Calling on Reserves and Rituals during Traumatic Times
One area of self-care that I love to mention to new teachers is the idea of having reserves and rituals. For example, many student teachers expect to still get the three hours of sleep each night that carried them through their four years of college. Yet now as preservice teachers, they need sleep reserves in place so that they can still function and support their students even when they are not feeling 100%. Burning the candle at both ends doesn’t work well for anyone, especially teachers, over long periods of time. However, what happens when a teacher’s life gets flipped upside-down due to a traumatic life event? I was recently reminded of the power of reserves and rituals that can carry us through adversities. When we regularly care for ourselves deeply, we can get through difficult times with some semblance of grace and ease.
After my 15 year-old had a chest x-ray this October at the local Children’s Medical Center, I returned to work to welcome a new student into our teacher preparation program. Minutes later my husband called to tell me that my son’s x-ray revealed a large mass in his chest. We must return to the hospital immediately. Our son Brandon needed to be admitted. As I listened to the shear terror in his voice, I took a breath and started to drive almost too calmly. Showing no emotion, my heart pounded as I made arrangements for our other, younger son. I did not know when I would be home again. The awfulness of that day will soon not be forgotten. However, when I think of the medical teams and social workers that surrounded us, I remember feeling at peace--a higher power took over as Brandon was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Tests, surgery, a chest tube, ten days in the hospital with morning medical rounds and a visit from the surgical team each morning meant little-to-no sleep. Even when my husband slept at the hospital, I rarely rested at home, frequently waking quickly with the disbelief that our situation is real. When I look back at this difficult time, a few key self-care rituals helped sustain me.
Sleep Reserves: My bedtime is 10 p.m. or earlier. Sleeping well for eight hours is important to me, because it helps me think clearly and feel energetic. Although I barely slept for about two weeks, because I came into this traumatic event reasonably well-rested, I was able to work through the fatigue more easily.
Hydration: During Brandon’s first week in the hospital it was hard to eat much of anything, yet I made drinking water and green tea a priority. Hydrating keeps viruses and other contagious illnesses away, and I knew I needed to stay healthy, especially being in a hospital for prolonged periods.
Gratitude Mindset: One of my self-care rituals is to write in a gratitude journal. It centers and grounds me, while shifting me into a miracle mindset. Even without my journal handy, in the middle of the night as I sat in a chair at my son’s bedside, I thought of all the things that I was grateful for and all the reasons why my son would fully recover. Staying in this positive place of hope, faith, miracles and magic, helped me to see the blessings even in his cancer diagnosis.
Deep Breaths: As a Kripalu yoga teacher and Kundalini yoga student, I am drawn to breathing deeply throughout the day. Deep breaths oxygenate the blood and send a message to the brain to relax. Especially after a long day or night at the hospital, on my ride home, I frequently rolled down the windows of my car to breath deeply and release the mounting stress.
Strong Connections: An important part of self-care is cultivating and fostering connections with others. The kindness of friends, family and colleagues elevated me and gave me strength. Their thoughtfulness and generosity supported and inspired me so that I could be a better version of myself for Brandon.
Supplements: My simple routine of vitamin C, a probiotic, and a drop of thieves oil under the tongue continue daily. These simple rituals, along with a few others, allow me to stay physically well.
Brandon is home and thriving as he completes his last two rounds of chemotherapy. The days when we are scheduled at the clinic are long. My life centers around being Brandon’s caregiver. Without these self-care rituals, I would not be able to support him. When my cup is full, I can be of service to others. The last couple of months are an important reminder of why self-care is a necessity. When we care for ourselves, the best gift of all is that we can be strong for our loved ones.
Join me in 2018 on a journey as we bring more self-care into our lives. Let’s be the best versions of ourselves for our students, friends and families.
Happy New Year!