While planning the rollout of the next cycle’s blog posts, I signed up to write about the planned New Year cleanse. I hoped to start the new year out by reflecting on and demonstrating a clean start in all areas of my life. I endeavor to start each year by eating better and doing a deep clean of habits and material possessions that are superfluous or unhealthy for me. That was the plan.
However, that plan failed, at least initially. I canceled all plans to travel home for Christmas and ended up working both the Christmas and New Year holidays. Just before Christmas, my colleagues and I suffered the loss of a patient who had been with us for a long time. I have previously written about the grief we suffer as nurses who have cared intimately for patients and families. I cared extensively for this little one and his family. This one struck me very hard, and it only served to increase my dislike of a year like no other.
So, on January 3rd, I woke up after working a several-day stretch, feeling the complete opposite of someone enthusiastic about a new start. I felt empty, exhausted, cold, and a bit hardened. I wanted to sleep, indulge in my go-to habit of zoning out while binge-watching Netflix and ordering greasy take-out, and sit while distracting myself from the challenges in front of me.
It has been a non-stop month of work for me. The unit I joined when I moved to Austin last year was a reboot of a specialty program, with elite surgeons and physicians recruited as part of a plan to expand services to a “desert” in the state. In a short time, the extent and number of surgeries and complexity of patients have shot forward at increasing speed. Though it is wonderful to be part of an exciting and flourishing department, this is countered with a tremendous workload, shifting needs and priorities, and increasingly ill children and families. For my sensitive soul and spirit, it has been a flood of ethical, emotional, physical, and spiritual demands I was not prepared to face.
I met with a fabulous chaplain a few weeks ago, and I shared the numbness and hardness I was experiencing. Through previous events in my life, I have learned what the symptoms and signs of my personal “wall” are and what I look and feel like as I approach the outer limits of my capacity. I have hit it with a loud thud. I reach a point of oversaturation and an inability to incorporate any more emotional stories or even to be compassionate with those who approach me needing assistance. I have to choose to listen and observe, and consciously speak and act. Every part of me is tired.
The chaplain listened and heard my current thoughts and emotions. She has numerous life experiences similar to mine, and also suffered from “save the world syndrome,” as I call it.
I am an empath, and I used to jump right into the fray with the person I wanted to rescue, living the experience with them and wanting to be THE person they could depend on and call. It took years of unlearning that habit, reminding myself that each person is on their own life journey, to move myself to a healthy place of being empathetic but detached enough to protect myself. It felt selfish, rude, and wrong to me for a long time. Yet every time I choose myself, I know it is the right thing, and to believe that I am worth guarding is a lesson I am sure I will be learning for the remainder of my life.
The chaplain and I talked through ways to cope with where I am right now. I was happy to share with her that two dear friends and I have a planned getaway to remove and process and refresh. She reminded me that a healthy empath will work from a place of safety. They will care for the person in crisis or pain, but instead of jumping into the valley with no way out, they will stand in a place to throw a rope down to the valley. And behind them stand safe people ready to hold that rope so that the empath will not fall into the hole.
She reminded me of the importance of guarding my heart, saying no (I have also written on this topic before – I think I need to re-read some of my own blogs!), and taking even small 10-second breaks amid my day to find my feet and remember where I am standing.
A friend gifted me with The Monk Manual as a Christmas gift. It is a type of journal that initially involves a 30-day undertaking to look deeply into our lives–realizing how we think, what we prioritize, what good self-care habits look like, and what it means to incorporate honor of the present moment in our days.
I was not in a place to start this undertaking at the beginning of the year. And in many ways, I wonder if I can keep something up for a 30-day stretch, with the chaotic schedule my job provides. But I will be able to find any and every type of excuse to avoid journaling and a daily activity. I always have, but that is not a reason not to try again.
I am looking forward to my little vacation next week. I am traveling to one of my favorite places, and have two wonderful friends who have offered to be my sounding boards for the days I am away. We will speak authentically, be truthful and honest, and I will be safe to express my darkest self and struggles with them. They will hold me and my journey, my fears and pain, and reflect back to me the best ways to walk through my present moment. I hope to do the same for them, but it is not an expectation.
I will be bringing the Monk Manual. I will pray and attempt to start a new daily habit, which does not take much time but can be a few minutes I care for myself.
There are a few things I have changed in this new year. I canceled my subscription to a company that sent me clothes for purchase on a monthly basis. I am determined to break my take-out habit, which goes in fits and starts. I have a fancy coffee machine that will serve to keep my coffee-chain purchases down. I am taking my daily vitamins. I am grateful to live in a city that sees the sun, so I spend time outside every day. I made a promise to myself to keep my kitchen clean. I have made the conscious decision to avoid gossip and negativity in my professional life. I want to be an encourager and a safe space for people to feel comfortable sharing and finding hope. To do that, I once again must make myself a priority.
I plan to revisit this blog post in a few months to see (and share) what other cleansing I have been able to do in my life and habits. My “new year” begins in February this time around. Perhaps that is a good lesson for me as well – it is never too late to choose a new direction or care for ourselves. Time is something we cherish on this side, but our time and God’s are completely different. In the context of eternity, what is a month or so delay in getting on the right track again?
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