“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Eleanor Brownn
Walk the dog. Dance and sing. Paint a painting. Meditate… Self care is one of those things we’re always being told we must do in order to maintain our mental/emotional/spiritual/physical selves. I’ve read many lists (and even compiled them myself) that ream off loads of really “happy place” things we should do to make our lives better and better.
It’s an intriguing theory and about as elusive as the Yeti.
What I’ve seen in the AIDS Industry and especially amongst people living with HIV who are working in the field is that we are very skilled at talking to others about the importance of self care, while we burn out like the last remnants of a candle.
I’m guilty of it. I promote self care and yet I put myself on a shelf because I’m not as important as other people. I’m the caregiver here. I’m the worker here – “clients” and “members” are allowed self care, but I will step all over my own needs and neglect my “self” in order to support others.
I’ve witnessed this in others as well. Lovely, tired people breaking their backs to organize, plan, implement and evaluate just about everything except their own mental health.
Truth be told, if we attended every event and meeting and community thingy that happened our personal lives would be reduced to a couple of hours of sleep and maybe a sandwich in between. Sometimes the only way we take time away from work is when we get sick – which isn’t much of a holiday. My doctor once suggested that I reduce my stress to where it was when I was 17 years old and carefree – that was funny but she was being serious.
We empty our “selves” to the point where we must leave the work, or perish as we persevere.
When I was an Executive Director of a small AIDS group and I was planning time off I would usually put it to the other staff people that unless someone dies or something blows up I didn’t want to know about it. That never stopped me from worrying about what I was missing – were they on top of it? Were things falling apart? How much catching up would I need to do when I got back? And so the self care time was wasted in thinking.
And yet there are those that have the whole “self care” paradigm fully grasped. I envy those people. Somehow they’ve found balance. Somehow they’ve reached a level of nirvana about which I can only dream. For many others self care is really self “preservation” – living day to day looking for income, food, shelter and on and on: relaxation is secondary to survival.
Then there’s self medication, which in its own twisted way is a form of self care. We may only be masking the symptoms of the needs we have and blotting out the feelings, but we’re doing what we have to in order to get through to the next day and the next level of care giving.
There are libraries of books on self-help, self-improvement and finding the balance we need in our lives. I’ve read a lot of them but have yet to figure out how to incorporate all those brilliant ideas. Perhaps one day I’ll have an “ah-hah” moment and it will all come together, until then, I’ll muddle my way through and look for the brief oases of peace and quiet that I can find.
Or maybe I’ll get a dog.