Sunday, September 06, 2009

Caring....but taking care

Liz’s post today got my brain ticking over on the subject of carers taking the time to look after their own needs.

There’s an interesting thing about the "caring professions"... Liz recounts being told at university that she and her colleagues had to rise above (their own problems?) to treat patients. And I remember that nurses and doctors used to be told that they had to learn to detach their emotions when dealing with patients. Of course that's utter rubbish - in a job that requires caring for others, if you're unemotional, how can you possibly be a good carer?

I’ve worked as a manager and in HR, and I can recall times when helping other people deal with their problems would overwhelm me. At one point, I had the following going on all at once:

• My assistant was caring for her mother in law through end-stage terminal cancer.
• Another woman was struggling to help her husband through his grief over his brother’s suicide.
• A young mother had given birth four weeks early to an apparently healthy boy, who died 24 hours later of a severe heart defect.
• A mother of three who had sustained a spinal injury in the workplace was now pregnant with a fourth child and was battling the worker’s comp authority to get paid leave due to severe back pain.
• One of our admin girls had developed an anxiety disorder and couldn’t leave the house most days.

There was more, but you get the idea…. My job was basically to try to provide everyone with whatever they needed: leave, a switch from full time to part time work, pay adjustments, referrals to occupational health staff, paperwork required for worker’s comp claims and so on… and of course, I usually ended up being the agony aunt as well. By the end of each day, I would find myself feeling burned out and exhausted from dealing with all the heartbreak and tragedy. And I still had my own young family to care for when I got home.

Thank goodness life wasn’t always like that. Some days I only had to sack somebody for stealing or drive someone to the local casualty ward. LOL. I’m not actually kidding….

Anyway, it's a bit of a tightrope act to care and yet not shoulder everyone else's burdens. When you’re a personal trainer or coach and you spend your days helping people to achieve their goals, you can get so focused on being there for everyone else that you can easily forget to care for yourself. Your own needs get pushed aside, especially when you have kids to look after as well.

What’s the answer? I’m obviously no expert, because I have my own issues with occasional bouts of depression and more frequent minor ups and downs in mood. But if I can manage the following, life is generally a lot more fun:

• Separate work and personal time. Harder than it sounds, but there have to be off-limits times when I won’t answer my phone or reply to client emails. That’s usually Sundays, and evenings after a certain time.
• Make an effort to DO something with my family on a regular basis. We used to make every second Sunday a family day and go to a movie, a museum or show, or just to the local park for a picnic and a play. Now that the kids are older, they don’t really want to do that, so we might just take The Baby out. Or abandon the kids altogether and go do something as a couple.
• Grab a couple of hours and do something just for ME. Last week I shut myself away and watched a nice light chick flick.
• Fit my own training in, no matter what.
• Get enough sleep. Need I say more on this?
• Book myself in for some physical therapy – massage, osteopath, whatever. THIS one, I’ve been neglecting. Need to change that.

AND, I have to remember that I don’t have to be perfect myself to help other people.

Anyone got any other brilliant tips?


LizN said...

So true Kerryn,
In saying no to things you're really saying yes to other things that may be more important. And looking after yourself should be number one - otherwise you jsut simply cannot be effective for other people.

Sara said...

It's absolutely true. Take care of yourself in the physical, mental, and emotional sense and you'll be a better employee, wife, mother, friend, person, whatever. Drew and I try to get out once a week for date night, and I go out alone (with girlfriends) once a week as well. I have been so much happier since we started making it a point to do things for ourselves! It makes such a difference. I've even taken 20 minutes to just lie sprawled on the living room floor while the kids nap and stared at the ceiling... those batteries just sometimes need recharging.

Stephanie Davis said...

great post kek.
some of what you said are the reasons i have decided against persuing a management role where I currently work- it become less about the substantive work and more about the people! my own manager is being v supportive right now with my 'comp brain'. lol
have a great week x

yublocka said...

Kek I'm way behind and just catching up in blogposts, so just wanted to pass along belated condolences for your loss. You have been througha very tough time and handled yourself amazingly well!

I think your list of ways to look after yourself is *very* important and makes a massive difference to your own emotional well being. Not sure if I have any to add, otherwise than a nice hot bubblebath!!

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