My best friend recently taught her 3 year old about her “emotional bucket”. She told her that we all have emotional buckets and its our job to keep them full. Sometimes things can happen and the bucket empties a little bit, but its important to find things (like hugs and colouring) that can fill your bucket back up.
I wish she had shared this wisdom with me too. Though I’m sure even if she had I wouldn’t have listened because I was “fine”. It took me several hard smacks to realize I wasn’t, and then it sunk in that my bucket had been empty for a long time. Fortunately I realized this before it had any major impact on my clients. Me and my life, on the other hand, took a much harder hit.
So what does an empty bucket look like for a helping professional? It looks like burnout. It looks like compassion fatigue. It looks like vicarious trauma. And it can literally happen to anyone… yes, even you.
Symptoms that I have (finally) recognized;
- Emotional exhaustion
- Withdrawal from family, friends and activities which bring joy
- Lack of concentration and focus
- Increased illness; headaches, heartburn, back pain
- Increased absence from work
- Poor job satisfaction
- Poor self-image, self-worth
- Loss of pleasure in life/relationships
- Disinterest in intimacy
- Feeling burdened by others
- Loss of sense of spirituality
- Work-related nightmares, or even consistent dreams about work
- Mood swings
- Greater sense of fear
- Prolonged sadness
- Feeling of numbness
And please believe me, it was much harder admitting that I was suffering from these, than it was to suffer ignorantly. Even now, having this written out in front of me makes me really sad. There is a lot on this list that I am still battling every single day, even though I have been off work for months and I’m no longer experiencing a crisis of faith.
I wish that I could have been one of those people that can catch when their attitude, or behaviour is changing and nip it in the bud right then and there. Please be one of those people if any of those symptoms resonate with you. Develop a self-care plan and STICK TO IT. Go the therapy (stop bottling those emotions – you aren’t saving anyone by doing that), set really strong boundaries – even if it feels mean. Exercise, meditate, journal, take a friggen break and TALK TO PEOPLE. Maybe even do a bit of listening, your family and friends may realize more than you know.
For me, I believe this journey needed to happen this way. I’m a stubborn person, and I think it took me falling this hard, being pushed right to my limit, for me to finally wake up. I believe that the universe knew it was time for me to lose everything, including any belief I had in something greater. I believe that everything in my life needed to be shaken up so that I could piece things together, find myself, my purpose. It happened for my highest good. That doesn’t mean that I don’t suffer today. I still have difficulty getting out of bed most of the time, I cry uncontrollably when returning to work is brought up, I have terrible mood swings… But this outlook literally saved my life.
And slowly but surely I’m working on refilling my bucket.