Comment on Caring for Others, Caring for Self:
This was extremely helpful, thank you! I am wondering, though, if you have specific ways to practice checking in with yourself? I find that in the balance of finding what I need and what my community needs, I’m more apt to sway to the community needs. That’s the more pervasive response, and I have a stronger (positive) emotional reaction to it immediately. – Erin Blanding
Thanks Erin for such a great comment/question.
I was out in the desert last week and saw that the Creosote bush was in bloom. I was thinking about how each seed is like a tiny piece of faith the bush commits to, with no idea of how each seed will be released, or even if it will grow. Committing to ourselves to try and meet our own needs is also a complete act of faith. There is no feedback from outside of ourselves. All we can do is wait to see what grows.
We can create tools to figure out how to make wiser decisions about our own needs when committing to requests. Checking in with ourselves while we are deciding where to put our energy can be difficult. Responding to community needs can have such a high pay-off because our community recognizes us for what we do (but maybe not who we are). We crave that recognition because it’s something we can measure, an act that we can point to as being done. The results are tangible.
Responding to our own needs is much harder. We have to expend energy up front to figure out what our needs are and then there is the effort of trying to meet those needs. The only ones to say, “Hey, good job!” is us. Self-care in a lot of ways is about confronting our loneliness, making peace with our desire for a witness to affirm how much work it is to take care of ourselves. For me, this gets wrapped up in a desire for approval. Part of the process is to teach myself that my needs are valid.
When I first started challenging myself to consider my own needs, the easiest thing I could do was to pay attention to my feelings. When someone requested something from me, I tried to pause and check in with my first reaction. For example, if I felt both interested but also irritated, I’d try to honor that there is a reason for feeling irritated, even if I didn’t know what it was. I’d ask the individual if I could get back to them and I’d spend a bit of time figuring out why I felt irritated. That feeling would lead me to a need. Sometimes this need meant I turned down the request, but other times this need could be met in another way.
For example, I was recently asked to be part of a panel speaking on Disability activism. I felt both excited and overwhelmed. I took some time to figure out why I felt overwhelmed and when I listed out all of the life-stuff going on it made sense. Yet, doing the event felt right too. I realized that it was possible to be on the panel, but not necessarily have to be the moderator or super involved in the organizing of it. I could just show up, share, and have some fun.
Figuring out even how we feel in the moment can be difficult. One of the people I interviewed said that they taped the word, “No” on their phone. They did this to remind them to say, “No” to requests so they didn’t over-commit. If they felt later like they really did want to do something, they would call back and say that they changed their mind. This was the place they had to start in order to even figure out how they felt about a request.
Some of us can be really skilled and efficient at getting things done. People acknowledge that by asking for our help. I love feeling needed, and yet, I can only do so much before getting overwhelmed and things fall apart. When I say, “No,” this creates an opportunity for someone else to try. Things may look different or even fail, but that is our journey, our opportunity to learn.
Self-care is really about learning to become accountable to ourselves. It is an acknowledgement of our strengths and our limits. We can care deeply about our communities that we are connected to, but this caring is only truly authentic when it comes from a place where we can be whole-hearted (present, content to be there, etc.) in our efforts. If we show up, but angry about being there, that comes through, and if we show up and are present with what is happening, that comes through too.
Some questions to reflect on are:
- Where do you feel feelings in your body? In your stomach, in your chest?
- If feelings aren’t accessible, is there some way you know when something is right or wrong for you? Perhaps a sensation of exhaustion or you might notice that you automatically smile when someone suggests something. Maybe a song pops in your head that helps clue you in.
- How do you figure out what you need? Do you journal about it, sleep on it, exercise and let it come? If you were to imagine yourself telling this to a friend, what would you say?
- When you do begin to notice information, a feeling or sensation, reflect on when you’ve felt this way before. What happened? What did you notice?
 This person requested to remain anonymous.