We have all heard the announcement- or maybe we haven’t, but frequent flyers know too well about the standard pre-flight announcements, the flight attendant instructs that, “if there should be a change in cabin pressure…put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” It makes sense. You need to take care of yourself so that you can assist others. The subliminal issue with this metaphor that is used in everyday life is that we wait for extreme emergencies to start implementing self-care, and by then we have developed burn-out, autoimmune issues, develop cancer, become overweight, depressed, anxious, in pain, fill in the blanks.
It is important to help people who need it, for particularly two main reasons. The first one is- they obviously need it. And the other is that helping people makes you feel good about yourself. So in an idealistic world, you should help whenever help is required, and then everyone wins.
Let’s think about that for a second. This works great if you are carrying a person’s heavy shopping bags, or providing directions to a stranger, or cooking for your partner, or waiting for a squirrel to cross the road. However, what if your friend is struggling with grief, or a close friend has been diagnosed bipolar disorder or Alzheimer’s disease, or your friend’s marriage is falling apart?
Any one of these scenarios may seem straightforward to you and you may be perfectly able to assist. Or maybe your friend came to you because you know what it’s like after having your own marriage fall apart, years ago. As a result, you can provide great insight to this issue. But, can you manage with helping someone with their issue when your own experience could be raw and may re-open and trigger wounds that may be simply too painful?
It makes complete logical sense, that people often look for someone who has been through a similair experience for support. Frequently we are more than happy to pass along anything we have learnt through an experience. We may even feel that we can make a difference, and more than likely, we can. But what about the examples such as a grieving friend or a recent diagnosis? You could possibly be the best person to turn to, but from your standpoint, it may seem like the worst possible idea.
You have to protect yourself- you really must! If you are overcome by emotion, you will be of little use to the person. When a person comes to you, they need you to be strong and have the ability to focus on themselves and not have to worry about how they are affecting you.
It may not even be your past that is the issue, it could be an actual concern- such as being around someone with severe depression or mental health issues, may affect you and bring you down. You must define the line, and only you know where the line is where you know you cannot go beyond as it can damage you significantly.
You have to make sure, you are fit to help, and to also get on with your life. Sometimes you may have to apologise and explain that it is just too raw right now and you may be able to help in other ways rather than listening. This could be by limiting the time you spend together, may be all you need to find how to get the oxygen you need without abandoning them. The important reminder here is that you understand the importance of being emotionally capable to have the capacity to be of any help to someone else.
But what about us, what if we identify that we cannot help?- in our society most of us don’t take time to care for ourselves until our body makes us stop. If we ignore the fatigue, the headaches, the insomnia, the anxiety, the depression, we hit a wall. We have heard that people say their illness or dissolution of their marriage was a blessing in disguise because it forced them to have “legitimate” excuse to slow-down, reprioritize, and allocate time and energy for self-care.
I am not sure why we are afraid to admit that we want to care for ourselves. I suppose, we were not taught that growing up, it didn’t exist in our family structures. It takes effort to find support to reinforce those behaviours and thought. It takes discussions with your spouse or partner and children about why they can’t be engaged in 3 after school activities each week. It takes conversations with your boss about why you require a more flexible schedule. It takes effort, at least at first. It also takes believing that you deserve it.
I am not sure why in today’s society, success is the ability to do everything. I suffered from that for a long time, but for me, it was a distraction from my life. “Being Busy” was my therapy. But that only lasts for so long, until you eventually hit that wall- and you will hit the wall. Where your body has had enough and forces you to slow down.
We need to start being proactive and not reactive regarding our self-care. We need to put our oxygen mask on first, period! Not in an emergency, as a necessity!
Templar R, 2017, The Rules of People, Pearson,United Kingdom