May is a packed month. In addition to being Mental Health Awareness month, there’s lots of spring proms, graduations, Mother’s Day festivities, outdoor festivals or parades, and the year’s first barbecue-friendly holiday.
But, this May everything came to a hard, fast halt for me when a dear friend of mine lost a sibling. She was a mother of three in her early thirties. The earliest, and most tender, memories I have of her was being a scraggly, bright-eyed girl. The cute, but sometimes annoying, kid our mothers forced us to take on our teenage adventures once my friend earned her driver’s license.
When I first learned of the young woman’s passing, I went into emotional overdrive. I was shocked, horrified, and devastated for my friend. I felt helpless and a little guilty, physically being hundreds of miles away from someone I lovingly call a coming-of-age comrade. Someone who I still can’t wait to randomly call on the phone or embrace as soon as I step foot back in my hometown for the holidays is hurting and I can’t be there for them.
Even as I write this, my throat is tight with emotion and bottomless regret. Sure, working in mental health for nearly 3 years has taught me meaningful concepts, like ‘radical self-care’ and ‘compassion fatigue’. I know what it means to take a personal timeout and relax so that I can better serve others when I return. I’ve enjoyed massages and pedicures and weekend sleep-ins and community gardening between vacations. But, none of that means anything if I still can’t extend the same kindness and understanding to myself for failing to not “show up” for ugly circumstances out of my control, as I would for another person’s limitations.
A couple of weeks have passed since the tragedy. Although I couldn’t be at the funeral to squeeze my friend’s shoulder when she cries or make her laugh to lighten the mood afterwards, I’m learning to be okay with what I can offer, like late night phone chats, text check-ins, and sharing the word about her family’s fundraising efforts for the care of her niece and nephews.
The famous phrase is true. We’re all usually our worst critics. In some ways, criticism is good because it keeps us grounded and leaves room for us to be our best selves. In other ways, it opens the door to unnecessary stress and even dangerous coping mechanisms, if we’re not careful.
Want to know more about self compassion? Here’s a few links to resources about being a decent human without carrying around the weight of having to be perfect:
• Self Esteem Might Boost Our Egos, but Self Compassion Opens Our Hearts (Yes! Magazine)
• 5 Strategies for Self Compassion (PsychCentral)
• To Recover from Failure, Try Some Self Compassion (Harvard Business Review)
• How to Give to Others without Burning Out (Huffington Post)