Self-Care is Self-Priority
Life management can be tricky at times, and I often feel a bit of societal pressure to have a perfectly balanced life. For many years, I taught Personal Development classes, and often talked about the importance of work-life balance - helping individuals reflect on how we prioritize these areas - how much time spent working, sleeping, spending time with family, etc. etc., and at the time it seemed like a pretty simple task. Now after many challenges with attaining such tasks and having more responsibilities, my balancing act became more complex - you see, it’s not just about juggling a couple of balls, but instead several at the same time.
In my last post, “Serendipity,” I talked about an impactful encounter I had with a lady named Andrea Parmar. She shared her story of living and having had struggles with Bulimia while at the same time working as a psychiatric nurse, and caring for individuals living with an eating disorder. While my story is not quite the same, there are fragments of this cross-section of personal and professional experiences that reminded me of my time as a Personal Development Instructor and support person.
The class that changed me.
I was working in a Continuing Care Assistant (CCA) Program, supporting students who were in training to be a CCA. One of the important things I wanted to focus on was personal and stress management. As a CCA, you are providing so much care to others - which can certainly lead to burnout very quickly. Many of my students had families, part-time employment, and in training full-time - so focusing on how to manage so many of life’s responsibilities was tricky, but important for me to address. In this one particular class, we were talking about stress management. I remember going through some of the slides and speaking to the importance of taking care of oneself, while at the same time, I was internally telling myself a very hurtful message.
You are a fraud.
I felt as though I was not authorized to share this message with my students because I was not living my message. It felt fraudulent, deceitful and I felt as though I was a misrepresentation of my message. I carried a lot of guilt and shame around this story I was telling myself, but there was no way anyone could know that I was struggling. If I shared that I was struggling to take of myself, then how could I be trusted to support others — this was another distorted message I told myself. I was fearful that people would think I was ‘weak.’ Which is a very common misconception that leads to further stigmatization of mental health.
I struggled in silence.
Perfection has been one of my biggest competitors, and through lots of therapy and coaching, I’ve come to understand how this seemingly common but unattainable idea of perfection has been manifested in many areas of my life — causing many personal issues. Perfection in this scenario, was about having my ‘sh*t’ together as a professional. I have the education, training, experience, and willingness to do this job to the best of my ability, but that measure of “my best,” was pushed higher and higher. I wanted to be everything for everyone because that was my role as a support person. My self-worth became inextricably linked to my profession.
I was compressed.
My support for others expanded outside of my professional work and into my personal world. It took me some time to recognize the many directions I was being pulled. On top of that, my mental health was deteriorating. How can we possibly be everything to everyone and forget about ourselves? It’s not possible nor healthy to think we can. Trying to fulfil others’ expectations is not attainable. We just can’t do it. It’s been a few years of learning this message, struggling with helpful actions, failing to achieve them and then getting back up and trying again. Self-care is not an outcome, it’s a process — a choice of what is important, and that is YOU
One of the biggest things I’ve had to work on through all of this is that feeling of guilt — feeling guilty for saying ‘no’ to others and saying yes to ‘me.’ We can be there for others, but lets not leave ourselves behind. I’m not saying I have this thing all figured out, but what years of self-awareness and counselling has taught me, is that I am worthy of support as well. I have also leaned into the idea that perfect work-life balance does not exist. That there are times when the scale is off balanced (and that is ok). When this happens, it’s life shifting us — helping us to direct our attention on things that perhaps we have been neglecting. When we intentionally focus on what is priority in our lives, we become aware of areas of deficit. Are you also striving to perfectly balance your life?
Maybe its time to re-think the concept of work-life balance and focus less on compartmentalizing the various parts our life and tune into our priorities in the moment — being completely realistic about what can be achieved and what cannot. And in doing so, keeping in mind that self-care is an essential part of this process - it is priority and not a luxury.
Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can.