Helping Others, Helping Yourself – a lesson in self-care

Helping Others, Helping Yourself – a lesson in self-care

I need to be completely transparent here.  When I was asked (in January) to write this blog for Mind Body Align, I knew very little about what went on at the Butterfly House, nor did I think that I would ever write a blog.  However, always being up for an adventure, I thought why not? It isn’t due until December. I can do this!

The topic, Helping Others, didn’t seem hard.  That is what I do, right? I mean, I am the oldest in my family (also known as, the caretaker), and retired from the local child support agency after 25 years of helping people establish paternity and child support orders for their kids (I should write a book about THAT!). In addition to that, for 6 years, have been the Intake Director for Starfish Project, which helps those struggling with addictions find treatment options.

Helping others is in my wheelhouse.  Super simple, right?

Doing the Research

What my crazy undiagnosed ADHD brain completely and conveniently glossed over was the second half of the title, Helping Yourself.  Oh. Stop. Helping Yourself? Like in, Helping Myself? Well, that is a game changer.

And, the way my brain works, I immediately launched into an in-depth study about self-help.  Let’s look at the research, study flow charts and statistical data, get some great graphics, a couple of good stories, and maybe a catchphrase to tie it all together.  Never mind if it is something that I can apply to my life or circumstances, just do the research!

With that spectacular goal in mind, I forged into the year and started attending the Coffee Talks – I wanted to know the audience, right?  I had already had discussions with our pastor about meeting with him to do some self-care. Perfect timing, let’s do that!

I looked up articles and studies on self-care and read them intently looking for great information and skills that I could pass on.  I looked at this assignment as a way to help the audience get information, but did not pay attention to what I was doing, nor did I apply it to my own life.  I was still running at a crazy pace. I wasn’t taking breaks or cueing in on what I needed. By March, however, I had noticed a couple of things.

Revelations and Purpose

First, I really liked the Coffee Talks.  I mean, I really liked them. I found the connection with other women was something which had been missing from my life.  Second, meeting with the pastor to talk about self-care in ministry was not painless. It forced me to focus on things about myself that I would rather not have thought about or acted on.  It made me quiet my hyperactive, squirrel-chasing brain for an hour or so and really work on myself.

Finally, the research and data did not really address the issue in the way I had hoped; it all seemed a little clinical.  So, I decided to regroup and to focus on what was working for me! This was great because I went into the second quarter of the year with these revelations and armed with a new sense of purpose. I pushed on.

The Big Crash

There were many summer events for Starfish. We were also involved with people going into treatment and returning to the community after treatment.  Meetings with the pastor were not happening at this time. We were just too busy.

A short break with a one week getaway to Western Michigan on the lake was decided on.  No real plans, just a relaxing time to reconnect with my husband and disconnect from the non-profit.  We had a great time. We ate good food, walked on the lovely beaches, and walked the streets of Saugatuck with our dogs enjoying the small shops and restaurants. We slowed down the pace of our lives.

On August 25th we got back into Mansfield late.   The next day was church and family time. And on the following day, August 27th, my mother died.  She was in hospice care, but even the caregivers were taken by surprise because she literally woke up, had breakfast, took a nap, and never woke up.

Permission to Pause

There was no obvious need to complete her funeral arrangements which were pretty much pre-planned, but there were some details to finish.  I felt like I was in slow motion and everything required more effort than normal.

I kept forgetting things.  I tried to keep going as best I could, but I knew that I needed a break. I needed time.  I needed to help myself.

So, I did something very uncharacteristic for me.  I did nothing other than what had to be done for that current day.  I did the minimum necessary for 2 weeks. No work, no new clients. I sat, slept, read, cried, and sat some more. I applied some of the “research” for this blog to my life, and it helped.

These are the lessons from my year:

Helping others is an act of love.  Coming from my Biblical perspective, I am commanded to love others as I love myself. As I love myself.  I can not properly love (help, support or nurture) others if I do not love myself first.

For me, it means that I need to acknowledge that I am loved by God and valued by Him just as I am (crazy brain and all).  It means a level of acceptance that believes I am worth loving, nurturing, and protecting, without feeling guilty or begrudging myself the same help I would give others.

Helping others will drain your emotional resources. Because that’s true, you must make allowances to replenish your spirit.  You cannot serve from an empty vessel. What is it that fills your spirit? Is it walking in the woods or reading a great novel?  Do you feel replenished after time spent alone or with family?

I found that what worked for me was connecting intentionally with my husband, children, and grandchildren. This means making time to really engage with them by turning off my phone and interacting.  The same thing applied to my connection with God by finding a space without distractions to allow Him to work in my spirit and rebuild me.

Helping others can be non-stop, and all-day-every-day,  if you let it happen.  In the middle of helping with others, whether it’s family, profession, or your calling, it is easy to come out of the experience tired and burnt out. When you are feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted, it is okay to give yourself permission to pause.

Even though preparing for this blog, Helping Others, Helping Yourself was not what I expected, it’s been a useful and worthwhile journey full of self-awareness and valuable lessons learned. This time spent learning about what I need, and what it takes for me to stay balanced physically and emotionally allows me to better serve others. This journey to stay balanced is something I will always be working towards, and taking a pause for self-care allows me to be more effective at helping others, as well as helping myself.

Self-care: what I do just for me

Self-care: what I do just for me

self careContinuing on this month’s topic of self-care, I can’t think of a better way to begin a conversation than Pema Chödrön’s quote from her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty.

What you do for yourself – any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honest and clear seeing toward yourself, will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world.

Ask yourself: what do I do for myself – just for me (daily, weekly, monthly, and annually)? What gestures of kindness, gentleness, and honest clear seeing toward myself do I do? Possibly, you already have an amazing self-care practice, or maybe you don’t. Either way, what is it?

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Self Care Quiz

Gather a piece of paper or journal, and a pen. Before you begin writing, move into a deeper state of presence, a focused attention on your physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions.

Pause for a moment, take a deep breath in… and out.

In… and out.

And one more time, in… and out.

Ask yourself:

What do I do for myself – just for me, right now?

What are the gestures of gentleness, kindness, and honest clear seeing I offer myself?

Pause to write your list.

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Your list represents where you are now. It can offer you part of the picture of your current relationship with yourself. What did you learn? There is no right or wrong answer here, and if you find yourself judging your list as good or bad, simply notice your thoughts. Are your thoughts gestures of gentleness, kindness and honest clear seeing? I often repeat a quote in my head (and out loud in my classes) by Zen Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki,

“Each of you is perfect the way you are… and you can use a little improvement.”

I can, in the same breath, acknowledge my perfection with gentle and kind thoughts, AND, with honest clear seeing, notice ways in which to grow, evolve and improve.

I am perfect the way I am, and I can use a little improvement.

I am going to put on my life coach hat on for a moment:

With this hat on, I perceive you as one of my students of life. I’m imagining us having just concluded a 50 minute deep-dive conversation on your desire to have more time for yourself; to have the time to take better care of yourself, at which point, I give you a challenge. (I can imagine your face when I say, “I’m going to give you a challenge”! )

A challenge, in coaching, means that the coach gives the coachee homework; an action or project that is typically out of their “comfort zone”.  In the case of a challenge, the coachee has the ability to say “yes, I’ll take on the challenge”, “no, I’m not taking on the challenge”, or “yes, but I want to negotiate the terms.”

Self care challenge.

Over the next two weeks, three times each day, you are challenged to move into presence using the breath (as we did earlier in the post), and then ask yourself the question, “What can I do right now to be 5 – 10 % more comfortable?” 

And, let me know what you notice in person at the next Coffee Talk on Wednesday February 24th, 8:00am at The Fitness Factory on North Main Street, or leave your comments at the bottom of this post. 

Are you game? Are you willing to take on my challenge? Yes, No, or negotiate – which is it?

Namaste my friends, I look forward to hearing from you!