Invest in your own well-being on a French retreat

Investing in your own well-being while being a nurse can often be a stuggle, but all you need is a space to think

Investing in your own well-being while being a nurse can often be a stuggle, but as Sue Lennon discovered, all you need is a space to think – in her case, an idyllic French getaway

The retreat in Nantilly

Nearly two years ago, I took the scary step of handing in my notice as a Macmillan nurse specialist and emigrating to live in the French countryside. I’d been in nursing for 30 years and achieved my goal to become a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) in 2002, specialising in urology oncology.

I embraced all the opportunities to learn, study and develop my service, but by year seven I was exhausted and ill. As the only CNS in my department, I’d been drowning in work for some time. I’d delegated what I could, but keeping up with the ever-increasing number of patients, striving to maintain a top-notch and progressive service to be the ‘ultimate’ Macmillan nurse took its toll. 

Asking for help is often a daunting experience

I accept responsibility for this. I wanted to live up to the role that I felt so honoured to have. I did ask for help, but I didn’t ask loud enough – because in some way, in my head, needing help was a sign of ‘not being able to cope’. My CNS colleagues seemed to be coping, so why couldn’t I? On reflection, what I needed was some coaching, someone to challenge my flawed thinking – but what I got was three months of being off sick with depression.

On my return to work, we sourced Macmillan funding for a co-worker. Together we rationalised the service and shared workloads – I had time for service development and to be innovative. My whole life was transformed, and it was good. 

Then in 2013/2014, we had a series of family deaths and I experienced personal grief and significant distress.

‘I'm a Macmillan nurse, I should know how to do this’, I thought. But the effort of maintaining a smile at work while feeling so sad, as well as having to break bad news to patients and their relatives while soaking up the distress of others was too hard. All these challenges were in addition to coping with the imposed NHS changes and the negative media reporting. I read the signs; I did not want to be ill again, so I took a sabbatical and in May 2015, with my husband – a professional artist – I went to spend a long summer in France in our little holiday home, to find ‘me’. 

'I set about realising my vision of helping nurses to ‘self-care’ and to keep my colleagues well'

It occurred to me one day while daydreaming in the garden, how wonderful it would be to share our space and experience to provide a simple retreat for nurses. I wanted to offer an affordable place of respite to those at risk of ‘burn out’ or who need a little time to stop, reflect and take a break. 

The idea grew and so did our home. We decided to make this a permanent move, expanded the property and have recently completed renovations. I set about realising my vision of helping nurses to ‘self-care’ and to keep my colleagues well. We now have a lovely chambre d’hote (bed and breakfast) specifically offering a five-day break at a discounted rate for nursing staff. There is nothing super fancy about our 150-year-old farmhouse; no spa or pool, but it has peace in abundance.

Well-being reward

I am not suggesting other nurses should leave the profession for an alternative future. I was very proud to be a Macmillan nurse and ambassador, and it was strange leaving behind the service, patients, colleagues and the NHS way of life, but for me the reward was my well-being and the opportunity to invest in the self-care of others. We all need a personal challenge occasionally – I challenge you to care for yourselves. 

Please invest in your own well-being so you can carry on caring for others, including your loved ones who so often miss the real ‘you’.

Sue’s retreat for nurses

About the author

Sue Lennon is a former UK-based nurse who now lives in France and works as an educator, therapist, coach and proprietor of

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