um, and that all kind of cultivated to a big blow up between my husband and I. The interesting thing is I screen and support women with postpartum depression, So I knew the questions. I can still tell you the questions to this day, and I know how to answer them to show if you are depressed or to answer them to show that you’re not. So I was trying to trick myself that I was fine. Everything’s fine. I just need some time. I just need to sleep more
Everything will be better if I just sleep more. I found myself back at work after my maternity leave, and then I had to support moms with postpartum depression and decide I can’t do this. [00:24:00] and I had to reach out for some help at that time. Why is somebody gonna open up to me, a stranger on the phone calling and doing this questionnaire?
They can just lie, which is what I was doing to myself. I was, “no, no, everything’s fine. That’s not actually what it is.” And my coworker was saying, no, that’s exactly what I needed. And that was kind of that aha moment of if I can’t be truthful with myself, then I’m gonna be here and I can’t help those moms who need me.
Sean Burke: And was it the stigma again that was preventing you or why?
Kara Acheson: I’m gonna say no because it was pretty open in that environment. I could tell you of my colleagues that were open about postpartum depression, I’m like, I’m gonna be like that. And I wasn’t like that because I still had this belief that there were certain things I needed to do and be otherwise I [00:25:00] wasn’t successful or I had failed.
And having the knowledge I had and having the resources available to me and not reaching out. Now at that partum, I guess you would probably just call it depression, when it’s that far postpartum. That means now I had failed twice cuz I couldn’t fix it on my own. I’m really big on fixing things on my own and there’s some things I’ve come to learn that are just too big for me to fix on my own.
Sean Burke: So who did you go to and turn to to get that extra support?
Kara Acheson: So through my employer, we have a family assistance. And why I turned to them is because I could do it online, so I could fill out the questionnaire without having to admit verbally to somebody. Everything I was feeling. Um, and that felt good in the sense it felt safe that [00:26:00] I was taking a step in the direction I knew I had to take a step in, but not yet vomiting out all my scary emotions and feelings.
Sean Burke: You are somebody who had so much experience, and would do the screening, and here you were, suppressing those feelings and emotions, trying to power through. So what was it like in terms of when you did reach out and you did ask for that help? What was the outcome of that?
Kara Acheson: It was a lot because I had to not only take time off work. So I had to do that whole process, but then I also had to get childcare support. So I had to then be vulnerable with my family. Finally, when I was there to see the counselor for the hour or the half hour that I had, it was nice because I told myself that I am gonna succeed at this. I’m gonna give it my [00:27:00] all. I’ve never done this before. And here’s somebody who can help me. And if they can’t help me, then I will go to the next spot and try that. But I’ve made it this far that I know I need someone, I just don’t know whom. And I’m gonna start on door number one and see if you can help me. And if not, I’m gonna keep going.
Sean Burke: What a powerful journey and what a powerful story of seeing you go from that initial unknown into, you know, this is scary and I don’t know what the outcome is gonna be. But then to take that leap of faith and to actually get that support and then to have the outcome that you did.
What was the biggest learning then from it? Like how did you overcome that?
Kara Acheson: I would have to say it was the counseling. I can’t tell you exactly the techniques, but definitely, I went on to have a subsequent pregnancy and child after that, we had a big family [00:28:00] tragedy, um, right when I was newly pregnant and I knew I did not wanna have another postpartum experience like I had previous.
So I proactively went and saw the counselor and said, this is what’s happening. In our family, we had this tragic loss. I’m pregnant and I had postpartum last time, and I am terrified to have that same experience, which supports that whole prevention. There’s lots of resources available, you just have to know what they are and you have to get a bit uncomfortable and allow yourself to be, I guess, the patient sometimes.
I feel almost like I’ve talked and I have it all figured out, but I don’t and I keep trying things every day, so you need to have that good relationship with yourself so that you know if [00:29:00] something’s not right.
Sean Burke: Well, Kara, I can honestly say that this conversation today has been incredibly moving. I’ve learned so much. I know that our audience is sitting there and probably is equally as grateful for you being vulnerable for you sharing your story and opening up and the courage that it would take to do that.
So thank you very much for coming on the show today, for sharing your experience. I know that if anyone’s listening and you know you are looking for those supports, we’ll make sure to add them in the show notes below. Today is a great example of somebody who has experienced some challenges, has worked through it, and has learned a ton and can share that experience now with others so that they can be more proactive and take advantage of some of the supports that are available.
So thank you very much for being on the show today.
Kara Acheson: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank [00:30:00] you for having me.
Sean Burke: Thanks for listening to this episode. Be sure to visit the links in the show notes for more resources and supports for the Care for Caregivers program. If you’re interested in sharing your story on the Care2Listen podcast, please reach out to us at careforcaregivers.ca/podcast, and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite podcast platform to be notified of when new episodes are released.
Thanks again for joining us, and see you next month.