What Mermaids Have Taught Me About Self-Care

I sort of have an obsession with mermaids. I always have. I love their magic and mystery and their affinity for salty air and freedom. For real my first career choice was mermaid but sadly that is frowned upon so I became a clinical social worker instead and yesterday I had a milestone moment. I paid off my student loans. The loans that financed a Master’s degree that I desperately wanted to quit midway into the first semester because the workload was astronomical and I was broke, newlywed, in a new state and never saw my husband. I didn’t quit so here I am, almost 16 years later and they are paid in full. And while it feels really good, it’s also made me pause to reflect a bit on my career and wonder if I might have been better suited for party planning, boutique ownership, mermaid training or anything other than social work. Whose idea was that?? I didn’t even know what a social worker was until I was at least 22.  But social work ultimately chose me.  I was a bit of a hot mess, barely functioning and incapable of any measure of congruency in my life. And when you are a hot mess you go searching. And while my searching led to some not so hot places and not so great behavior it also led me into a volunteer job at a shelter for homeless people and right into the  arms of a profession I had never even heard of. My searching put me face to face with a mirror and for the first time I saw sameness and humanity and pain because I stopped to invest and notice. I also experienced the growth that occurs when your worldview gets shaken and your eyes are wide open.I have learned a lot over the last 17 years. I have learned that I was the smartest I have ever been was when I was new to the field. That parenting real children is a lot harder than parenting the one’s you don’t have yet. That relationships are always messy. That I don’t know the answers to most things. That unconditional love is the best medicine and that not everything is meant to be or can be fixed. I have learned that empathy is the best response, that silence is beautiful, that consequences teach better than words and that just because people are doing the best they can….it’s often not good or safe enough. I have also learned that “fair”is a four letter word that makes my skin crawl and that the majority of this world including most people I know have zero desire to know or hear about what I do. And sometimes that makes me feel lonely. And sad. And sometimes even mad. It is just that the stories and awareness that I am exposed to daily are things that other people cannot bare to discuss, let alone consider they could experience. And I walk around hyper aware that life can change in an instant because I see it happen every day. People have a difficult time holding space for people that work in the deep end of the ocean. And when they do, they usually try to start fixing things and tell me that I can do something different. Yep…sometimes it just sucks. .I have worked in the deep end always. I am comfortable there. Trauma work bewilders me and keeps my mind in jumbles and puzzles trying to figure out the play and behavior languages of our littlest survivors.  Their healing is a process and in this crazy system it seems that their healing is the one thing that I have any measure of influence over. And my throat burns and my chest feels weighted down when I think about any child not having a person to walk beside them. A person who is willing to hold space for them to do their work and do it in their perfectly imperfect little ways.  A person who teaches their grown-up to let them talk, and feel and process without fixing it, or hiding it or avoiding it. I am far from perfect and I don’t always get it right. I am constantly growing and learning and falling down and getting back up. In some ways this work has changed me for the better but in some ways I grieve the loss of the 26 year old newbie social worker who believed all sorts of things about love and helping and sparkles. I’ve lost some joy along the way. I’ve thought about mermaids less and less. I’ve become insanely overprotective of my  people and I am extra cautious of the people who come into contact with and speak into the hearts of my own children. And I wonder all the time about lots and lots of things. But I also hold fast to the fact that I cannot see the whole picture right now and I don’t know what my story will ultimately mean. Recently I have been in a tsunami of childhood traumatic grief cases and for the first time in my career, I am scared that the deep end is winning. Mermaids swim in the deep end of the ocean but they don’t stay there. They brave the depths where the sharks and octopi lurk but they also swim to the shore to play, sunbathe on sea rocks, collect seashells, swim with dolphins and build sandcastles. Mermaids know that our souls require depth to grow and learn and that too much time in the shallow end keeps us stuck and pretending.So Thrive Tribes is my mermaid practice. Thrive Tribes is fun. It is necessary. It is on purpose and it is not afraid of the deep end. And it’s all about the work that I have not learned to do yet.  At 44, I am still struggling with the idea that self-care is selfish and essential and all that stuff. Three years ago, I shook my sweet little family to the core when I made a commitment to exercise and suddenly started going somewhere without them. But they got over it. I feel great and now my workouts are a no brainier but my self-care situation hasn’t expanded much beyond that. And whether you are a helper, a healer or a human who invests your big heart into the lives of others, I know you hear me. This self-care gig is tough and while a mani/pedi, massage, awesome workout or big glass of wine can help change the mood in the short-term it’s not the sustainable, deep end self-care I need right now. With all I have absorbed and will continue to absorb, I need self-care that connects me to other people, inspires growth and transformation, encourages me to own and speak my truth and reminds me who I am without all my roles and titles and rules. I want to dig deep into ideas and play and questions and conversations that energize my life and make me feel alive in a community that wants the same thing. And there is nothing selfish about it. So Thrive Tribes continues to unfold piece by piece and while I have no clue what I am doing from day to day, I am completely aware of my intention. And thanks to my love of mermaids, I am figuring it out. And I am smiling a bit more and inspired and afraid and vulnerable and learning to hold space for myself. In the deep end and on the shore.

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