Do you roll your eyes when you hear the words ‘self care’? Yeah, me too, and we are hearing it now more often than ever. For 20 years much of our community’s training emphasis has been on understanding both the devastation of trauma and the healing power of Resilience. Who knew that, unknowingly, we were preparing ourselves for 2020 – when our entire world would
experience a collective and ongoing traumatic pandemic.
The stability and predictability that had structured our lives? Gone. In this time of turbulence, worry, fear and insecurity (what’s gonna happen next?!!!), many of us are experiencing elevated limbic systems without even realizing it – a consistent state of anxiety and emotional vulnerability. Our equilibrium is off. We are in survival mode. All of us.
The world has been sick and suffering. We are consistently driven to seek whatever helps us feel ‘normal.’ Every day for over a year we have struggled to find some sense of tolerable stress, with the reality of toxic stress looming just around the corner in another horrific newscast or headline. Our bodies are inundated with stress hormones. The purpose of cortisol and adrenaline is to keep us physically safe. In times of normal stress, they keep us balanced and steady. Fight, freeze or flee? Chances are we’ve done all three in some form over the past 17 months. This is different. This anxious undercurrent is always there.
Through it all, we have had others to care for; an infirm elder who needs hugs that have been forbidden, an anxious child who doesn’t have words to express the insecurity of so many changes – plus the stress of the consistent personal and professional adjustments that have been forced upon us.
Many of us have been carrying multiple burdens, forced to navigate unwelcome personal crises. The emotional toll taken by illness, grief and loss is all around us. We are IN IT, not yet on the other side, when we can safely look back, talk about and evaluate our ‘lessons learned.’
As care givers, we listen, we guide, we support and affirm. We naturally focus our time, talent and energy on the needs of others – our children, clients, students and colleagues, our nuclear and extended family members. As we constantly meet the needs of others it often becomes hard to recognize and honor our own.
It has been exhausting. Yet we have soldiered on – somehow finding the joy we need to buoy us as we go about rearranging the myriad details of our daily lives. We struggle to keep our balance. We recognize the small triumphs and feel gratitude and appreciation for the blessings woven into and through all of the chaos. We want to feel reassured that light exists.
Sometimes ‘self care’ means surrender. I have to admit that I do not routinely pray. This year has changed that. There are times to look inward, but in the darkest of times we may need to look upward. A colleague who experienced a deeply personal and professional crisis during this pandemic – sent this to me. Receiving it felt like a miracle. She couldn’t know how much I needed it. I pass it on as we continue to care for and about others in this uncertain time:
Father, my heart is filled with doubt and I am afraid.
I want to believe You, Lord.
I want to step out in faith,
trusting You to meet me at the point of my greatest need,
but I am so weak.
Please teach me to listen for Your voice
above the crashing waves of fear
and the deadly whispers of human logic.
Give me the strength to keep my eyes on You –
no matter what my sea of circumstances may be.
I believe we have learned to cherish everyday small comforts and abundant blessings in this ‘sea of rough circumstances.’ Self care is so much more than a healthy diet, a soothing cup of tea, or any of the many practices that help keep us moving forward. Self care also means seeing the good in the world, and being grateful. My mother’s death during this pandemic caused her loved ones great pain. She was wise and smart and lived a life of real faith and doing for others. We find comfort in knowing she was surrounded by love and miracles that ‘defied human logic’ in her last moments on Earth.
Self compassion comes before self care. I feel deep compassion for our helping professions. Summer is our traditional time to rest and restore. We truly earned this one. If I was still in the classroom, I might give this writing assignment to my students as the new school year begins: “What do you need? What restores you…what brings you comfort? What brings you peace?”
If we didn’t acknowledge it often enough before March 2020, we know this now: Life is precarious – and oh so precious. The first thing we lose after a crisis, trauma or loss is our sense of goodness. Resilience is restorative. Resilience restores our sense of goodness. This uncertain and sometimes chaotic world needs our help to restore the sense of goodness we all so
desperately want and need.
New challenges await us in school year 2021-22. We must continue to recognize and honor our personal and professional resilience. We will adjust and reflect – to recalibrate what it means to be parents, friends, counselors and educators. We will continue to learn and grow.
For now, at the end of Summer 2021, we deserve to celebrate. We are moving forward – with a few wounds and scars, for sure – but we are still here. We have cared about and cared for those we love, each other – and, yes, ourselves. Have a blessed new school year. All of you who support the well being of children and families do good and necessary work. Thank you.