I was recently discussing a program with a colleague who is creating a breakthrough course for nurse innovators. Talking with her reminds me of all the work I have done in this field and inspires my own sense of creativity and inspiration. It’s akin to how it felt when I made a conscious decision to expand my horizons years ago when I met some wonderful people with the International Nurse Coach Association. At that time, it was a welcome reprieve to meet a unique tribe of people that in many ways had qualities that I identified with in myself, if only I took a chance to explore, refine, and recognize them.

These women had honed their talent with years of disciplined practice and advanced education in nursing and holistic healing arts. Acquainting with professionals of this caliber revealed to me that in the field of nursing, there was a solid progression of a body of work over the course of generations. Their discipline showed me that the cultivation of individual and combined influence, along with play and curiosity was a viable initiation for a solid and creative skillset. This is so different from what I had experienced as a young professional in the corporate world and in healthcare.

I was a member of the 5th cohort of the International Nurse Coach Association, and went on to board certification and the Advanced International Nurse Coach Association. I was ecstatic to use my business networking skills to land some key speaking gigs and eventually put out my first book, along with my first set of interviews from influencers and designers of this important body of work.

It wasn’t long after my book was published, that I had an inquiry from an eager, young nurse. Seemingly synchronistic, I had been listening to a YouTube speech by Dr. Gabor Mate on my back deck the night before, when she contacted me by phone referencing her interest in Dr. Mate’s work, as well as my book.

At the time of her initial outreach, I was a provider of Nurse Coaching services at a local psychiatric office, and she related a dream of a nursing off-shoot of this. In fact, all of what she related was a synthesis of my current clinical activities. On one hand I was flattered by her interest, and on the other hand a little floored by the coincidence. Then again, I had been experiencing a lot of fortunate comings-together. It seemed a little odd, but a welcome exchange since she was motivated to team up, and her ideas were so similar to my own. I was burdened with shouldering a great deal on the development when it came to an influx of ideas; and her energy was unique and refreshing - albeit a little frenetic and confusing at first.

It was through repeated “coincidences”, that over time I began to recognize significant changes in my personal and professional life. At first, there was no clear identification of where, who, or why I was experiencing a “turn of luck” or “negative manifestation” as some might refer to it in the new-age world.

I was having trouble gaining support or even establishing community in any network that was significant to me locally, professionally, and online. I was no stranger to hardship, and while I enjoyed the temporary ease of my contributions thus far, I never expected the path would continue to be that easy. Especially in the 2013/ 2014 market. There was a need for some priming. There was a great sense of freedom that I enjoyed by being able to forge my own path for what I had every indication to believe was a path of service and fulfilling work - setbacks and all. But it began to seem that conflict was following me wherever I went. Fortunate events were starting to turn into unfortunate events.

There was a method to the madness. Certain tactics with aesthetic appeal, attaching to my interests and values, hiding behind online personas, infiltrating online groups, hacking my website, circling my house, stealing data from my computer, and what was most disturbing was how well my data was put together to develop bots and false personas. I was living in the twilight zone. I would put feelers out about what I was experiencing, hoping that somebody would come forward with some kind of information. The information came in spurts, over time. Through it all, my mental and emotional wellbeing were rapidly deteriorating. I was under watchful eye. People would behave as if they had known me forever after only a few days. One man walked up beside me in the gas station and just stood around me without purchasing anything, making sure to mention that he knew which car was mine in the parking lot.

I sensed pretty early on in fact, when I moved to Lawrence with my husband and kids, that we were being watched, but I also knew that Lawrence was very much a big - little - town. I had grown up here and moved back when my daughters were in their formative years so that they would have more exposure to activities, culture, and arts. I was working in Kansas City at the time, and preferred to conduct my professional activities to the KC demographic as was suggested by my consultation with the local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t until I was approached by a psychiatrist that offered a local arrangement - that nixing the commute and going headlong into my practice in Lawrence seemed that it may be worthwhile.

I literally went from a healthy, professional woman who had laid a humble, albeit, solid foundation for my own future to being reduced to sheer survival mode as my support systems were manipulated. In psychiatric nursing terms, I am validating my experience. I have to account for the lost time and lost progress. Yes indeed it happened, and I DID NOT deserve it. In the beginning, my husband and I had invested in my website, travel, training, marketing...and all the other initial start-up costs of a business. There seemed to be a world of opportunity in front of me. As time has passed, I have claimed a space to heal, and I begin to bear witness to my own immense suffering. Now I am beginning to see that others see it too, that some of my cries were heard and that it is necessary to begin to open up in the interest of closing this horrific chapter of my life. I now understand what I was dealing with - piracy.

In many ways, I was drawn to the dark underbelly of what lies beneath when it comes to psychiatric nursing. I liken to the reality that my career path toward as a psychiatric nurse picked me more than I felt I picked it. That was how I came to be in nursing. Living in a small rural community, stable employment meant working in education or healthcare. Nursing was a natural draw for me. I had always taken notice of the unrecognized, or under-recognized people, places, and things. Sure I enjoy everyday pleasures and a positive frame of mind as much as the next person, I just have a willingness to recognize that shadow aspect on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it could be related to early teen trauma and my own recovery on an adolescent psych unit.

Everyday people see the damnedest things, as do healthcare professionals. I was trying to put out fires that I did not have the clarity, resources, or time to conquer - and it usually centered around networks or potential networks of support. The pattern was this: draw me in with some kind of offer, impose countless social demands and norms, and then wait to see if I would join the circus. I did not join the many circuses presented, and was turning my back on countless opportunities because I was unwilling to work with unreasonable demands and unclear requests. The circus carried on without me, dragging my dream with it.

Struggling to make sense of circumstances beyond my control, I knew better than to think it was just my imagination. I did myself that courtesy as I mustered through. I went to file a report at the police department of a few people I had noticed suspicious “catfishing” behavior from. Much to my surprise, I saw a woman there in hysterics making a statement about similar technological oddities. I told her that I couldn’t help but overhear that she was experiencing much of the same things I was experiencing when it came to online and offline harassment. In relating some experiences, I was stricken by how similar her “profile” was to me. She was a social worker in mental health, recently divorced, and felt “attacked” each time she had to go out of town to work or transport her children. I gave her my name to contact me if she ever wanted to discuss it. To my horror, she looked at my name and said “somebody already added you to my contacts list”. She walked away completely paranoid.

The other day I drove by a sign at a carwash that read “The vacuum is closed”, and I “humphed” to myself as I thought of the saying “nature abhors a vacuum”. It may seem strange to some that a nurse can advocate for a universal healthcare system while also supporting innovative entrepreneurial initiatives to cover gaps in care…or that a person can work in mental health every day and still feel alien to the identification that folks have to their disease process. Or, that people can responsibly manage their disease process without projecting it as an identity or a persona.

There are pockets in history where industry “booms” yield moments of instability for a power grab. The internet is the wild wild west for service industry developments. Data is extracted all of the time, from apps that track our menstrual cycles, online workout routines, moods…etc. There’s an app for everything. Privacy laws exist for a reason, but when the market is flooded with sensitive personal information - it is an uncontrollable data mine. Many of the services that we would like to have available to meet our day to day needs are accessed by way of media channels with 3rd party sources.

So what happens at the inception of a business model - when that “emotional capital” hasn’t been tapped yet. It becomes very personal. This was the inception point of the Nurse Coaching service-industry model. This was the online prototype. It didn’t exist yet in the open online market. And here is a bright, young intelligent woman who maintained a five-year-long relationship with me - just long enough to build up a competing industry and to then sell off private information that she had collaborated with me on. In the most personal way, she would reach out with new energy after I had encountered a setback (one that she and her crew had a hand in creating I’m sure). It seemed that she knew exactly when to contact me to extend empathy, kindness, or interest.

She began to get more demanding, and what began as a fun collaboration, turned more serious and pressurized and it seemed counterintuitive to the level of work that she said she was at. Meanwhile, my business was collapsing as my connections waned and confusion from the many conflicts that were being directed at me. I didn’t understand why she kept coming back around, but she was always friendly and always kind. Always full of compliments. She always had a compelling way to get back in. I felt isolated, confused and undervalued in every other respect, so I was suckered. She would woo me with songs or say that I was just the kind of person that she needed.

Her erratic behavior wasn’t the truth. I didn’t believe she had suffered from mental illness - although this was one of her stories - she seemed very textbook in her approach. It seemed that she had an understanding of psychology, but from a therapy model - not as a real-world psych nurse. Her energy was too focused and questions were very directed and angled. I began to suspect that she was the culprit of the conflict and theft of information and identity - but that seemed so unreal. It was as if she was an actress. She said, “Just think of me as your pimp...or a pimp for Nurse Coaches.” When she began to try to milk contract term agreements, that was the end for me. I graciously sent her a final email and didn’t even bother looking at her reply.

Creativity and innovation need space for safe incubation. There is a balance between open sharing and the generation of ideas, welcoming of healthy competition and cooperation, and ultimately producing offers that provide a viable and relevant product or service. Incubating gifts and talents was a luxury not afforded to me. Over the years the cornucopia of mental health awareness and disease-awareness has soared to the most provocative heights. Codependency, narcissism, bipolar, depression, suicide - pick your poison. Health and wellness practitioners compete to be the go-to guru, using emotive rhetoric to sell back an aesthetic to consumers in this speculative market.

This is what happens when an industry as personal as health sciences, healing arts, and mental health is turned into an industry “boom” with uncontrolled development. This was a concern of mine from the onset, especially when I have an appreciation for holism as a framework - not just a modality. I have had many private discussions with close colleagues in the Nurse Coaching community early on…the concern that health and healing…our own natural resource… would be packaged and resold back to the public.

The only thing I could do was put my head down and work as best I could to support my family as a nurse. Five years of my life had gone to this toxicity. Words cannot express how empty and derailing an experience like this is. It drove me to crave a slow suicide through heavy drinking for the last few years of it. I felt I had no home. I was completely alone. I couldn’t keep my children safe. All of my mental faculties and energies went into trying to gather evidence, put the pieces together, keep my family safe, and trying to find a place to heal. I moved 4 times in 2 years. I couldn’t build relationships. I couldn’t learn new skills. I trusted no one. There was no growth. It was an absolute anomaly of cruelty. I had strangers projecting all kinds of conflict toward me, expecting me to fix or repair situations that I had no involvement or interest in being a part of. I heard lectures about love and understanding, or how to set boundaries or warped projections of my own character. I lost most of the investment I had laid to set a foundation for my business, and then the lost time and money that should have been accrued by following my own business model that was stolen.

I’ve had no feelings to give to this for some years now. I became numb, and the alcohol also helped in that department. My concern was damage control. My concern was recouping my losses. I was astounded at how I would be the focal point of someone else’s business model - just cannot understand how someone is so dependent on someone’s loss for their own gain. I was not treated like a human being. I was treated like an animal. I did not want to be isolated. I was extremely lonely. The heartbreak and grief happened as it occurred. The anger came later.

A constructivist approach has been the most suitable for retracing this long-enduring trauma. The pain of these five years of my life was a totality - a complete world in and of itself. It consisted of online and offline forms that were intentionally elusive, confusing, and stagnant. This environment completely eclipsed any circumstances of my own difficult personal choices. This is an important distinction to make. It is something I consider in my work with others as well - that, of course our choices influence our environment, but the environment influences our choices too. Many times the candor that we approach others with to own their choices and take responsibility takes for granted that choice can be hard to come by. Quite simply, I was outnumbered. Better to just sit back and watch the unfolding of the shitstorm. I was backed into a corner in any community that could have been a support to me. Even within my own AA community, there are trolls.

I’ve got this to say: I have no interest in working with anyone that was involved in this ongoing conflict. It is a criminal lack of integrity to insert yourself into the hardworking and creative vision of others unless you are genuinely supporting their best interest. I am after peace in my life and building in my way with good people, healthy competition and healthy cooperation. I have freedom of movement, freedom to create and freedom to protect and nurture those that I care for. Such a waste of talent and time that those engaged in this conflict created. I am tired and I am pissed. I don’t even want to bother addressing any ONE of the many projections of my character that are out there. If folks want to throw shade and be deceptive - that is on them. These are people that take great pleasure and go to great lengths to harvest the emotional and creative drives of others. Truly disgusting.

I’m moved to think about how I have had to coach myself through this horror with the aid of my Higher Power and intuition. The process of creation has its season of a spark of passion, incubation, and birth. Past a certain point of incubation, some form of birth is inevitable. It has to come out, regardless of the toxins or poisons that infiltrate in its formation. I now know this infiltration was no accident. It is back to life for me. Fortunately, I have all the tools I need to reset my health. Talk about a penetrating virus. There must be some way to screen for these bottom-feeders.

This post is a much-needed step in my healing of this trauma. I continue to digest its lessons and move forward in my life. I will have more to say about creating safety in business down the road. Meanwhile, if you’ve been through anything similar, I’d be interested to hear your story.

Elise Foreman Carter, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach actively working as a Nurse Coach/consultant with her company Whole Life Nursing, LLC. Follow her on Facebook @EliseCoaching or LinkedIn at NurseCoachElise. Elise is passionate about values-based healthcare delivery, advocacy, and accessible healthcare in a new economy that puts human needs above profits. She is a mental health travel RN and a course author for HolisticNursingCE.com.

Check out Elise's courses here: Nursing Influence and Impact: Aligning with Purpose in a Values Based Healthcare Economy and COVID-19 Emergent Healthcare Stress Reduction for Nurses.

Some of Elise's other work includes:

  • Bachelors of Nursing, Pittsburg State University
  • Media Director, Awakening to Grace, Inc.
  • Alumni of the International Nurse Coach Association (INCA)
  • Author of Nurse Coach Implementation Guide: Your Crash Course to an Effective Values Conversation (2016)
  • Author of Nurse Coaching for Transformational Leadership (Course module for Kansas Nurse Leaders, 2015)

Elise is excited to work with nurses in business, mental health, and practice considerations. Email her at [email protected] to book a consultation and see how she can help you!