From the moment I discovered the field of Social Work, I felt so connected to and driven to work with and serve my clients. My first jobs out of graduate school were in intense settings, where mental health and psychiatric needs were many and vast. I recall going into work at 8am and not leaving most nights until 9pm, still with so much work left to do, so many of my clients’ needs still unmet. I felt like no matter how much I did, I wasn’t doing enough, and so I continued to push myself to do more and more. I leaned too far into empathy, and lost all sense of boundaries. I recall multiple supervisors telling me that I work too much, and care too much. I did not understand what that meant at the time, brushing that sentiment off and blaming it on their perceived jadedness to the field and to the work.
I continued on, extending and overextending myself across a job where I predominantly heard and processed childrens’ trauma narratives during the day, and saw a full caseload of clients in my private practice in the evenings and on weekends. “I love my job,” I always remember thinking. But I don’t think I checked in with myself enough, or at all, to actually see how I was doing or feeling.
I recall one day, after hearing a particularly in-depth narrative, sitting at my kitchen counter mindlessly shoveling food into my mouth. I don’t even remember what it was, but I just remember the feeling – A mix of both “I need to fill this void”, and “I need to numb myself.” I don’t remember how long I sat there, but I do remember getting up afterward, and going out to listen to more narratives that day, despite how exhausted and numb I felt.
Not long after, I started to notice I was getting sick a lot – needing to be out of work for a few days each month. The guilt I felt for missing work was immense, so when I returned, I overcompensated and worked harder and longer hours.
A few months later, feeling fatigued and not like myself, I visited my doctor for a check-up. Within a few minutes of being there, I collapsed on the floor and was soon after being transported in an ambulance to the emergency department. My heart had paused. I was only 29.
I spent days in the hospital, doing test after test, meeting with doctor after doctor. No one could tell me what had happened.
I left the hospital, and days later, had collapsed again.
I was out of work for a total of 8 weeks. During this time I had difficulty walking on my own, difficulty recognizing numbers and letters, my mind felt like mush. I felt like a shell of my old self.
I went to more doctors, each of whom had difficulty pinning down the root of my symptoms. It wasn’t until some time later that a doctor asked me about my lifestyle, my stress level, how I was coping with and managing my feelings. I remember feeling offended at first, thinking, “I am a mental health professional, how dare you insinuate that I don’t know how to take care of myself. For a living, I teach and support people to address their mental health and self-care needs.”
But the truth is, there is a big difference between knowing something and actually doing it.
If I am being honest, on a big level, I believed that I was above “needing” self-care, rest, boundaries, etc. Because I “knew” better, I believed that was enough. And, the guilt and worry that would follow if I did take a break/time for myself? That was huge. Our organization was so strapped for resources, and there was such a tremendous need. Taking even a minute for myself felt wrong.
As I reflected on my current circumstances, my thoughts started to spiral to all the “What If’s” imaginable:
“What if this was the end of my career?”
“What if I wasn’t built to do this work?”
“What if this meant I was weak? A Failure?”
But then I started to notice a shift in my thinking mid-spiral…
“What if I wasn’t the only one who felt this way?”
“What if I found a way to do this work differently?”
“What if a job existed that created an environment that supported self-care? Growth? Balance?”
“What if I used this as an opportunity to change my life?”
It was such a salient shift, going from feeling completely powerless and out of control, to feeling inspired, energized, hopeful, and liberated. I spent a lot of the next few days simply dwelling in the possibility of what could be, what I could create, and who I could become. I felt more alive and connected than I had in a long time, so I decided to listen to that little voice in my head that was slowly getting bigger, and louder, telling me to Just try. Just begin.
And so, I did.
It was in navigating this crisis that I created Revive, through my own experience of Reviving my life. Now, just a short few years later, those “What If’s” and that little voice have transformed into an incredibly robust company, with 25 staff members (and counting), with locations across Connecticut and beyond, multiple programs that serve hundreds of individuals and families, as well as educational institutions and companies. I am immersed in an environment that is empowering, promotes and supports learning, self-compassion, self-care, and self-respect.
I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been.
As scary, frustrating, and disheartening as my early experience was, I now look back on it with such gratitude, because it has brought me here, and shaped who I am in a way that very few other circumstances could have. I frequently reflect on this experience, particularly when things feel hard or out of my control. It serves as a reminder that with challenge, change, and crisis also comes opportunity – if we give ourselves the space to see it as such.
“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” Christine Caine
After the hiatus from work, I realized I needed to do something differently. I loved my job after all, and was nowhere near retirement age, so in order for me to continue in this career, I needed to change how I treated and cared for myself.
I started intentionally building in time for myself every day. A quiet time in the morning where I sipped and savored my coffee, followed by a daily gratitude practice before getting in at least 30 minutes of movement. I had realized I lost track of and connection with myself, so I began exploring mindfulness, meditation, and yoga as a means to not only manage stress but also to connect my head and heart, my mind and body. At work, I placed physical reminders on my desk and at my phone to “pause”, to slow down and not be so reactive. I advocated for weekly supervision with my director. I took days off when I was sick. I took my vacation time. I made time to eat, and made a conscious effort to not eat in my car between appointments or at my desk. I went to the doctor. I prioritized sleep. I connected with non-therapist friends. I remembered to laugh, and look for joy. I consumed positive messages, books, and podcasts. I spent time outside every single day, even if for just a moment.
All of these little shifts amounted to a full lifestyle change. I noticed I was thinking less about work outside of work. Clients were not appearing in my dreams. I wasn’t waking up anxious, or going to sleep ruminating in all the things I had to get done the following day. I was kinder to myself. I gave myself grace. I worked smarter, not harder or more.
So, here is my gentle reminder to you. Start small. Start today. Start where you are. Just start. It was these small, daily additions that literally saved my life.