So I don’t know how many of you have seen a counselor, or if you ever wonder what goes on in the world of a psychologist OUTSIDE the therapy room (“do they really do all the meditating they’re telling me is so beneficial?”) but I’ve got a little bit of insight that I’d like to share with you. I have noticed that in psychology, self care gets talked about a lot… but similar to other helping fields, the actual practice of putting ourselves as a priority is not so good. There’s a lot of TALK about work-life balance, but the structural systems within the workplace – be it nonprofit or private practice – make it really hard to actually have balance. Now, in my early 20s, I was excited enough about the work, and energetic enough, that I could “buckle down and push through”. But by the time I turned 27 – not that old – the effect of “pushing through” was starting to wear on me.
Just to give you an idea, I have worked overnights, shift work, several jobs at once, and I often took on the hardest cases with the people facing the most barriers, with little or no structural support.
I was in the process of dealing with a particularly difficult situation when my body finally said “stop”. And I knew the signs of burnout, so I listened.
Unfortunately, the signs of stress I was noticing didn’t go away as soon as I exited stressful environment. The chronic stress I’d been dealing with over the years, along with the acute stress of the situation, was too much for my body to handle. I started getting migraines more and more often, even on days when I was trying to take care of myself. It progressed to a point where I was dealing with high intensity pain on a daily basis. And that went on for a year.
So for those of you who’ve ever had a migraine, I probably need to say no more, but for those of you who haven’t, I can tell you that the constant brace against and managing of chronic pain is so consuming that it doesn’t take long before despair and hopelessness start to flood in.
The only thing I could do at that point was drastically change my life. And I did. I significantly decreased my working hours, I changed the hours I was in the office, and I began a practice of ongoing health care including yoga, meditation, mindfulness, biofeedback, walking, and therapeutic massage. I was very selective about what I did take on, because I knew that I might only have a few hours each day to focus on something other than managing my pain.
Now, fast forward a couple years and my health is much better, but I know that I will never be able or willing to take on as much as I used to. And this is different than just tacking on a yoga class at the end of each hectic week. Life had to change.
Nicole is a Registered Psychologist with a general private practice in the Garneau area of Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She believe in seeing problems within their context and in being a non-judgmental advocate and support. She integrate a variety of other therapy approaches, including mindfulness-based therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and group therapy. She identify as an ally and have been working with the LGBTQ* community in therapeutic settings from the beginning, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly.