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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

You cannot care for others if you do not care for yourself first.

When you work in a field where caring for others is your focus, caring for yourself can be overlooked. I know this from experience. I think there was a part of me that thought if I stopped to take a break to care for myself, even when I knew I needed it, I would somehow be letting someone else down. It is easier to push yourself to ensure that others are cared for well, than it is to put yourself first and move to the front of the line where you belong and deserve to be. Realizing this though takes time and will usually happen after you have forgotten your own care and struggle to get through each day.

Working in end-of-life care can take its toll. The weight of witnessing a last breath or a last goodbye can weigh heavily, and if you do not take care of yourself, it will eventually be too much for you to carry. Self-care is mandatory and is one of the first things I teach in my classes, and hand over as a tool for new nurses and doulas. You must learn to take a pause, to breathe, to step back for a moment, and to even check-out temporarily so that you can just be with self and honor everything you see and do.

The more you do this work, the more you become aware of your own mortality, or that of the people you love. This too can weigh heavy and take its toll. Death is in my thoughts all the time, every single day. The benefit of this, is that I am so acutely aware of the fragility of life, that I try harder to embrace and savor every moment of it. I admittedly imagine life without the people I love, and I struggle with that too. I try to shake those thoughts, bringing myself to right now, this moment, which is all we can be absolutely certain of. But this takes work, and practice, and constantly setting intention to keep this in the forefront of my thoughts always.

When you work in this field and experience your own personal losses, you find yourself in between standing so still you are afraid to move and moving forward swiftly, as though it never happened. Neither are healthy. I have found that facing all my feelings head on, really feeling them, honoring them, and wiping the sticky off them, helps. I call it “sticky,” because that is what grief feels like to me… like it’s stuck to me, which then becomes stuck to everything I touch. The more I ignore it, or stuff it down so I cannot see it, the stickier it becomes. So, I talk to it, with it, and about it… and all of this allows me to walk alongside it rather than in front of or behind it.

In order to work in a field where you have to be strong enough to witness difficult moments, and comfort others who are trying to navigate them, you have to take care of yourself and find a self-care routine that can fit nicely into your daily life. Journaling, blogging, meditation, yoga, running, walking, hiking, cooking, time with family and time with friends… all of this can center and ground you. This work is beautiful, but it cannot be everything you are or do. You must find work-life balance, which is something I am working on too. Breathe, take a pause, give yourself a time-out, or turn your music up crazy loud and have a dance party. You must honor and care for yourself well. You deserve that.

You cannot care for others if you do not care for yourself first.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” – Unknown

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