I would not usually begin a post here with a personal snap from a family album, but this has not been a usual week. As therapists we are supposed to keep our personal feelings contained, for very good reasons, since our role is to create a space where others can explore their feelings. Like pouring water into a glass until it overflows there is only so much emotional space, and if we take up some of it, that is space denied the client.
However I am also human,and one particular image this week has haunted me, as it has so many others. A small child, lifeless on a beach. My mind instantly thought of my own children, of days of sandcastles and ice cream, of squeals of delight as the waves came in. I wept as I thought of those treacherous waves taking the life of a baby, and yes I wanted to hold my children tighter, with guilty relief they were safe.
Self Care is not selfish
By mid morning Thursday I realised that the news and social media were going to be dominated by just one story, so I turned off. I did not turn off my empathy, my sorrow, or my compassion, but I knew they were there, and I knew like picking at a wound the repetition would serve no purpose except to cause more pain.
So often when a tragedy is making headlines we can feel we must look, despite the pain it might cause us. In discussions of whether the picture of little Aylan should have been shared some people argued it was important to bear witness. Others claimed that looking away was cowardly, or ignored the suffering.
No one else can know though what is in our hearts, and no one else can decide what is the “correct” amount of pain to carry to show we care enough, or are brave, or strong. All these terms carry with them the idea that showing strong emotion is somehow a weakness, rather than a sign of our humanity.
It is OK to look away. It is OK to accept your humanity, and say, I need to look away, I need a respite from these feelings, I need to hug my own children, and smell their hair.
Self Care is a sign of strength.
Later on Thursday as I saw that others were struggling, feeling that they must touch those wounds, and unable to cope with the pain, I shared this, one of my favourite quotes.
Caption reads “I have to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent, caring for myself is an act of survival. Audre Lorde
Imagine that wound again, if we pick at it, it runs the risk of getting infected. A simple thing can lead to something far worse. So it is with self-care. If we get caught up in the need to be brave, or strong, or whatever term society teaches is better than showing our emotions, we can end up in a far worse place. We can actually end up unable to do anything about the situation which is moving us. By practising self-care we are not only saying feeling is OK, we are saying we are important enough to matter. Self care is an acknowledgement that our feelings matter, and that taking care of them matters.
What is self-care?
I would love here to share some magic tips, guaranteed to work for all. However self-care is very personal. Think about something you love doing, or that relaxes you, or makes you smile. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or expensive. This tweet by @Filthy_Paws sums up that self-care is very personal, and can be as simple as turning off the radio. Self care is about recognising you feel something, accepting that it is OK to feel, and acknowledging you are worthy of being looked after, by your self.