Ok, so only a month and a half has elapsed this time. Getting better...
I am actually getting better since my last post about depression, and I am grateful to be able to report THAT news! I have been on a Lenten journey through my own wilderness, and I am pleased to say that it has been beneficial and life-giving. But my gradual road to improvement has given me pause to reflect on the importance of self-care insofar as anyone involved in a helping profession is concerned.
Self-care is perhaps the most important aspect of your job and mine. The fact of the matter is that if we do not practice self-care, we will tank...hard. So it behooves us to take care of ourselves.
To the uninitiated, that may sound selfish at first glance, but there are parallels in daily life: there is a reason why they always tell you on an airplane to put YOUR mask on first in case of a loss of cabin pressure, and THEN help others. The reason is that if you black out from a lack of oxygen, far from being a help to anyone else, you will actually be a hindrance. Similarly, to say that someone would "give you the shirt off their back for you" implies that they must first be wearing a shirt...that is what self-care is all about.
Here are some things I have been doing to practice this:
1. Surrounding myself with people who charge my batteries to offset the people that drain them.
I hate to compare human interactions to monetary transactions, but every time someone leans on you, it takes a bit out of you. As a priest, it makes me feel good to know that even Jesus was aware that "transactions" of this nature had this effect. I'm thinking here of the Markian account of the woman who touched His robe and He is aware that "power had gone out of Him".
For those of us in helping professions, yes, it may feel good and invigorating to be of service to your fellow person, but whether you are aware of it or not, something has been taken out of you. This is not a bad thing, the person is not a leech (well, some people are, and it behooves us to be able to recognize these people and eliminate them from our lives or at least limit their impact on us), but it is just the nature of human interactions.
Those of us in these professions absolutely MUST find people to lean on in return. We need people who will recharge our own batteries. Ideally, we can lean on some of the people who lean on us, such as family, friends, spouses. But obviously, we cannot lean on parishioners, clients or cases. For non-judgmental support, nothing beats a professional counselor or qualified spiritual advisor.
2. Preventative maintenance.
I had a friend whose philosophy of life was "Turn up the good, turn down the suck!". It sounds like something from Wayne's World, but sage advice nonetheless, and very much in keeping with the tenets of self-care. He was aware of good things in his life, and he accentuated them. He was aware of negative things in his life as well, and he tried to eliminate them, minimize their impact, or he sought advice on how to manage them. It is good folk wisdom that I have successfully employed in my own life before, and am doing so again. This has the net result of reducing the chances you will ever drain yourself.
I could also have called this "Rewarding yourself". My own experiences and the experiences of others have taught me that we helpers often don't feel worthy of a little treat now and then, that we don't deserve the same rewards others do, that we don't have the right to achieve the things we often encourage other people to strive for. But we are, we do and we do, respectively.
In keeping with that line of thought, I have put in my paperwork to do my PhD (which has long been a dream of mine) and I am taking a vacation in Costa Rica with an eco/adventure tourism outfit, something I have been promising to myself for a long time too.
This is where my Lenten journey has been taking me. I actually really like Lent. To non-Christians, Lent looks like self-imposed misery and punishment as most people give up something they really enjoy during this season. They don't get it. It's not a punishment or self-flagellation for me at all. The time, effort and money I would otherwise use obtaining that which I have given up for Lent I instead devote to feeding myself with things which, while being somewhat less tangible, are nonetheless much more life-giving in a spiritual sense than chocolate, ice cream, etc, etc could ever be.
As a practicing Christian, I am fortunate in that the Christian calendar includes several seasons throughout the year where we are called to reflect on ourselves, on our relationship with God and on our relationship to the rest of the world. Whereas to the uninitiated, Christianity seems like a big guilt-fest, we're actually big on self-care in that way.
Take care of yourself.