So often we sacrifice our own needs for others. In our culture it’s deemed more honorable and worthy to care for others than it is to care for ourselves. My mission is to show you how you can do both.
During my dad’s battle with cancer, I completely ignored my feelings and dedicated myself fully to him. Where did that leave me after his passing? To a two-year struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Ignoring my needs had caught up with me. You know that feeling when you’re in the middle of a normal day and suddenly receive difficult news that stops time? One day last summer as I entered the gym, I glanced at my phone to see a string of messages. My sister was in the ER. I suddenly felt nauseated and panicky, transported back in time to the same feeling I got every time my dad was admitted to the hospital. Time to drop everything and get there as fast as I can. Put myself aside because someone needs me right now.
My sister was in the same hospital where my dad was diagnosed and spent the last days of his life. Going there meant driving over the same bridge where I had my first and worst panic attack. I haven’t driven over that bridge since. I rushed home, scrambled to get some belongings together, and hopped in the car with my boyfriend in the driver’s seat, slightly resentful I had to face my greatest fears head on. I was so nervous going over that bridge and did my best to breathe through it. No panic attack, phew. But how would I react going into the hospital? What if I passed out? I was in full-on anxiety mode. Thankfully we arrived to see my sister in healthy spirits. The offending kidney stone had passed. I could now relax.
As the week went on, my sister returned to her energetic pain-free self. But I did not. There was a deep heavy feeling in my chest that would not go away. I spent the next few days on the couch, afraid to go anywhere, lest I have a panic attack.
It struck me then that I had done what I’d always do. I didn’t take any time for myself. I didn’t allow myself to process what I was feeling during a traumatic time. I pushed it down, and then when I no longer had to be in caretaker mode, the feelings arose with greater intensity. “How dare you ignore us!” I can’t do this anymore.
But time does what it always does. We get distracted, move on, and forget what happened. Months later, I awoke to news that my sister’s pain returned. She was back in the ER. This time before jumping into “drop everything” mode, I paused. I reminded myself that this is a triggering situation for me. I reminded myself that my needs are important, and preventing another anxiety attack is a priority. How can I be there to support my sister when I’m freaking out inside? She’s in the hospital getting the care she needs. If it takes me an hour longer to get there, it won’t matter. I pulled out my journal and explored how I was feeling. I meditated to cultivate calm and preparedness. I ate a good breakfast. Then I packed my stuff and left. I followed this routine every day until she returned to work. I was present, more helpful, less resentful, and enjoyed being with her. This time I did not suffer the revenge of stuffed down feelings.
The results of this round: Jessica: 1, Anxiety: 0.
What if helping others doesn’t require us to sacrifice our own needs? What if instead of choosing, we fulfill both? If we remember to pause before reacting, take time to check in with ourselves and our feelings, we can fully show up for others without the emotional backlash. Your needs are important. Take that time for yourself. You’re worth it, and it will allow your best self to shine. You deserve that, and so does everyone who needs you.