By Tikvah Womack, LCPC
I am sitting in front of a candle, my waterfall, and a glass of water at the end of a day that started at 6 am and ended at 12 am the following day. I just finished meeting with my clients, who graciously agreed to meet with me during odd hours so I can accommodate my children’s schedules and be available to them. I told a friend, “I am a therapist between the hours of 6-10 am, Morah (teacher) and mommy between the hours of 10 am-9:00 pm, and back to therapist from 9 pm-11 pm (12 am at the latest).” My friend responded, “Sounds like you have it all covered, but when are you Tikvah?” I laughed and said, “She is long gone. Tikvah packed her bags when this all started.”
Although I say this all tongue-in-cheek, I realize how am I effectively available for others while I am ineffectively available for myself. It begs the question: Is that possible? As I considered the topic for this blog, I thought about internal expectations vs external expectations, but the more I thought about it, I accepted the reality that these questions are coming from fatigue.
I know we are all exhausted. It is tiring to be locked in the home with our children or being locked in with ourselves (although some are enjoying this time a little too much-you know who you are). But right now, I am talking to the people whose responsibility in every aspect of their lives – both professionally and personally – is caring for others. For some (like myself), taking care of others, involves teaching via Zoom or telehealth and then jumping off those calls (or having them interrupted) to care for the people in their home. I was on a call and the presenter was talking about Zoom fatigue and I thought “oh that’s a thing!” If you haven’t looked it up, there are articles being written about how taxing and draining it is being on Zoom. However, what I am talking about is beyond that, it is “compassion fatigue” on steroids in some cases.
When this started, I said it was like I was wearing all my hats at once, and I’ve found that to be true. It is especially taxing if all of those hats are giving ones. Most of us have heard the term “SELF-CARE.” But at times, after handling all of our daily responsibilities, self-care feels like a chore, impossible to reach, or some destination at the end of a dark long tunnel in a train that is moving five miles per hour, while everything else around you is racing .
What makes it even harder, is that we are in these caring roles. We don’t always have someone holding us, telling us “stop taking care of others and take care of yourself.” Self-care has been the most popular buzz word lately. We are supposed to automatically know to look out for ourselves. I find, during these times, when you don’t have that transition to gracefully move between all the caring roles you hold, you forget you’re empty. It’s like when you jump in your car and your gas tank is low, but you are so focused on getting to the store to get the milk (or toilet paper) before they close, you ride on fumes instead of a full tank. On your way back home, the car turns off because it is empty. If you are so focused on the tasks at hand, you don’t have the chance to be honest with yourself and say, “no way am I going to make it”. The lesson is: fill your tank first.
I do not have all the answers but know that you’re not alone. You are appreciated. Feel confident in knowing that you are doing the best you can for everyone else and accept that you deserve to have that caring space, too. Writing this blog gave me the opportunity to remind myself that I am doing a great job, too!
Nadia “Tikvah” Womack, LCPC is a Child and Adolescent Therapist for Jewish Community Services.
JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.