"Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself." ~ Michel de Montaigne
"How are you?"
I was meeting a friend whom I see not nearly as often as I'd like, so we had a lot to catch up on.
"The truth?" she asked.
So we talked. We talked about her sons and their individual learning needs. We talked about her extensive volunteering in her school district and her education advocacy, not just for her own children, but for strangers' children. We talked about how she is her aging mother's long-distance health care advocate, and about the binder of information she keeps about her mother's medical history, illnesses, and prescriptions to have at the ready for phone calls with doctors or nursing home staff.
We also talked about the sometimes painful process of self-discovery that happens at midlife, how we are continually learning new things about ourselves, getting to know ourselves as if for the first time, and how that surprises us. She is unusually sensitive and gifted, and I was reminded of an article about gifted adults by Deirdre Lovecky, "Can You Hear the Flowers Sing?"
"People gifted with the trait of sensitivity find positive social and emotional benefit in their deep concern for the needs and rights of others, their empathy for the feelings of others, and their desire to help even at significant cost to themselves."
Finally she said, with exhausted eyes, her usual smile, and more than a tinge of guilt, "Sometimes I'm so tired of advocating for everyone."
The unspoken word "else" lingered at the end of her sentence. Who advocates for her? I wondered.
Being the Advocate We've Always Needed
This reminder from the Family Caregiver Alliance is good for all of us to think about, whether we care for children, parents, other family members, or simply everyone except ourselves:
"On an airplane, an oxygen mask descends in front of you. What do you do? As we all know, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important-and one of the most often forgotten-things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too."
How does it help to think of ourselves as our own advocate? An advocate does not chastise the person he or she is supporting, does not berate, does not push to the point of exhaustion. An advocate does not blame or bring up old mistakes.
An advocate steps in and pleads another's case. An advocate supports, promotes, and protects another's interests and needs. This simple change of attitude toward oneself, that we are going to look out and advocate for ourselves, may be what we need to be kinder to ourselves and start on the path of real self-growth that has eluded us.
How To Start Advocating for Yourself
- Refuse to please others at the expense of your emotional well being.
- Make decisions that allow you to sleep more or eat better or breathe more deeply, even if this means saying "no" to people who are used to hearing "yes." Remember that this is your job as your advocate.
- Carve out the space you need in your life to explore and nurture your interests and passions. Do not overschedule yourself.
- Give yourself permission to walk away from situations or people who threaten your peace of mind, self-respect, or self-worth.
- Keep a progress journal, in which you record your accomplishments, especially those internal successes of mindfulness, thought, and attitude that no one else sees.
- Listen in your mind to how you talk to yourself about your shortcomings and human mistakes, and ask if you would speak the same way toward others in your life for whom you care and advocate.
How will you advocate for yourself this coming year, for your natural intensity and sensitivity, for both the person you are and the person you are becoming?