“Care starts with you.” (Yasmin)
This is something we repeat over and over again when working with survivors. I remind our staff that they cannot offer something that they do not have to survivors. The idea of self-care is something that more caregivers are starting to highlight and it is extremely important that we keep talking about. This is because the success of our programming when dealing with survivors depends on our staff being healthy. Therefore, if we want to take care of survivors, we have to prioritize taking care of the people that take care of them.
It is in the nature of most caregivers to put their needs aside especially when dealing with crisis. The nature of protection of victims is that most of the time one is moving from one crisis to another and it is very easy to forget to prioritize taking care of yourself because there is always an emergency and that emergency most of the time is not you. I know, I am guilty of moving from one emergency to the other and going a whole day without even finding time to eat. This is not healthy but it is quite common.
Last year, I suffered burnout. For those that know me, I pride myself in loving the work that I do because it matters. Burnout made me question why I do what I do. It made me feel helpless and lose hope. As a caregiver, hope is crucial because it is one of the things we share with survivors. Above all, I just felt empty. I had nothing left to give because I had truly emptied myself.
As someone, who has gone through trauma and has suffered from depression, I could feel myself being dragged into that dark hole again. I could see the color in my world slowly turn into and black and grey. Depression is a monster that I constantly have to fight especially with my history and line of work. I am lucky that through the years, I have known the signs and I have an amazing support system. I had to take a break from work because no emergency was more important than me.
I switched off from work and found the healing I needed so desperately. However, I knew that it did not have to be that bad. I knew that I was responsible for not being tender with myself and ensuring that I was healthy enough to take care of others. I am learning that it is not selfish to put myself first. It is not selfish to take time off. I am also learning that I cannot save anyone but myself. My role as a caregiver is a facilitator and sometimes when I give myself the role of the hero responsible for saving live; I endanger myself and the people I am taking care of. As an organization, the question became how can we improve our self-care system? How can we make it part of the organizational culture so that we don’t lose people to burnout? We are learning and hopefully we can develop new ways to ensure that people are healthy even as they work.
By Sophie Otiende