I’ve always enjoyed helping people.
All throughout my teenage years, I was the friend that people could count on to listen and “say the right things”. I love being the type of person that people can depend on, but there was one thing I always forgot to do: take care of myself.
I got my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and then decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Counseling. It just seemed like the right fit for me after all those years of listening and offering up advice. Throughout graduate school, I found myself being able to naturally adapt what we learned in class into sessions with my clients. I thought leading a therapeutic session would be scary, but it ended up being something that I genuinely felt comfortable with.
When I’m with a client, or with my husband, or with friends, or whoever, I devote 100% of my attention to them. I listen as hard as possible and validate their feelings when needed. Like I said, I am very happy to do this for them, as I tend to give love to others in this way. But, going from a job where I listen for 40 hours a week and then doing it in my spare time for the people I care about can be very draining.
I was introduced to the concept of self care when I started my counseling internships for graduate school by my supervisor. She gave me a self care worksheet that has you outline what you’re doing for yourself to avoid burn out and stress. This made a lot of sense – and surely I’d heard of the concept of self care before – but it seemed like a foreign language to me. “What is this ‘taking care of yourself’ business? What? I’m supposed to take care of others!” I would think to myself.
But then I found how tiring taking on other’s baggage can be on a daily basis. So, I started practicing self care. I ran. I tried to eat healthier. I read more books for pleasure. I starting journaling again. I drew mandalas. Nothing really stuck. For two years, I “coped” with slices of pizza and wine. Not the healthiest.
It wasn’t until after graduating with my Master’s degree that this magical concept of self care actually stuck. I started practicing yoga again (I’ve been an on/off yogi for years) and decided to try meditation. The first couple of times I sat in silence with my eyes closed, I felt seriously silly. But after a few weeks, I had a break through. I decided to try my meditation in savasana, lying comfortably on my yoga mat. It was a rainy, cold day outside; I missed the sunshine. As I took a deep breath in, I visualized a yellow orb filling my body. I started at my toes and worked my way up to the head, filling each little bit with bright yellow sunshine as I went. I remember getting to the crown of my head and smiling, because I felt a vibration and a happiness that hadn’t been there before. The following weeks and months, I started to notice that I was more present with my clients and with my friends. I was less tired and found myself smiling with more frequency.
It’s funny, but I never realized how anxious I get and stressed out I make myself sometimes until I developed a regular yoga practice. When I would find myself in stressful moments (grad school, planning a wedding, looking for a job, etc), I would clench my jaw, have panic attacks, and stay up all night worrying about what my future was going to hold. Meditation and yoga taught me to live in the present. It taught me to breathe through the ball of anxiety that builds in my chest and push through. I feel like a huge burden has been taken away from me, but I did this for myself. This wasn’t something somebody did for me, it was something I made happen alone. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
Now, it’s easy to wake up early to go for a morning walk with my dog. I no longer have a hard time quitting bad habits, such as my terrible Diet Coke addiction I gave up almost 2 years ago. I have made new goals for myself that I can only thank yoga for. I’m able to recognize what I need in the moment and I allow myself whatever that may be.
Looking back on those years in graduate school, I see the haze that could have been mild depression. I know, you’re never supposed to diagnose yourself. But it’s true. I was very lethargic and never wanted to get out of bed or look for a better job. I had a hard time being social in a new setting and I was constantly homesick. I only wish that I had tried these mindfulness techniques that I now hold dear earlier, because life is a million times better these days.
So, I urge you: try sitting in silence with a practice of meditation for 5 minutes today. See if it makes a difference in your life like it has mine.