Healthy Body, Healthy Family, Healthy Home, Healthy Mind, Healthy Pets, Healthy Spirit, Uncategorized

What Self-Care Really Looks Like

The one thing I love about Facebook (and probably the only thing), is the memory feature.  I do enjoy being reminded of what I was doing on the same day years before.  Today I didn’t need reminding.  

Seven years ago today, I said “good-bye” to the Animal Welfare Program which had become my identity, and my passion, or I should say obsession.

There is a fine line between passion and obsession.  Passion fulfills, energizes and gives you joy.  Obsession is ego driven, drains your energy and leaves you feeling depleted.

After leaving my position as a Humane Agent, I stayed in the animal welfare field by taking a job as a kennel manger at one of the largest shelter in Maine.  I LOVED working with a team and being connected with those that had the same mission I did.  But I hadn’t dealt with the trauma I had suffered from the years of conducting animal cruelty investigations.  At the shelter I had experienced a whole other level of trauma, and most of it ended up crated in my living room, kitchen, and bedrooms night after night.  

I pushed through 2 more years in the animal welfare field, a year at the shelter, then another year at IDEXX Laboratories,  until it became too unbearable and I really feared for my well being. 

I HAD to learn the art of Self-Care.  

During my time working in Animal Welfare, if someone told me that I needed to practice self-care, I would have told them to “go pound sand.” I did not have the time or the finances to get a mani/pedi, nor would that be practical in my line of work.  My hands were bitten, scratched, bleached and smeared with the joys of parasitic poop every day.  (so maybe a manicure would have been helpful).

The bottom line is, self-care is NOT getting manicures and massages. That can be part of you self-care practice, if that is something you ENJOY! Self-care is much deeper than that.    

Self-care are the practices and activities you do to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental well being.  Practicing self-care reduces stress and anxiety. If you can’t afford a massage or manicure, or are repulsed by the idea of being touched by a stranger, it will only add to your stress.  You have to find what feels right for you. And for most of us, we NEED to put it on our calendars!!!

For me, the most important practice I incorporated was being still. Call it mediation or what have you, just sitting in silence and checking in to see how I was feeling, was extremely helpful. For years, when I wasn’t working 50-60 hours a week, I would find things to keep me busy, especially when I felt anxious.  Instead of checking in with myself to find out what I was anxious about and addressing it in a healthy manner, I ignored it with “busy” work.  

The foundation to self-care is boundary setting.  This include setting boundaries on how we interact with others, but more importantly how we interact and treat our self.  How can you set boundaries when you don’t even know how you feel or what you want? So being still, checking in with yourself, and allowing time to process your experiences and feelings, really helps you identify where you need to create boundaries.  

For me it looked like this:

  • I got a good therapist, which really helped me stay accountable to my bullshit. So no excuses, created plans, and worked through the emotions and feelings of all that I witnessed. My first experience in therapy in was a disaster.  I basically ended up spending most of our sessions teaching the therapist how to train her dog.  My next time around, I did my research and asked a lot of questions.  It’s really important to feel safe with the person you are working with.  
  • For every negative thought I had about myself, I needed to find 3 things about myself that were positive. When your job requires you to always be responding to disasters, it’s really hard to feel accomplished and/or successful because you know there’s another disaster waiting for your attention.  There were a lot of times those disasters couldn’t be saved.  This left a dark emptiness in my heart most of the time and feeling like a failure. 
  • I create the space for more alone time, to check in with myself and process what I was feeling.  Most of the time I was just reacting to the world around me without thought or intention.  My alone times included a long drives, walks, hot baths or anything that didn’t require me to be taking care of someone or something.  
  • I didn’t say “Yes” right away, and said “No” if that was immediately how I felt.  I am a people pleasers, and I genuinely like to help people, but I have a tendency to say “Yes,” without looking at my schedule.  Leaving me overwhelmed, exhausted and angry, trying to accomplish all that I had committed too.
  • Healthy nutrient dense foods and lots of water.  In struggling with my weight my whole life, I reached a point that  realized I order to have a healthy body, I needed to support a healthy body. Starving myself, binging and purging, eating food in wrappers – laced with gmos and chemicals, and going to drive-thru was not self-care.  This required getting rid of processed foods, sugar, gluten and eating organic foods. Eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals also helps with relieving anxiety and depression.  
  • Movement everyday, even if it was simple stretches.  Movement was the key to pushing the trauma I experienced, out of my body.  There were days I couldn’t get out of bed and face the world, but I would lay in bed practicing yoga poses.  Now I find dancing is most healing for me. 
  • Journaling.  I can sometimes spend hours writing.  But when I first got started I would just write everything that came to mind.  Even if it didn’t make sense or sounded silly.  A lot of the time I would just grab a piece of paper, write down the a list of things I didn’t get done, or perhaps a “To Do List” that I knew wasn’t humanly possible to complete in the day, then light it on fire.  There was something powerful in not only releasing those thoughts from my mind, but then burning them up.  Plus, no one would ever see it! 
  • Getting good quality sleep!  During my time as a cruelty investigator, I slept maybe 3 hours a night if I was lucky.  Lack of sleep can quickly lead to mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression. Sleep should be a priority in your self-care plan.  
  • Practicing creativity.  For me, this could be dancing, writing, painting, sewing, drawing, baking, whatever sparks my interest. It felt healing just to create something.  
  • Spending time with people I LOVE.  Working in Animal Welfare, I saw the scum bags of humanity most days.  I forgot that most people are really good, kind, compassion, caring folks.  If you work in a field where you are always encountering challenging people, it is so important to surround yourself with good people. Even if they don’t “get” your work. This is were I failed.  I was so consumed by my own misery that I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone, or they wouldn’t understand what I did or how much my heart hurt.  The truth is, unless you live in a rainbow bubble your whole life, EVERYONE experiences trauma at some point in their lives.  Though the experience of our trauma is individualized, the feelings of anger, loss, mistrust, violation, sadness, despair, and so on, are intensely felt.  And it’s not a contest of who’s trauma is worse or more important.  We are ALL hurting, and it’s extremely healing to share our story with others that are safe, kind and compassionate. 

Self-care is NOT a luxury.  IT IS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT! By not practicing self-care, you rob others of experiencing the best version of you. 

I am still sorting through some of the trauma I experienced while working in Animal Welfare. There were also some REALLY AMAZING memories as well.  I am thankful for the experiences because it taught me what self-Care really looks like, and now I am better equipped to show up in the world as my best self. I’m so grateful for that.

Be well my friends, 
~Jen~ 

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Healthy Spirit, Uncategorized

Triggered

I left my career in animal welfare almost 5 years ago.  Since then, I have done  A LOT of work to heal not only my body, but my heart and soul, which suffered the most trauma.  It’s only been last few years, mores specifically the last 6 months, that I have done some real healing around my trauma.

The other night I was having a conversation with a friend’s husband, and he told me where he had grown up.  On my drive home, I was thinking about that conversation, and then remember the town he was from.  I.GOT.TRIGGERED.

My very first large animal hoarding cases had taken place in this town.  I suddenly began to spiral into a panic attack, my mind racing thinking of all the things that may have been missed, the animals we couldn’t save, wondering if that person has accumulated more animals, and on, and on.

Rather than fight the panic attack, I sat with it and allowed the unpleasantness to settle into my body. Letting the sadness, pain, guilt and shame to rise up and be, then it released. This is much like the process I did in the journal entry I wrote below, after being triggered by seeing a video online. I had shared the journal entry back when I wrote it.  I have found writing to be so healing on this journey. The process of tuning in and acknowledging what is going on in my body, identifying it, writing it down, gives the pain a physical presences outside of my myself.  Writing allows it to escape from body.

*Warning this is a journal entry I captured from being triggered into an anxiety attack by a Facebook post. I just began writing as I felt the anxiety coming on and thought it would be healing if I shared.  This was a raw emotional moment of an old wound that I had been pushing away for a very long time, which was in desperate need of healing. I have included the post that trigger me in a link below.  I wouldn’t normally share an article like this because I don’t feel that I need to flood people with tragic photos and stories, especially from the animal welfare field, because most of my friends are still in that field and they are bombarded by this everyday.  But I feel this is a healing opportunity for me and the video does have a happy ending. But please be advised in my entry I do share some details of a case that might be triggering to someone who has experienced trauma. 

~August 30, 2016.  I don’t know if it’s because that Mercury is in retrograde, if I’m  taking on other’s energy, or if I’m just out of alignment, but my anxiety has been through the roof over the past several days. I’ve been taking time to help manage it, and doing a lot of self care. But today an article came up on my Facebook feed that opened the flood gates.  I know there are many unresolved issues I have around my past work in animal welfare, and this post of Facebook really triggered that today.  The post, was of someone finding a puppy in a plastic bag, tossed out like trash on the side of a road.

After leaving my job as a Humane Agent, I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One of my biggest trigger to anxiety besides the phone ringing, was seeing trash bags on the side of the road.   One of my cases involved the beating, sodomizing and killing of 3 dogs, that were then dumped on the side of the road.  It has only been the past 3 years that I have been able to drive by a trash bag on the side of the road without stopping to open it.  I didn’t want anyone to know how effected I was by this, so when I was driving with someone, I would note where the bag was and go back to check later. Today, I don’t have to stop or go back to check, but I am aware of the physiological effects it has on my body.  My muscle tense up, my breathing shallows, and many times I hold my breath as I pass a trash bag on the road.  My mind races, wondering if there is an animal in the bag.

As I write this now I can feel the tightness in my muscles, and my breath becoming shallow, tears welling up in my eyes.  But this is a chance for me to heal.  So that is why I am writing this.  I WANT to heal this. So I will sit with these feeling, as uncomfortable as it is.  I will let the tears flow.

This feeling is so uncomfortable, and I want to get up and find something to do to busy my mind and push this down.  But I sit.  Feeling the empty pit in my stomach growing. My heart breaking opening as  I remember collecting those dogs off the side of the road. Their bodies badly beaten. Opening the bags to reveal the white and liver colored Britney spaniel, it’s body bloody and bruised.  I remember being very disconnected with my emotions.   Looking at their lifeless bodies and being so focused on collecting every piece of evidence I could, so I could find out who did this.  I did not cry, I remained stoic, professional, and completed my job. I shut of my emotions to carry on the work I was doing. Most of the time the only emotion I felt was anger. And I’m sure that most people that work in animal welfare would say the same.

My chest feels so tight. My teeth clench and my mouth becomes dry.  My palms start to sweat and my fingers are cold.   The tear are really starting to flow.  I cry now for the lives of those dogs.  I cry for the pain and suffering they endured.  I cry for myself, that I had to witness such monstrous torture.  I cry because a job like this is needed. I cry for the person(s) that did this, because of how tortured their soul would have to be to do this to an innocent creature. And then I feel the anger palpating in my neck, and my hand and teeth clenching, my breath is short, and my skin tingles, especially on my face and around my mouth. Perhaps a physical manifestation of not voicing my anger and hurt.  My mind starts racing through all the possibilities of how something like this could happen? Who could have done such horrible things? Then I start second guessing my management of this case.  Did I collect the evidence correctly?  Was there something I miss, or got left in the woods? Did I ask the right questions? Talk to enough people?  I am sobbing uncontrollably.

I sit with this pain and discomfort for what seem like an eternity, but it has maybe been 30 minutes. I begin to feel my body soften and then release of anger and guilt.   I am beginning to feel the tension release in my muscles and my lungs can expand to take a full breath.

I go back to April of 2006, to the girl who wanted to save the world.  I stand next to her as we look at the tailgate of her truck on the side of the road.  Starring at the muddy trash bag encasing the beaten body of an innocent dog.  I tell her, “I am sorry.”  I am sorry for not protecting you by setting boundaries.  I am sorry for not providing you the coping mechanisms needed to do this gurgling work every day.   I am sorry I did not take care of your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.  I honor, recognize, and love your heart and spirit.  I honor the work you did, the sacrifices you made to help save the lives of animals, and to help change the lives of people. Thank you. Thank you, for all that you did.

I also give a moment of gratitude to the Sheriff Detective that took me seriously and assisted me with getting evidence to the crime lab, and the police officer from one of the surrounding towns that tried to get finger prints.  I give thanks to the supportive colleagues and supervisor I had at that time.  They were the only ones who truly understood the struggles of my daily duties.  They struggled along with me.  In those days it was so hard to relate to the outside world. My days were full of abuse and neglect.  Everyday, no matter how hard I tried, I felt overwhelmed by my case load, like I was a failure, inadequate and incompetent.  I continue to sit with these feelings and allow them to flow through my body.  It does not feel good.  It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, it’s dark, it’s empty, but I’m healing.

I hold space and honor the memory of these dogs that where so violently tortured.  I surround their memory in compassion, and send it into the light of the universe be consumed by eternal love.  I forgive myself for not being able to find out who did this. And I forgive the person who did this to these beautiful creatures.  I pray that your soul has healed since this happened, and that you have received the help you needed.  I hope that you have found a way to heal those dark and dangerous spaces in you mind.  I send you light, love and peace.

~I am freed.

Driver Shocked To Discover Why Trash Bag In Road Was Moving