Learning Self-Care in Health Care

It’s Monday morning. I am deeply appreciating the transition I feel on the other side of a 3-day course with Nari Clemons, Jennafer Vande Vegte and a whole host of other incredible women in health care. Usually we go to continuing education seminars to learn about how we can treat other people; I came away from this ‘retreat’ learning how to take care of myself. The Holistic Interventions and Meditation course asked for an inner dive into self and personal past circumstances. Introspection like this can be scary, but the landing was soft and supportive, and I encountered a huge spring board at the bottom. At the beginning of the course the 24 participants shared our reason for ‘being there,’ and most of us expressed some symptoms and stories of burnout. These reflections on our state of being in career were also clearly impacting our families, relationships to others, self and personal health too.

Questions I have asked myself regularly over the years:

  • How do I keep up with productivity and provide valuable treatment?
  • Why can’t I keep up my energy levels and enthusiasm for patient care like ‘X’ colleague?
  •  How am I going to do this for another 30 years?
  • Why does this patient ‘trigger’ me so? I feel resentful or angry at them?
  •  What is an empath? How do I know if I am one?
  • Sometimes during ‘effective’ treatments, I can feel someone else’s ‘release’ in my body. I know that isn’t healthy, but it also helps me know where to go during manual therapy treatment. Someone explained to me ‘grounding,’ but I still don’t ‘get it.’ How do I ground?
  • Please ‘define’ healthy boundaries with my patients. Was that thing ‘X’ did okay?
  • I’m so TIRED when I get home and feel like I have little left to give my family, but what do I change and how do I start?
  • I feel like my patient needs more than traditional PT interventions. I think they need something more ‘mindful.’ How do I incorporate this into the PT plan?
  • Why do I attract drama?

Nari pointed out in this course that young, passionate people are most likely to burnout and people who just ‘like their jobs’ are least likely. Why is this? I can only speak for myself. PT school gave me tools for thinking and fixing people. Unbeknownst to me not only did I graduate from grad school with elevated self-worth, but a reinforcement of my rescuer mindset. Over the last 10 years I have continued to learn and evolve and contribute in my profession. I got good at treating ‘difficult’ and ‘complex’ patients and so… I received more. Some clients did their homework…some didn’t. Some were open to re-framing thoughts for improved health…some weren’t. Sometimes I became resentful of the excuses of my patients in not doing their part, but I at least partially picked up their slack anyway. I can see behaviors where I wanted well-being for others so badly I would let others climb on my back as I carried them towards their goals. I knew what I was doing could contribute to anyone’s burnout, but I think I had pushed back the boundaries so many times, healthy parameters were smudged. I learned to care for others as a child and I used my ‘strengths’ to better the world in a caring profession.

(I serendipitously picked up this beautiful book called ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ by Rupi Kaur that I would like to share a few quotes with you throughout this article.)

You are a mirror
If you continue to starve yourself of love
You’ll only meet people who’ll starve you too
If you soak yourself in love
The universe will hand you those
Who’ll love you too
-          A simple path

I became a high-performing commodity in a health care system. The companies I worked for needed to market the compassion of thier team, but often seemed mostly concerned about the monetary ‘bottom line’ in team meetings. Sometimes the sentiment of management sounded dire. This lit a fire under my ass and stoked the ‘rescuer’ in me. I learned the word ‘bankrupt’ at age 7 when my dad lost his business, the government took our house away and my sister mom and I moved into the ghetto.  I worked not only for myself, but my co-workers, surpassed most productivity levels and still experienced two lay-offs in my ten-year career. That’s powerful when survival and self-worth are such motivating factors. But, that was then, and this is now. I’ve started my own practice and now I’ve struggled with not going 30 minutes over treatment time to ensure I’m delivering value and I struggle with not dropping my rates which I’ve been told repeatedly by colleagues are too low. How do I value myself? How do I get momentum? I needed to reorient to boundaries and learn self-care. I also needed to acknowledge that my patient’s outcomes are not a direct reflection of my self-worth. This course was just the breath I needed.

I boarded the plane for Tampa a few days ago carrying a broken heart within me.  The first day of this new year the carpet was unexpectedly pulled out from under me. Suddenly I had to reorient myself to my life circumstances, but I was having a tough time getting traction to produce some forward momentum in life. I booked this course 2 weeks ahead because I saw the sunny warmth of Florida, Jenn’s friendship and the requirement of focus during a course as exercise for my overwhelmed and fogged brain. During my attendance I was unexpectedly (and gently) encouraged to push the dirt away from parts of me I buried for survival. I was invited to sit with physical and emotional sensations that I might otherwise run from. I was given tools to be in my body and taught techniques for grounding and setting boundaries. Not only do I wish I learned these concepts in PT school, but even earlier as a child; regardless, it is never too late to start. The objective framework through which chronic pain and burnout was explored via neuroanatomy not only helped me understand chronic pain and treatment interventions more, but also gave me protective insights into healthy compassion for others and myself.

I will no longer compare my path to others
-          I refuse to do a disservice to my life.

I learned in the Holistic Interventions and Meditation course that we can’t pour from an empty cup. We must learn to register how much water is in our cup, regulate how much we must give for the day and go back to the well. If we pour out the entire cup for our patients and projects, what effect will that have in our home life and the one’s we love? The ones, I hope for all of us, refill our cup. I also want to acknowledge my own grievances and forgive myself for not learning some of these lessons earlier. Undoubtedly, I am human, and I am sure I will have to re-learn them too.

What good am I
If I do not fill the plates
Of the ones who fed me
But fill the plates of strangers
-          Family

Thank you for the healing that you do. Please take care of yourself so you can truly share your light with the world while you learn, grow and enjoy your days in this journey called life.

With love and gratitude,

Susannah Haarmann at Your Core PT