Updated: Apr 10, 2019
This week has got me thinking about all the parents, educators, and healthcare professionals I've worked with across the years. One thing that has stood out to me time and time again, is how much love, time, dedication, and passion these individuals will put into supporting another person. Often putting themselves 2nd, 3rd, or 50th in the process. Which can be fine. Really. It's ok to put others needs and wants ahead of your own, sometimes you have to. But the key word is SOMETIMES, not ALWAYS. "Oh Simone, you optimistic, clueless woman, you have no idea what my life is like", I hear some of you sigh and shake your heads in disbelief. Yes, I may be optimistic. And definitely somewhat clueless to raising a family. But I will stand by this statement always: You can't help anyone if you yourself are drowning.
Drowning is a pretty strong metaphor to use, but I chose it because people can't always tell if they're drowning from the get go, much like you might not realise now neglecting yourself is affecting you. And drowning is what it can feel like when you're overwhelmed with things to do, and you can't seem to catch your breath. I probably also chose it because I'm sitting on a beach as I write this (humble brag not intended). As I relax in warm weather listening to the waves crash in front of me, I can't help but think of those who never give themselves a break.
I've worked with parents who put aside their own health or mental challenges to support their child. Educators who sacrifice their own leisure and downtime to do something for a student or class. Therapists who work long into the night researching, planning, and organising, giving up sleep for their clients progress. I get it, I've been one of those therapists who burn themselves out fighting for and supporting those around me. But that's the thing, I burnt myself out doing it. I put so much mental, emotional and physical energy into my work, that I left little to none for me. And that leaves you in a state where you aren't doing the best you can, where you are only giving 50% because that's all you have in your tank.
Parents tell me that they have no other choice. That they have to put their child first all day every day, because they are the only ones who will. Teachers and healthcare professionals tell me there's no other time to do it, and these things need to get done. But as a child of a single mother who did everything she could for her two children, I learnt this. It's ok to take the easier option to give yourself a breather, rather than taking the "best" option all the time. It's ok to let less important things go for a bit to do something you want to, because then you are happier, calmer, and more energised in the long run. It's crucial you look after your own health and well-being, because you're little use to anyone if you don't.
As occupational therapists we speak about occupational participation, occupational health and occupational well-being. Essentially, this means we really, really care about if people are doing the things they want to do (or need to do) that give them meaning and purpose. Why do we care so much? Because all the research in the area points to the same conclusion. It's really damn important! It impacts how well you perform in all areas of your life, how you feel, and how your health and well-being (physical and mental) is.
So while yes, sometimes we need to make sacrifices for others, we can't let it become so habitual we forget how to put ourselves first. And no, we shouldn't always take the "easy" option (because again, habits are hard to break!), but sometimes we have to because it is actually the best option in the long run. And lastly, those things we find important, (no matter how "small" or "insignificant" your family, friends or society thinks it is) need to be prioritised. And engaged in, not shoved aside for another task time and time again.
If you are struggling to give yourself "permission" to do this, I'm doing it for you now. You have permission to go for the run, have the bath, pee with the door closed, read the book, have the cup of tea, make 2 minute noodles for dinner, give your child that thing that will occupy them, have a decent night's sleep, leave the cleaning/washing/notes/planning/scheduling/shopping/ironing for tomorrow, leave your laptop at work, knock off early, or do absolutely nothing. Or insert whatever preferred activity you have been putting aside. You have permission for that too. But you don't need it.
Because last but definitely not least: You never, ever, ever need permission to look after yourself and your desired occupations. That's your right, just as it's your child's/student's/client's/patient's. Lead by example, and give yourself a break.
Reposted by author from www.rocketot.com
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