How do you do this work?

I wrote the other day about a common question my patients ask me, namely what I do as a hospice social worker. That post brought to mind another frequently asked question: How do you do it?

My co-workers and I laugh about this. Patients, their families, people at cocktail parties, all respond with a mixture of awe and fear when I (and my co-workers) tell them what we do for work. "You must be such a good person," they sometimes say (which is deeply awkward to respond to graciously, by the way). Or, "Oh, I don't know how you do it, it must be so sad."

And it can be sad, certainly. (My husband tells a great story about my first few weeks as a hospice social worker wherein I came home crying, telling him he can't ever die. It's funnier than it sounds). But, in addition to the sadness, it can also be humbling and joyful and surprising. It is an amazing privilege and honor to be with someone during one of the most intimate parts of their life. 

But, still. The work is hard.

It is also easy to forget how to care for ourselves and not let the sadness of it overwhelm us. I've heard our work described as addictive: there is an adrenaline rush when you are constantly walking into crises. It's easy to get caught up in that rhythm and excitement, making it hard to recognize the need for a break. Self care is one of the most important parts of our practice and also one of the easiest to put to the side. There is a need for many of us to be all things to all people; it's unsustainable.

So what do I do to take care of myself? I take myself out for long lunches and read trashy magazines. I call my work friends to say, "Please listen to this crazy thing that happened." I take my days off and enjoy them. This is my self care. It is both deeply personal and deeply necessary.

Tell me about yours.