"You get hired to be needed."
I don't remember who said this to me when I took my first job in the world of disability but it, and the discussion that followed, stayed with me. She went on to explain that the needs of those in my care would often seem to outweigh the needs of my family, my friends, my very self. I was to be careful to ensure that I understood where the line was that separated me, the person I was, from it, the job I had. I was not my job, my job was not me. Keep it straight. Don't get addicted to what the job demands.
Good advice, but advice I did not follow. Over the course of time I started making decisions that were unhealthy - emergencies always happened on days off, the beeper rang at really, really inopportune times, I called in on holidays, was in constant contact with the office. I'd get home from work and spend an hour or two on the phone supporting people who were supporting people. This is not bragging, this isn't even exceptional for those of us in the field of caring. I see people doing this all the time. Overworked, overtired, people.
And parents! I consulted to family after family wherein the exceptional needs of the child had taken away the taste of vanilla. The focus on the child was impressive but, over time, had become almost obsessive. Unhealthy tired moms and dads, unhealthy tired staff.
Then I made a really bad decision. My friend, best friend I ever had, Bob died of AIDS. His funeral was set on a day I had booked to do a lecture. The day his family and friends gathered to celebrate Bob's life and mourn his death, I was standing in front of an audience making funny. I realized, years later, that if I had cancelled the lecture no one would now remember. I will always remember that I didn't attend my best friends funeral. So will his family. So will his friends.
Conciously I have worked to make healthy decisions. This Thursday is Joseph's (Mike's son, kind of our foster grandson) is having his grade 8 graduation. We were invited as we are always invited to these kind of events in Joseph's life. We've never made one of them. Ever. We are always travelling somewhere, lecturing somewhere. Well, this Thursday, Mark and Geraldine arrive from Liverpool to lecture here in Toronto for Vita. I had planned to pick them up at the airport, welcome them to the country.
I told Antonella, Joseph's mom, and Mike, Joseph's dad, that we'd have to let them know about attending. I stewed for a couple of days. I really wanted to go. But I was really needed at work. So, I talked with Rose at the office. Rose and I have been working on this conference together and I totally trust her instincts. I explained the dilemma. She looked at me and said, without a moments hesitation, "You go to the graduation." Still not sure, I talked with Manuella, she said, "You go to the graduation."
I said, "Yes" to Joseph and "No" to the job.
But guilt overwhelmed me. Finally I wrote Mark and Geraldine in Liverpool and explained why I wouldn't be there. Got an immediate email back saying 'Same decision we would have made' and wishing us a good time.
So we're going to the graduation.
The world isn't falling apart.
So to tired parents out there - plan a day off to run in the park, to do something completely for yourself. Remind yourself of the taste of vanilla.
So to tired staff out there - take a break, plan a break, enjoy the break.
Choose to say 'yes' to your needs every now and then. Because, after all, there is a reason they are called 'needs'.