Julie Anne shared a very personal post with us a while ago. When she talked to me about her struggle with letting it go, I told her that I started a personal story in October 2018 that I also found difficult to share. I can’t place why I struggled with the words, but I’m hoping that letting this go will help you to think about what self-care looks like to you, what barriers you have for taking care of yourself, and ways you can encourage others to practice self-care.
In August 2018, while sitting in my monthly victim advocate training meeting at the police station, I found myself getting agitated and anxious. The discussion revolved around a new back-up call system that was to be implemented due to holes in our 24/7 schedule which resulted in officers not having victim assistance. I couldn’t imagine placing myself on a call back-up response schedule for any day of the week except for the weekends, and at that point, I desperately needed my weekends. I was overwhelmed with stress at work, my youngest starting his last year of high school, a fall sport commitment, and home life struggles.
That night I walked out of the meeting angry and I didn’t like that one bit. I had been with this program for three years and I loved everything about it. It was my passion, and now I found it paralyzing. And then I remembered the one thing that was mentioned at almost every meeting that I had neglected – self-care. Work and family couldn’t stop, but a brief respite in volunteering could. I called the next day and as soon as the words, “I need a break” came out of my mouth the response back was, “Yes! How long do you need?” You see, they understood the importance of self-care because not only do victim advocates deal with heavy crisis issues, but the police department wants volunteers who can stay for a long time.
I took three months off and I wasn’t expecting to feel different immediately. Work was still stressful, I still had a kid that I had to stay on top of to graduate, and I still wanted to be as involved in my son’s last year of water polo (no soccer mom for me!) as I possibly could. But, knowing that I had one less responsibility for a while made it seem more doable.
I had one setback during this time when we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog (Owen, the SSB Watch Dog). Despite this and the busyness of fall, when it was time to sign up for volunteer shifts again in December, I recognized that I wasn’t as overwhelmed and anxious about the work.
During my respite I took time to really think about how I got to the point of feeling so anxious and overwhelmed about volunteering. I desperately did not want to give it up because it meant so much to me. Which led me to facing my life-long problem of not being able to say “no” to things that take up emotional energy or time that I don’t have available. I also had to fully own that between work, volunteering, and the on-going church abuse stories that we deal with here, compassion fatigue was setting in. The three months off helped re-set me, made me put much-needed boundaries in place, and helped me to make a commitment to say “no” when I needed to.
I also thought about how fortunate I was to have people who supported me. From the police department who said they were thankful that I was practicing what was being taught, to Julie Anne who said not to worry about the blog, and to my co-workers and family who let me talk and cry things out. Which led me to think about when I talk to victims about self care.
Self-care is a topic that I sometimes bring up with victims. It doesn’t happen all the time because my response is during a time of crisis that can go in so many different directions. However, if enough time has passed and a victim is grounded, simple acts of self-care may be discussed. I could see where a victim might not have support people who can listen and encourage her to take care of herself. Perhaps she has the welfare of her children, parents, or pets to be concerned about. Self-care can be difficult and may be the last thing on a victim’s mind when simply trying to survive. I learned not to throw out discussing self-care just because I need to talk about it during a call, but to really make it a meaningful discussion.
I also came to realize how important it is to have systems in place to support and provide care to victims. The county I volunteer in is good about focusing on victims – from State laws that are beginning to change in favor of victims, to the District Attorney, to the police and sheriffs departments, to the non-profit advocacy centers. If a victim wants help, there is a village that will surround and support them. We are very fortunate here. There are so many places where victims cannot find this kind of support.
I hope this encourages everyone to really think about self-care. What does that look like to you? Do you find it hard to take care of yourself? What are the barriers? What is one small change you can make toward self-care? How can you encourage someone else to practice self-care?
If you are a victim advocate, this is especially important so compassion fatigue doesn’t kick in. If you are a victim, survival can be trying, and one small act of self-kindness may help you get through the day. If you are overwhelmed with what life is bringing, acknowledge that feeling and take care of yourself. No matter how big or small your act of self-care is, acknowledge that taking care of yourself is important for your well-being and for the care you provide others. Most of all, self-care is important because you are important. Never forget that.