I often hear people, when I tell them what I do, respond with something akin to “I don’t know how you do it”. Some days I can respond with “I enjoy what I do” or “I meet so many interesting people” or something similar. Other times I think “I don’t know either!” So I brought up this question to myself – how does one survive working in hospice?
Self-care self-care self-care self-care…
Easy to say and harder to do! But that’s precisely the core of survival here. There’s lots of good material out there on ways to take care of yourself to avoid burnout: art, time off, reframing, maintaining good boundaries, etc. All of these are good and beneficial. However two other things are required and are even more important.
First, you have to know you need to take care of yourself. More often than not, it takes a meltdown or crisis situation to show me that I need to take care of myself. When I’m stressed I tend to pull in and try to shove through whatever storm is blowing in my face. My concentration is usually on going forward, not stopping to rest. In the middle of stress I think our tendency is to do just that – get out of it as quickly as possible by surging onward even when we’re exhausted. I’ve read more than one account, though, of mountaineers who ignored their own internal warning signs of exhaustion and fatigue and, rather than stop to rest, pushed on through the stress only to walk off the mountain. I can fall in to that same trap. But it’s amazing how even just a brief adjustment – for me it was a day working at home rather than the office – can rejuvenate and reframe.
Self awareness comes only with time and honesty with yourself.
Second, I must actually do what I need to do to take care of myself. There are many times where I’ve stopped and said, “boy I’m exhausted! I need a break!” and then never do so. This is the pain of inertia that hits when we know we need to stop but don’t for fear of never starting up again. I think that fear, rather than pride, keeps us from doing those things that we recognize that we need to do. I fear letting things go, I fear appearing lazy while others (who aren’t taking care of themselves) push on, I fear lots of things. Overcoming that fear again only comes with time, honesty, and practice.
When the world doesn’t fall apart when I let go of it, or when I stop caring what others think of me, or when I stop comparing myself to the “saints” around me, that itself is self-care!
Sound like grace to anybody?