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.
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 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,