The idea of self-care was very foreign to me. Coming from a country where rest and self-indulgence are not the norm, it was rather difficult to assimilate the concept of caring about myself. In Mexico, you are expected to work hard and care about your family and to leave your desires last.
Living in Chicago was not different. A metropolis infused with foreigners with similar backgrounds, the expectations seemed strikingly similar, especially working at a nonprofit organization. Furthermore, I remember when I visited the director of the social work department at Jane Addams College of Social Work, she made a statement that I can’t forget: “In social work, every day is different, but in this field you will be overworked and underpaid.” My career and cultural background stem from a philosophy that encourages putting it all first before yourself, even clients.
That was a reality for me until I came to The Denver Center for Crime Victims. At my first interview, I was asked what I do for myself. At that time I didn’t comprehend why doing something for myself mattered. Two years later, I have learned the importance of valuing yourself, your time, your integrity as a worker and still having the ability to have a strong work ethic.
Most mental health workers get burned out and overwhelmed with cases. Having a self-care plan allows me to be different in the field. On a regular basis I rely on the various activities that I have set for the year. Having the ability to reach out to a place, a time and a space that allows me to be with myself, that is what reenergizes me, and reminds me that the work that I do is important—and caring for me is just as important as helping others.
I know I can be a caring professional, one who has boundaries and gives herself the necessary tools to constantly be refreshed and renewed. I inevitably compare my life as a counselor in Chicago and in Denver. Even though the cases at DCCV are far more violent and tragic, I am able to focus on striving at delivering services while finding a balance between work and a personal life.
That homeostasis, I believe, differentiates us from other nonprofits. Our executive director, Cathy Phelps, is strict, yet considerate and appreciative of our work. That environment enables staff to feel appreciated and to want to give more of ourselves and to participate in new projects. Equally amazing is the fact that we incorporate that philosophy with our clients. We educate those who come to us about the importance of being healthy, exercising, eating well, making effective choices, etc. Having a holistic approach that begins at an internal level allows us to convey our mission, and it makes our work authentic.
Claudia Ortega, MSW, RYT* 200
Counselor and Paralegal, DCCV