As a therapist, I specialize in children and families dealing with trauma. My work is hard, so like any good therapist, I engage in self-care. I meditate at least once a day and do yoga or Pilates (or both!) every day. I have good friends who support me, and I make sure to do even the most basic, mundane self-care tasks like brushing my teeth, paying my bills, and eating healthy food. I even get my own therapy!
Despite all this amazing self-care, I crashed and burned this year. I got the flu, then I caught a virus, then I felt depressed, then I caught another virus, then I felt like I needed to quit my job, then I found myself not connecting to my kids enough, and then I caught another virus. What I couldn't catch was a break.
In one of my therapy sessions (therapy for me, not therapy I was providing for someone else), I finally figured out what was happening to me: I needed more professional self-care.
I needed caregiver care.
Now, you may be wondering, “What the heck is caregiver care, Amanda?” Well, if you’re reading this, I assume you’re caring for someone. Perhaps you’re a parent. Maybe you’re like me and are in a helping profession. You could be a teacher, bus driver, 911 operator, childcare provider, front desk professional, or telephone customer service agent (bless your heart!). You’re actively caring for others. And you need special care to stay afloat.
All the yoga and essential oils and weekly bubble baths were nice, but they weren’t enough to keep me well.
I found myself in a position of needing to both identify and advocate for my own mental, physical, and emotional health needs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly something most of us didn’t grow up doing. It doesn’t often feel natural or comfortable to say, “Hey boss, I’m having this problem and I could use some help with it. Could you make some time for me?”
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The supervisor at my office was unavailable to support me when I was having this episode of burn out. Not only did I have to ask, but I was then confronted with the reality that asking wasn’t going to be enough. I had to think outside the box and get resourceful. This meant I had to use colleagues and coworkers more than I normally would for support — but they were happy to help, and things started to get better.
When you are responsible for the well-being of others, even if it’s just while they’re in the back of your car as you put in your time as their Lyft driver, you feel pressure.
There’s pressure to protect, nurture, not do or say the wrong thing — and at some point, that pressure gets to us.
Self-care is great — don’t get me wrong — and I’m keeping up my awesome self-care strategies. But I also recognize that there’s no amount of bubble baths, manicures, or downward dogs that can provide professional caregiver support and supervision. This takes an outside force, preferably a person who’s been there, done that, and can empathize while advising you.
I haven’t needed a cough drop in approximately 72 hours, so I might finally be over this mess. I’m still eating well, resting well(ish), and moving my body a lot for self-care, but I’m working on seeking out regular support for myself around the specific stressors of my work as someone who cares for others. There’s no shame in caring for the caregiver.