Guest Post by Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN
People often ask, “How did you get involved in this work?” This is a question advocates working to end domestic and sexual violence have been asked countlessly. Their answers are often filled with personal experiences. Many advocates identify as both survivor and activist. This is often not work people fall into by happenstance. We are led here on a deeply personal mission that includes serving those impacted by violence, changing laws or improving legislation, increasing awareness, or to find continued growth and healing by helping. These actions require time, energy, and relentless passion. If we’re not mindful we may risk forgetting our mission and neglecting ourselves. This is why self-care is critical.
Self-care is commonly referred to as any intentional action taken to maintain physical, emotional, and/or mental health. Plans for self-care are uniquely individualized and personal. Actions taken to maintain mental, emotional, or physical health cannot be considered any better than another. They simply need to be beneficial to the person participating.
I was first introduced to self-care at a mindfulness conference. After the conference many attendees organized a camping retreat to get in touch with nature as a means of self-care. A month later I found myself at a campsite surrounded by trees and feeling terribly afraid. I spent the next three days unable to sleep for more than three hours, bathing in bug spray, and completely convinced I’d be eaten by a bear. A day or so after we returned to our respective jobs, a group text went out. Other campers texted about how the trip cleared their heads and the clean air finally allowed them to breathe. Meanwhile, I was writing a complaint to the bug spray company!
This experience taught me to be honest with myself. While a camping trip may be what some people need, others may want to cook a new meal, or play golf. Taking time to be mindful of what reenergizes you is necessary in creating your personal plan. We also must be conscious of our limitations. Our personality or circumstances are major factors. For instance, I do not find camping relaxing because I find the sounds of the city to be more familiar, therefore safer for me individually. This is a personality limitation. My ideal self-care plan would include an annual three month stay at a tropical resort. Conversely, my financial means would not support that plan and is a circumstantial limitation.
Still, I am able to use my limitations to create a feasible plan. I am able to reject camping trip offers and be intentional about going to a local beach at least four days each summer. We discuss self-care so much because what happens in the absence of care is neglect.
I view advocates that offer survivor services and resources as bridges. Bridges don’t make decisions for you; however, they are always there if you choose to go across. Some days many people will cross and that bridge will have to withstand a lot of weight. Other days no one will cross the bridge and it will only withstand rain and wind. If we want the bridge to remain as a viable option, it must be maintained, reinforced, and tended. Self-care is by no means selfish! It is putting your mask on first so you’re able to assist others. Take some time to create your plan, explore your options, and most importantly enjoy the benefits.