So you want to help eh? Save the world? Rescue cats out of trees? Help the elderly cross the street? Change a stranger’s flat tire? Break up fights in bars? You just love helping people huh? Never ignoring a need, just jumping right on in there? From offering to clean the home of a neighbor who just had back surgery to offering to babysit for the single mom in your support group who works three jobs.
And what about you?
Are you taking care of you?
When an old friend found out a couple of months ago that I was wrapping up training to become a volunteer Suicide Crisis Counselor in addition to other recent changes in my already hectic schedule, he expressed great concern.
“Are you putting your mask on first?!”
He travels extensively so I shouldn’t have been taken aback by his aviation analogy. “That’s the first thing the flight attendant instructs you to do before helping others. Put your oxygen mask on first!”.
Before I could respond he continued, “I know you want to help people and all, but are you taking care of you? You work full time, you’re a wife and a mother…” I hadn’t quite tuned him out as he ran down the list fussing at me in love, but only because I knew he was right. He wasn’t the first person to give me this speech but one of many over the span of several years. Even my husband had noticed I’d grown accustomed to putting others first at the expense of my self care diminishing.
I recently came across the following quote and fell in love with it. It was as if Audre was chiming in with those who cared about me, while giving me permission to learn how to put my mask on first…
We must remember that Compassion Fatigue and Caregiver Burnout is real. When you care for others. It’s important to send the very best you by taking care of you first.
As a person who knows what it’s like to care deeply for others, I thought it’d be helpful to share a God breathed revelation I got during prayer one day:
“Ericka, everyone Is not assigned to your caseload.”
Whoa! I thank God for theology but a little “kneeology” in prayer never hurt nobody! Talk about an awakening?! I didn’t have to do it all, for everyone, at all times with my omninothing self!
Life has a way of interrupting us all. Not everyone is looking for damsels in distress to help. What do you do when life is thrust upon you? When you find yourself dealing with a terminally ill parent that now needs round the clock care or told you have 24 hours to decide if you’re gonna take a relative’s child in to avoid them going into court ordered foster care.
What do you do?
Sure it’s easy for the onlooker to encourage or even assist for a time but it’s you that’s now stuck with paperwork, financial decisions, power of attorney responsibilities and overnight HIPAA consent choices.
Maybe you’re a fellow empath. The heart mender. Peacemaker. Advice giver. Fire put-er-outer. Unofficial counselor and go to person for both friends and family alike…all the time. You can’t help but care and you’re always there for everyone.
Everyone but yourself.
You find it very difficult to not take the poor decisions made by those you’ve tried to help…personally. I mean you paid for tutoring twice a week but they still dropped out of school. You covered their rent for a few months but they ignored the chance to save money and were still evicted. You worked two jobs to send him to the best schools and he was still drawn to that drug infested crowd. You recall countless conversations with her about the dangers of unprotected sex as you rock your grandchild to sleep on Prom night.
Unlike others, you noticed the changes in his pattern of sleep and loss of appetite. You reached out, made yourself available to talk and then there’s an upswing. He begins to posts pictures online of how great things are now! You’re ecstatic. Not quite patting yourself on the back but thrilled that you were able to make a difference in someone’s life. Then you get the call. His body and the note he left were found.
Your first thought is “What could I have done differently?”
Beloved. As a few of my closest friends admonish me…be gentle with yourself. Everyone Is not assigned to your caseload and you have to give yourself permission to be ok with that.
“Some plant, some water but it’s God who gives the increase” is a quote loosely based on a Bible verse found in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9. In context it’s referring to one not esteeming the role they played as ministers or in witnessing or in what they do individually to bring God glory. Their one effort is not any better (or less) than the next person’s. Each role is equally important but without God none of it is possible.
Everyone Is not assigned to your caseload and you have to give yourself permission to be ok with that.
Help and healing comes in many forms. Yes it can be devastating when in spite of our best efforts, the choices of others result in them hurting themselves or others…and it happens on your watch. Life is a series of baton passes and musical chairs. There are times when you did everything you could and still life happened.
You did everything you could think of to make your spouse stay but they still left. You won an award for your work with troubled teens but your child continues to run away. Yes it’s difficult when in helping the 99 you lose the one but everyone Is not assigned to your caseload and you have to give yourself permission to be ok with that.
Today is a great day to release the self imposed guilt of all that’s gone awry on your watch. Free yourself of the resentment you hold against the spry employee at the rec center who was able to reach your unreachable kid. Release the bitterness, anger and frustration. Reserve all that energy for putting your mask on first, celebrating what did go right and become healthy enough to serve those who are assigned to you! Take care of yourself so you can be effective without being infected and affected.
Oh in case it’s been some time since you’ve heard it…You. Matter. Too.
P.S. Be sure to share with the walking wounded among you today. Smiles are hiding a lot these days.