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?