My Missing Ingredient

Since beginning my journey as a therapist, there are two words I despised. Self-Care. The phrase made me cringe. It sounded indulgent. It sounded excessive. It sounded uncomfortable.

Self-Care?”

“No, thank you.”

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In graduate school, mentors I admired would espouse the need for ‘self-care.’ At the end of classes, my cohort and I would be asked to identify how we were going to ‘self- care.’

“Umm… I’m taking a bath?”

“Uhhh… I’m making dinner?”

Now as a new therapist at CANY, this same question is asked of me, this time by my supervisor. My responses echo the same feelings I felt as a student.

“Well . . . I’m watching my favorite show tonight.”

To me, self-care always felt a little ‘glued on.’ I would name an activity (typically something I already intended to do) and claim that it would be done in the name of self-care.

As therapists, we are asked to be particularly mindful of taking care of ourselves. We need to be available and open to our clients; acting as containers, ready to be filled with their experiences and helping them navigate and process their emotions.

In recent weeks, I have struggled to find my sense of joy and optimism in this chaotic world. No matter your politics, the divisiveness in this country has been palpable. In recent weeks, I have found myself glued to my phone even more than usual, waiting with baited breath for the next New York Times update to appear on my screen. My podcast feed is full of politically minded discussions and interviews. My social media chock-full of articles and statements posted by my friends and colleagues and my client’s stories suddenly seem to be brimming with political themes and characters.

While I continued operating in my usual manner, going to dinner with friends, discussing the world, hungrily consuming media, trying my best to understand everything that was and is happening in the world,  for the first time, I found myself feeling stuck and longing for something more. Suddenly those two little words came floating into my mind… self-care…..the words seeming to haunt me. But still, I managed to cast that longing for something more aside.

And then one day, it all came to a head. I was running a group composed of adolescent girls, and every story or character we created in the group was steeped in political sentiment. I was drained, desperately trying to reassure my clients and myself that our group was a safe space and encouraging them to keep exploring, while at the same time feeling deeply worried. At CANY the clients we work with are often marginalized and the uncertainty of these times seemed to be adding fuel to the fire.  After the group had ended, I received a New York Times alert, and I realized I could no longer allow myself to operate in my usual manner. I could feel myself crumbling. I canceled dinner with my friends, I paused my podcasts, I turned off my phone, and I unrolled my yoga mat. As I moved through the Asana practice, I began to embrace those two little words I had once despised so much.

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At that moment, I needed self-care in a new way, and I understood the missing ingredient in my self-care recipe, vulnerability. Suddenly I found myself flooded with appreciation for these two little words. I found myself embracing this concept, and with this acceptance, a wave of wisdom seemed to crash upon me.

Self-care means I have to build time into my life to be by myself, to really sit with myself. It involves me processing the feelings that I sometimes do not feel like processing. The stories and feelings that are both mine and my clients. Self-care requires a sense of daring; it requires a willingness to jump into the mess and work through the stuck feelings. Self-care requires me to be a ‘grown up’ and put my care first even at the risk of letting other people down. I need to ‘place the oxygen mask on my mouth first before helping small children or others who need assistance.’

After welcoming vulnerability and acknowledging the bravery and courage required in self-care, I have discovered a new sense of calm amidst the storm. I found a portal into this magical land, and I can’t turn back.

Now when I ask my clients how they are caring for themselves, I feel a new sense of authenticity. I recognized my own personal therapy could no longer be my only self-care; my self-care involves me sitting alone in my own rawness.

-Carrie Watt, MA, LCAT- P

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