Since becoming a doula and Spiritual Companion I’ve talked about self care with someone almost every day.
I find myself saying the same thing in myriad ways, but it boils down to:
You can’t fill someone’s cup from an empty jug.
Lets start with this one because it’s the quickest, and many more people have explained it better than me all over the Internets. It’s the aeroplane thing – put your own oxygen mask on your face first before trying to help someone else. It’s the same with oxytocin and endorphins – you’ve got to sort your own out before you can share, otherwise it looks like you’re giving the good stuff on the surface, but actually, it’s not an embodied sensation for you and the receiver will feel the lack – even if they aren’t able to put words to what they’re feeling. Doulas tend to be pretty good at switching on Oxytocin and Endorphins for their clients – but lets face it; we love them in the moment – that’s our calling – and because we love them, in that moment our endocrine system responds accordingly.
But what happens when we’re home? Alone, exhausted and worn thin with the cares of our lives, our client’s lives? That’s when you need mad skills to help you shift your soup from cortisol and adrenaline, back to the good stuff so that you can have a good soak.
You are just as important (if not more – but I’ll get into that) as anyone else in your life and on your schedule.
This one feeds into the first one. If you don’t see yourself as important, then no one else will. Doulas are givers. We give and give and give – to our clients, our friends, our colleagues, our families, and somewhere, in the shadowy bottoms of that list is ourselves. This is what I have to say to that, in the gentlest, most loving way: Fuck that noise. Seriously folks, we are our work. We are our best asset, and if we don’t care for it properly, eventually the wheels will fall off. We need to put something back in, we need a service, an MOT, a full on valet. And just like if you were taking in your car to the mechanics, you need to schedule that stuff and stick to it.
No excuses. No backsies. No. YOU are important. On your self care days YOU are the priority. Unless aliens are invading, or the house is literally falling down you are out of service to everyone but yourself that day, that hour, that 15 minutes, that moment. Self care doesn’t have to take up tons of time, but it does have to be yours, for you.
I don’t know how you will achieve that, or what it looks like for you. Maybe its a bath with the door locked, maybe its a walk around the block with no one in tow, maybe its a glass of wine and your favourite playlist. Whatever it is – own it. It’s yours and it matters.
The Guilts are sneaky little bastards.
They are. They sneak up and whisper nasty shit in your ear when you least expect it. The hardest thing about implementing something like this is The Guilts. The bastard little voices that tell you “You’re too busy for this”, “You don’t deserve it”, “Get off your lazy arse and do something productive”. You have to love yourself enough to say “Fuck you”, consistently. It’s hard. If you can’t keep them in line on your own (which is totally ok, they are a powerful bunch for some of us – me included) appoint a bouncer. A good friend who’ll kick ’em all out if they get rowdy. Someone to come and roundhouse them right out the door. A person who will remind you that you are worth it, you need it and it’s necessary. Exorcise them, however you can – they are not on your side.
There is a special Boss Level Guilt that catches us Doulas out all the time – the Client Guilts. This is a whole other level of stuff that I’m not going to go into in this post. Needless to say, when someone has paid us to be there for them we can sometimes feel like maybe we owe them more time than we actually do. We need to put a damn electric fence around our focus and attention when it comes to these. Good boundaries are essential and you need to sink your fence poles early, otherwise, before you even realise, you will be thinking of your client at 2am because of a text they sent you three days ago, and reading too damn much into it. Because you care – I get that – but you can only be effective in caring when you aren’t burned out.
I can’t tell you what to do for your self care – it only works if it means something to you.
This is the tricky one – it’s the one where I punt the question right back over the net. Every day I see posts a bit like this on the forums, groups and face-to-face meetings I’m at:
Self care: What do you do?
I have neglected myself the past few months.
I’m feeling so burnt out.
I have just finished up for a break from births for a few months whilst I do some postnatal and workshops. Last time I opted for a reflexology session but feel I need to do more to rest and re-cooperate than treat myself.
I’m thinking of stopping Doulaing for a while to recharge.
I start by suggesting the usual stuff:
Have a think about committing to something that’s just about you for a week. It could be a mindful walk in the morning, 20 minutes of guided relaxation where you’re a no go zone, it depends on what you like. Then treat yourself at the end of that week. You will be more relaxed and able to sink into whatever it is. Hot stones are quite good for sinking and soaking because they are heavy and help you to release your tension. I’m full of ideas, but it’s hard to suggest when I don’t know what you do already and what you like.
Here’s the tricky bit. Getting ideas from other people is a great start, but when you’re finally committing to a deep self care practice, that shiz is for life. It’s not a one time deal. It’s not a burn – bust – recharge deal either. That’s not a sustainable option. Self care has to be conscious, mindful, deliberate, purposeful, intentional and it has to be a PERSONAL, meaningful practice. A daily commitment to honour the place in you from which your love and energy flows. A daily desire to shift from an Adrenaline/Cortisol state into Oxytocin/Endorphin one. You have to do it regularly so your body gets to know what it feels like to be in that groove of care that is focused inward and solely on you.
As a Doula, you will have doubtless heard the phrase “mothering the mother”. I get that. Now, here’s one for you: Be a good parent to yourself. Show your body, mind and spirit what it feels like to have that unconditional love, non-judgemental support, and unwavering focused holding given to it. Can you do that? Do you know what it looks like? Do you know what it feels like?
As an SC I’m super proud to be part of the Spiritual Companions Trust and I’d like to share their new project Your Spiritual Health with you. There is a whole free programme on there with meditations and exercises you can use to care for yourself. If you’d like to work on them some more, or reach out for support, that’s what Spiritual Companions do. They can help you to personalise the practices and encourage you to do them daily in a way that works for you. Give me a shout if that sounds like something you’d like to explore a bit more. I can help you get curious and catch hold of what self care and daily connection look like for you.