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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's time for the adviser to take his own advice


By Michael C. DeMattos

Like many others I know, I have been feeling overwhelmed of late. The reasons are many, but the details of my particular malaise are unimportant. Suffice to say that the challenges I am facing of late seem greater than my capacity to handle them. This is decidedly not good, but sadly not unexpected.

Like the mechanic whose car is always breaking down or the carpenter who's home is caving in over his head, the therapist is often guilty of not exercising good self-care. In all three of the above instances, the tendency is to take care of business other people's business and put the needed work of home and hearth to the side. We do this, the mechanic, carpenter and therapist to our own demise. And we are not alone.

What makes the formula even more crazy is that we see it happening around us and yet do nothing about it in our own lives. I recently gave a presentation on self-care to a bunch of social workers from the state Department of Human Services and various private nonprofits. As a group they have been hit incredibly hard by the state's financial crisis. That they have done as well as they have is a testament to their commitment to those in need. (For the life of me, I will never understand how we as a state decided to cut services to needy children to shore up our financial woes. We are eating our young. But I will save that lament for another day.)

At one point in the training I asked each of the participants four critical questions for effective self-care: Where do you go for me time? Who can you turn to to have a real conversation? What do you love to do that leaves you fulfilled? And the last and perhaps most important question: When did you last go to your sacred place, talk to your confidant and participate in your life-affirming activity? They shared their answers with each other and discussed what they learned about themselves.

As I drove home later that afternoon, I realized that I had not answered my own questions. Sadly, this isn't the first time. I am a goal-oriented person, but I'm no zealot. I realize that my failures contribute to my soul craft as surely as my successes, but to fail at self-care is to fail myself in ways that I cannot afford. The empty pitcher pours water for no one, and right now my pitcher is dry.

So it's time for the doctor to take his own medicine, for the carpenter to fix his leaky roof, for the mechanic to finally repair that noisy muffler, and for this social worker to take a time out. If you need me I will be sitting in my living room, with the Dave Matthews Band playing in the background, talking to my wife, before I make my way to the course for a quick nine holes. If this seems selfish so be it. I'll be back, and I'll be better than ever!