Fill Your Bucket

The other day, one of my clients started to ask me a personal question in the domestic violence support group I run.  I could feel it coming.

“Hey Melissa, I don’t mean to pry into your business, but I was just curious…”

My blood pressure started to rise.  I could feel my armpits start producing more sweat than usual, which meant that I’d soon soak through my shirt and be stuck to my cheap office chair until lunch.  My face started to get hot, and I knew, I just knew, that my face was starting to turn red.  I hate that.

So which question was it going to be?  Was I married?  Did I have kids?  How long had I been doing this work?  Do I know what it’s like to be a victim of violence?  Did I have to use a prescription strength deodorant?

“…how is it that you hear stories like ours day after day and you don’t fall apart when you go home?  How do you do this work?”

Ah, this was an easier question to answer than most.  A lot of people- clients and non-clients -ask me why I do this work, and the answer is simple: because I love it, I am actually good at it, and I feel like I am making a difference just by connecting with people.  How freaking cool is that?!

But my client’s question was a twinge different than that.  She was asking me, in so many words, how do I take care of myself?  How do I keep myself from going crazy, from getting depressed, from losing hope?

My honest answer to her was that some days, some weeks, I fail.  Sometimes I fail to take care of myself and sometimes I do hit a wall and just start sobbing because Will Smith’s character in Pursuit of Happyness has to get into a line for a homeless shelter and he reminds me of one of my clients and the world fucking sucks.

I know this is a cliche thing to say, but hey, cliche things are such for a reason: my clients teach me so much.  They teach me how to be a better therapist and how to be a better person.  For instance, a former client of mine once told me how she reminds herself to put herself first and to take care of herself before trying to help others.  She said, with her wicked awesome Boston accent, “See here.  We all carry around a bucket with us, right.  And you can’t fill your kids’ buckets if your bucket is empty.  You gotta fill your bucket up first before you can fill anyone else’s, and that’s how it is.”

That is how it is.  I can’t possibly expect to help all the clients I see each week and hear all of their horror stories and sit with them while they cry unless I fill up my bucket.

I fill my bucket with yoga.  I found a cheap yoga class that I go to every Tuesday night.

I fill my bucket with cardio, usually on Thursdays, even though I loathe it with the fire of a thousand suns.

I fill my bucket by making sure I shower regularly.  For me being borderline OCD, showering is a real time-consuming production, and it’s like exercise to me in that it feels like a chore, but it makes me feel so much better when I am done.

I fill my bucket with some Kardashians, washed down by a bucketfull of mocha chip.  Their lives are so fucked up that one can’t help but feel better while yelling at giant ass cheeks on the TV screen.

I fill my bucket by getting enough sleep and eating regularly and as healthily as I can.  I can’t stress just how important these things are.  If I haven’t slept or eaten, I become a monster even when I’m not working.

I fill my bucket by owning a vibrator.  I never thought I would ever write that sentence, but there it is.

Lastly, I fill my bucket by hanging out with healthy people.  I spend so much of my time with my clients, who come to me at their lowest, when their own buckets are empty.  If you’ve ever spent time with a person who is profoundly depressed, then you know just how emotionally and physically draining that is, especially when you’re tuned into that person’s needs.  Feelings are contagious- both the good and the bad.  If they weren’t, it would mean that we didn’t care, and that we weren’t connected.  Sometimes I just need to be reminded that not everyone is suffering, and there aren’t child molesters around every corner.

I’ve learned by trial and error what I need to fill my bucket, and how to listen to my mind and my body to notice when my bucket is getting a bit too empty and I am heading for Hot Mess, CA population: one.

When I find myself sobbing on a Friday night because Bella broke Jacob’s heart and he prefers to ruin yet another pair a pants by transforming into a wolf before getting naked first, then I start to take stock of my week.  Did I have any really tough sessions with clients this week, particularly with kids?  Did I miss yoga this week?  Did I eat the entire shelf of Hostess cupcakes just to spite my fellow shopper who was too damn slow?

Usually, if my waterworks are triggered by the smallest thing at the end of the week, chances are I had really tough therapy sessions, I’ve chosen a trauma-related book to read for fun, I’m watching a documentary about Holocaust survivors because it’s interesting, and I didn’t properly fill up my bucket.  This has actually happened before.

At any rate, I gave my client a much abbreviated answer to her question, but I did answer her honestly- that I am human and I do my best.  I also wanted to let her know that I practice what I preach, in that I don’t spout all this bucket crap to my clients and then ignore it when it comes to taking care of myself.

So, my dear Psychos, how do you all fill your buckets? 

39 responses

  1. Pingback: Blogroll Inductee – Psychobabble | A Clown On Fire

  2. LOVE this post. I’m a journalist (dying industry; no jobs for oldsters; falling pay rates) and know well the burnout thing. My first book was about women and guns and I got secondary trauma from thinking/writing/talking about violence for two years. Fun!

    I recharge by endless games of Ipad scrabble; (why am I arguing with a fucking algorithm?); reading, sleeping as much as needed (self-employment helps); talking to my husband, walking in the fresh air and looking at anything beautiful — a painting or the sky or flowers in a vase on my desk.

    I love what I do and am often drawn to the tougher, darker stories others stay away from. But they can drain me as well.

    Congrats on being FPed. Well deserved!

  3. This is a good post. You liked my bipolar piece, so here I am checking you out! lol Glad I did. Well written and clear and easy to read. With something important to say. Just my kind of blog!! I wrote a breast cancer piece called, “Your Boobies & The Flight Attendant”, where I make reference to how a flight attendant, while reviewing safety procedures with us, always says that when the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling and down in front of us, we have to put ours on first, and THEN tend to our child or dependent. We can’t help anyone, if we don’t help ourselves. Your was a good read. I’m looking forward to reading more! Take care. xoJulia

    • Thanks! I very muchly liked your bipolar piece.

      Interesting you bring up the airplane metaphor, because I began using that with clients and found that it didn’t work because many of my clients have never been on an airplane. That’s when I started looking for a better metaphor and came across the bucket one. Glad you liked it!

  4. First of all, you fucking rock for doing the work you do. Not everyone can, and I’m thankful for those who can. We need more of you in the world.

    Secondly, I fill my bucket by volunteering, donating money, taking naps, drinking a hot chocolate, talking to my friends, connecting with my sisters, writing, laughing at weird youtube videos and reading.

    Loved this post.

  5. I love that I’m not the only one who is borderline OCD and feels as though showering is a chore. I can’t seem to explain it to most people, but in my head it’s like this: I have to get undressed. Then get wet. Then do all of the shower things. Then I have to dry off. And put on new clothes. And my hair will be wet, because I don’t like to blow dry…and so it goes.

    I hope you enjoy the fact that THAT’S what I took away from this post and I almost didn’t comment on the vibrator at all.

  6. Wow! What a great topic! I loved reading about your work and about how you manage to stay “sane”. It made me reflect on my own life as well. Right now, I must admit that I don’t take time to fill my bucket that much. And I should. A TV show here and there, a cup of coffee at a local place I just love… small things, but not enough to fill it completely. I just make everyone else a priority. There’s not a lot left for me. But you know what? My husband kinda fills it for me. He takes care of me more than I do it myself. Which is wrong in a way but so comforting in another. He’s there for me. We mutually fill our buckets right now because our lives are really hectic. But I’m happy. I just have to find ways to fill it up myself. There’s not a lot of “me” in there. Thanks for the reflexion. :o)

  7. You are awesome. I work at a physio clinic mostly dealing with senior citizens and hearing their problems is soul-sucking enough. I don`t know how you do it. It never occured to me to actually stop and take stock of my week. I usually just blame it on hormones and eat more chocolate.

    And I feel better knowing I`m not the only one who reads biographies about major life catastrophes for “fun“

  8. I never really liked the bucket analogy.
    I just slough it off, and take a deep breath.

    And if opportunity presents itself, I go and do something incredibly stupid.
    Or silly.
    Or both.
    hehehe

  9. “I fill my bucket by owning a vibrator. I never thought I would ever write that sentence, but there it is.” – You go, girl.

    As for my bucket? Exercise, blogging, The Sims, wine, and as much time I can get with my best friend/personal hottie/husband.

  10. You’re all kinds of wonderful. I fill my bucket with my twice a week pilates class, SSRI’s, laughing at my husband’s stupid jokes, reading (PS, avoid the Book Thief if you’re having a rough week. I spent last night crying through the end), sleeping a full 8 hours a night, and trash TV. Also, reading Lyssapants fills my bucket. That sounds filthy. But whatever. You wrote about your vibrator! :)

  11. I completely agree with your client. I try to do something for myself…usually it involves Hugo…so that I can be better for everybody else. If I didn’t have my outlets, I would be extremely unpleasant to be around.

  12. Thank you for this post. Filling your bucket is the perfect way to put it. As someone who is starting a service based business where I seem to be bending over backward for others 24/7 I realize that I need time for myself to fill my own bucket.
    Setting the boundaries has been so hard. But without them I find myself becoming incredibly cranky and resentful.

    I will now be more aware of what is necessary to fill my bucket. And stay on top of it.

  13. Great topic! I think my bucket has a hole in it, but I do think it’s one of the most valuable things we can do for ourselves. Yoga is a big one for me, but so is just having alone time and getting outside are big ones. I also have certain friends that really rejuvenate me, others that I need to fill the bucket for before I go to see them.

  14. This was wonderful. I love the analogy of filling your buckets. It’s so much better than filing your buckets, wouldn’t you say. I fill my buckets by blogging (dur) and going to Target all by myself, no C or B allowed. And I usually buy a 3 Musketeers and eat it in the car. Because I can.

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