Most every day for the past 25 years I talk with at least one person about what they are doing to manage the stress and trauma in their lives. It’s generally not a conversation that I am seeking out. Sometimes it just comes up, sometimes a friend is looking horrible and sometimes there is nothing I could possibly say or do that would stop the “I am so busy and stressed” train from coming down the track right at me. I ask the coworker, the friend, the intern, the client, the colleague, the checker at the store (who is a little too familiar) if they like to walk, do they want to come to yoga, what creative projects are they working on, or when was the last time they were on a vacation. I make suggestions, invite folks to activities, suggest movies, books or classes I have enjoyed and I am almost always met with the same responses: “I would love to,” “that sounds great,” “if only I could,” or “I used to enjoy that” BUT … I just don’t have the time. And this, friends, is my pet peeve … because I was there and busy is not a badge of honor!
In 2002, my friend and supervisor introduced me to “The Self Care Plan,” a purposeful plan to address my need to care for myself with as much commitment as I cared for those around me. When I started my first self-care plan I had two small children, a husband, older parents that lived close, pets, friends, a full-time job and another part-time job both providing services to address trauma and mental health, a very needy lawn and a house that wasn’t going to clean itself. I thought that there was no way I could squeeze one more anything into this full and busy life. The problem was that I was tired all the time, I frequently felt anxious, guilty and sometimes depressed. I had trouble sleeping, I was overweight and I had a fierce startle response. This was the badge that I wore to honor all the good work that I did as a mother, a partner, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a victim advocate and a mental health professional.
It took creativity, boundaries, compassion for me, support of others and wanting to do better for my family to make a way to find the time. Turns out that in order to add things into my life, I had to find a way to take a few things out. Addressing my sleep problems didn’t take any more time than having them … in fact, it took less. Turns out my whole family enjoyed going for a walk after dinner, which helped me feel better and provided another opportunity for family time and exercise. I kept going from there: setting time aside for exercise like any other appointment in my calendar, saying “no” more than occasionally, ending toxic relationships, better boundaries about going home at quitting time and not being on each and every board or committee I am invited to. It’s not selfish; it’s preservation. It takes less time to exercise a couple of times a week than to deal with diabetes on a daily basis. It is more enjoyable to work on a creative project than stay in bed with a headache. It is preferable to go to a yoga class than to spend time in the hospital as a result of hypertension.
I still have two kids, a husband, pets, friends, a house, a needy lawn and my parents are older and require more time and care. I commute three days a week, an hour and 15 minutes at least each way and have two permanent part-time jobs. I love to spend time with my partner, do things with my kids, quilt and read and walk and travel and go out with friends. I figured out how to do it differently, how to prioritize and how to include others because I valued myself and the results of caring for myself.
Kathi Fanning, MS, LPC
Director of Training