I've had several ideas of things I wanted to blog about but haven't really sat down to think them through enough to really flesh them out. However, as we are coming up on the possible end of the world tomorrow, I thought I would take some time to get to this one.
On Grief Counseling:
It's not uncommon for people to ask me how I can stomach hearing so many sad stories and seeing so many broken hearts at my internship without becoming depressed and hopeless. I usually come up with some perfunctory response like "oh, I just try to create boundaries" or something like that, but the real answer to this question is longer and more complex.
Don't get me wrong. My heart breaks at least 3 times a week (usually more) for the people I have the honor of walking with in their grief. Parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, wives who have lost husbands, husbands who have lost wives - they all are broken and hurting from this earth shattering and incredibly unfair event in their life. I get to meet them where they are and, at their pace, guide them through the process of grief. In doing so, I share some of their burden.
So, how can I do this without losing it? It's not about some intangible strength or trait that I have. It is a conscious effort & committment to self care. To me it breaks down into two categories.
1. Boundaries and Self Care. I have to create and maintain separation between what I do inside the doors of Solace House and what I do everywhere else. I treasure my commute as "transition time". I will listen to silly music or just plain good music in the car. I find things that I have fun doing & that make me feel good and I make time for them. For me that includes styling my clothes for the week in a fun way, spending some time before bed watching some shows from my DVR, and doing my very best to make time for my friends and family. Some of these seem like very silly, trivial things - and they are. The point here is that it's okay to enjoy & take part in silly trivial things ESPECIALLY as a way to decompress after dealing with much bigger, heavier things. Additionally, I do my very best to take care of my basic needs like getting enough sleep and eating nourishing foods. Surviving on coffee alone just to get more hours of work in does no good for anyone.
2.Letting go and knowing my limits. If a client comes to mind when I am not in my counseling role, I will say a quick prayer for them and then move on. It's an important part of self care in counseling to keep a boundary on how much responsibility you take for your clients. I acknowledge that I have limits and that there is only so much I can do to help those who grieve. They are going to hurt, because that's what grief is. It is pain. It is natural, healthy, and normal to feel pain when you've lost someone important to you. I can provide a supportive and constructive environment for them to feel safe in expressing their pain,. I can teach them coping and soothing skills to use when the pain is especially difficult. I can even help them find a sense of completeness to their relationship with their lost loved one through a narrative of his/her life/death. I can not make their pain go away. Trying to take on that responsibility would only lead to failure.
Letting go, and taking some time just to take care of myself are two things that are slightly counter intuitive for me to do without feeling like I'm half assing it or being selfish. However, as someone in the mental health field, I understand that if I don't do those things, I won't last. I will burn out and then I won't be of help to anyone. It's similar to what adults are told in that 3 minute safety speech when they get on an airplane. If the person next to you needs help with their oxygen, by all means help them - AFTER you make sure your oxygen mask is on. You won't be much help to anyone while you're gasping for air yourself.
Also, since the world is going to end tomorrow and calories don't matter anyway - I'm totally going to drown my sorrows in ice cream and pizza all day.