Helping Others Means I First Take Care of Myself

I just came off a week of being on call. During that week I remained in a state of anxiety. I carried my work cell around as if my life depended on it, and I checked it regularly to make sure the battery was charged and that I hadn’t missed any calls.

But Friday at 8 AM my week ended, and at 5 PM I turned that phone off.

Yesterday my body was tired. I was thinking of all the things I needed and wanted to do this weekend, but I couldn’t seem to get myself to move. I spent the day napping and lying on the couch watching tired reruns. And that’s OK. It’s what I needed.

This is how I feel.
Can’t you see I’m tired? Leave me alone.


My job title is Child Protective Investigator, but the title in no way describes what I do.

I must walk into a home and make a determination, based on what I see and hear, as to whether or not a child is safe. Sometimes it’s easy. Other times it requires quick thinking to spot the truth amongst the bullshit.

But that’s not all I do.

I provide free transportation to places related to a case, such as counseling and medical appointments.

I am a Life Coach. I encourage people, but mostly women, to look beyond their current circumstances and aim for those lofty goals they’ve hidden for so long.

I am a lay counselor, specializing in all sorts of relationship counseling.

I teach parenting skills, and model those skills with their children.

I am a mediator between parents who cannot or will not talk to each other about the needs of their child.

I’m a man tracker. Yes, folks do hide from me, and I must be creative in finding ways of hunting them down.

This is what dealing with my caseload feels like.
This is what dealing with my caseload feels like.

I’m not doing all this for just one family. Oh no. I have anywhere from 15 to 25 active cases at any one time.

People call me all hours of the day and night. That’s why I turn my cell phone off after work hours if I’m not on call. And even that doesn’t keep them out of my head. I worry about children. I wonder if parents are doing what they need to be doing. I pray for families.

And sometimes I get sick of it all and decide I’m dealing with a bunch of idiots, and the planet would be a much better place without the lot of them.

So you see, I get how people who do animal rescue get tired and frustrated with people. God knows I do.

It’s important that we each take care of ourselves. For me, that means I have to sing.  I have to write. I have to laugh.

Little Girl sticks her tongue out at me, and I'm laughing all over myself.
Little Girl sticks her tongue out at me, and I’m laughing all over myself.

I also have to be aware of what it is about me that attracts me to jobs such as these. I need to feel helpful, but I can’t let that need override my other needs. When I let the superhero take control, I get burnt out and I am not an effective helper. I’m not an effective anything.

Truth be told, while my job is important, it’s more important I take care of me.

So what is it that you do to take care of you?


58 thoughts on “Helping Others Means I First Take Care of Myself

  1. Sounds totally exhausting…and you do need to take care of yourself….I go outside I walk around the paddocks I talk to the sheep..i say hi to the neighbours horses…I look for turtles in the dam…I touch the trees..i listen to the birds…I get my hands in the have a bloody hard job..helping is not always helpful to us. Hugs Fozziemum

    1. I finally figured out that there’s gotta be a reason why I keep finding jobs like that. My hope is one day I figure out what it is so I can move on to greener pastures.

      1. I think when you have the nature you have you always feel like if you do not do it the world will cease to’s the fear of trusting that others can do the same job..the fear that maybe we are letting people down’s a fine line to walk and it’s not easy when you most likely empathise from the point of view of those you help..problem is working out when to let go….greener pastures I am sure await….when the time comes you will know..

  2. You do have a tough job. I did a volunteer stint on phones for a woman’s crisis center. Yikes! It was so frustrating because most of the callers were stuck and couldn’t move forward no matter what I said. Eventually I had to move on because it was affecting me. I can’t imagine doing that for children. There are two things that are sure to revive me when I’m feeling burned out. One is shopping, not buying but the act of getting out and looking at things and treating myself to something whether it’s lunch or a coffee. The other are animals. Cats, frogs, birds, the nature preserve — they all call me and make me better.

    1. I do feel revitalized when I’m with living things that are not stuck. I think it’s one reason why I love weeds. They keep coming despite how hard us humans try to get rid of them.

  3. A walk with my camera outside helps me. It turns the creativity back on and gets me out of my head and into my heart and feet. I get grounded and reconnected to the Earth – and myself.

  4. It sounds like a hard job and I don’t know if I would be strong enough …. Currently I’m not the best caretaker for myself, there are too much annoying things around me I have to solve first :o)

  5. I hear you! We have some things in common. I was so wiped out yesterday, I fell asleep through two movies and went to bed at 7:00. What really helps me is quiet time with my hubby, dogs, and hanging in nature, outside away from the computer, etc. Once again, Jen, if you’re ever out our way, you have a place at our table and a nice warm meal any time. Rumpy is welcome but the felines wouldn’t be safe. U R a gem. ❤

  6. I applaud you for all you do. I do not think this is something I could do and I certainly admire your work, compassion, and tenacity. I used to be an engineer before I was forced to retire and many times, I had to make decisions and precise calculations that had peoples’ lives and wellbeing at stake. At times I would become overwhelmed. At that point, I took quiet walks to be around nature and be alone, I’d sleep and get rest, I would detach myself and when I found myself thinking about work, I would push the thoughts away. Being around positive people helped me, if only to get me to laugh. laughing helps a lot. It was an odd balance of alone and being with people. And of course, sitting in my recliner with my SamCat in my lap, just drowsing and drifting while he snuggles and purrs is most helpful. My husband leaves me alone until he can tell I am achieving non-meltdown status and then he in his way, takes care of me. sometimes we need to not only, as you know take care of ourselves, sometimes we (I) need to let go and let down enough to let someone else do the caretaking and load bearing. That’s what I do. And I am sure Mr. Rumpy and crew show you a lot of well deserved love!

      1. I can understand that as well. I am very independent and it is hard to let the others in, as if I were afraid if I did so, I would lose control or feel I had failed. It took a long time to realize that this allowing people to help made me stronger.

  7. What you do is wonderful and good. You do need to care for yourself. Mom usually uses us as destressers and relaxes and enjoys the things she loves like reading, connecting with friends, and catching a show she loves or has been wanting to see. Hope you destress well. 🙂

  8. Over 40 children died last year by violence and/or neglect in Miami Dade County. All of these victims had been in and out of supervision by Dept Children and Families for years. I think the figure approaches 400 last 10 years.

  9. Holy cow, are you sure you don’t have a super hero cape on? Geez. I couldn’t do it. Somedays I just veg on the couch and watch netflix. Or even swim in the pool, take a nap or write.

      1. We are only human. We do the best we can within our abilities. It’s amazing you have time for the blog, gardening, advocating and everything else. I’m convinced you are a super hero. 🙂

  10. Not nearly enough, Jen. Not nearly enough.

    I sure don’t envy you your job, I would burn out in a matter of months. But my last two posts are pretty funny if you get a chance to pop in – they might cheer you up a bit.

  11. I will pray that you will always have the strength to take good care of yourself….So the most vulnerable will be safe because of your strength!

  12. I can SO relate! As a fellow empathetic (and highly sensitive) soul, I find it really difficult to draw boundaries and to say no to people. I give and give and give of myself ’til I’m thoroughly drained. Then I get sick, months at a time. I cycle between being super-productive and being too sick to do much of anything. Not healthy, I know! Still haven’t gotten the hang of putting myself first. Logically, it makes sense. But my emotions get the better of me 😦 Actually, instead of learning how to say no to others, I have become more and more of a recluse over the years. Easier to avoid the problem altogether! Not really, though. Part of it is just having ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) my entire adult life, and being allergic to everything! Makes it pretty much impossible to have any kind of “normal” life. :/ Not complaining, though. Everyone has a cross to bear. Life is difficult and full of suffering. It helps to meditate, get out in nature, enjoy the silence. And look on the positive side. There are gifts all around us. I truly think animals are like zen masters to remind us of our true nature: love & light. To let go of all the “shoulds” and expectations and just be present in the moment. So lots of love & light to you, friend 🙂

  13. You are doing an awesome job and I have the utmost respect for you and what you are doing. And absolutely you need to take time out for yourself to take proper care of you. My work is very different to yours but having gone almost 12 months without taking any annual leave (my choice mostly) I did finally realise that I was on the road to physical and mental and emotional disaster! Now I know better and even put my paw down and insisted on the week’s holiday I am due this coming week 🙂 Yesterday (Saturday) I did much the same as you after arriving home from work and felt considerably better when I woke up. Apart from necessities like that leaping on a train – I don’t drive – and heading out on my own wherever the mood takes me – just so long as it’s as far as possible from the hometown lol albeit only for a few hours is an awesome way to relax and enjoy some time to myself doing my thing – off with the cell phone, on with the private one no one knows about lol so I can keep my vital internet access and I’m a happy wolfie 🙂 This is a pretty good place to be too – here on WordPress – when I want some downtime 🙂 Wolfie howls!

    1. It is thankless and we get lots of blame and few rewards. But it pays for dog food and vet bills, and that is something to be grateful for!

  14. LOVED your post. I am a former CPS investigator, treatment social worker and I totally get it. It was the job that taught me the most in life. I worked in child welfare for 30 years. For the past 8 years I have worked as a hospice social worker. Retirement is effective 07/28/2014. Now on to full time pet sitting and dog walking. And lots more time for reading your blog.

  15. Hey Jen! Hopping in on this one! I have learned to say “that dusting and vacuuming isn’t that important” for one 🙂 If it is between my sanity and a spic and span house, my sanity comes first. I have learned to cuddle with my furbabies, laugh at their antics, take the girls for car rides and for runs at Mom and Dad’s. I read, I listen to music and sing (out of tune) any time I can. I try to go to shows where I can dance; blues, jam band, reggae, something with a beat where you can lose yourself. I have learned to blog 🙂 I read, nothing deep, Max the Psycho Kitty or Jana Delong who makes me laugh out loud. Last I meditate, not the serious stuff like I used to do but the mind clearing, sitting quietly and just decompressing for 20 minutes. What I am getting at is that I have learned to carve little spots of time out for myself and not feel guilty. To tune out on the heavy stuff and not feel guilty. It’s O.K., the world keeps spinning but I become more grounded by doing this and I don’t spin out of control. Hope this gives you some ideas.
    Marty’s Mom

  16. You are so right when you say you have to take care of yourself before you can help others, Jen. More power to you and I admire anyone who shoulders such responsibilities.
    I spent almost 20 years as a corporate workaholic and know what burnout feels like. It immobilizes you! My best de-stressors are music, reading, writing and yes, watching TV.
    Have a good week! 🙂

  17. That was very powerful, and I can only imagine being in your position. I know your not looking for validation in what you do, but I applaud you! And it’s great that you took some time for yourself this weekend!
    My down time includes when all my kids go to bed, the dogs and cats are tired and snoozin around the house. My hubby and I sit down and watch some t.v or a movie together. That is my de-stressing time.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  18. I think that having animals at home makes you sometimes busy but they also make you feel calm and get you out of stress.

  19. You could not have said it more beautifully or powerfully, Jen. For ALL that you do, I thank you. And I will cheer you on every time you get a precious ten seconds to breathe and heal and rest your own weary self. Superheroes need support, too.

  20. Jen, you are right on many counts. I totally agree with you in “dealing with a bunch of idiots, and the planet would be a much better place without the lot of them.” You have a big job, actually jobs, and are probably not paid enough.

    You do need to take care of you. Pour a glass of wind and take a bubble bath. Then play with your four legged family. Other than food and lodging, and Rumpy’s cookies, they don’t make demands and just give love.

    Than think about getting another job – where’s it’s only 1 job.

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