We all know the phrase ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’, but just how do you take care of yourself while trying to take care of others? Lee Tracey has been giving the matter some thought
A friend of mine recently became mentally unstable when, after a traumatic event in his life, he began to rely on alcohol to help him cope. After a while he became completely reliant on this crutch and the rest of his life began to unravel. As a friend, I tried to support him. To give advice and point out what was happening. But this was not received well. My friend was adamant that he didn’t have a problem, that he didn’t need help and he could stop drinking whenever he wanted.
This heartbreaking situation is one that many of us have found ourselves in. Although the specifics may vary in different ways, there are many of us who have had first hand experience of this. It could be a friend, a loved one, a relative, a work colleague or even a neighbour. We often feel alone and helpless. There are so many conflicting strong emotions. Sadness when you realise your friend is lost. Anger that they’re causing so much hurt and negativity in so many lives. Frustration that they won’t listen or help themselves; and guilt that you feel all of the above.
And this is the dangerous cycle
We all know what it feels like to not be happy in yourself, or to not be where you want to be in life. It’s made all the more challenging by the rise of social media and the comparisons we can constantly make about how our lives match up with the seemingly picture perfect people we follow. When we feel down or out of sorts we may find that different aspects of our lives feel lacking or out of control. Our mental health begins to suffer. If we have destructive habits that we rely upon we may find ourselves using them as a crutch and eventually find ourselves on a lonely road towards addiction. It’s a scary place, but one that I have seen intelligent beautiful people go down and it’s not pretty.
So what can we do?
As a yogi with a meditation practise I thought I was fairly resilient. I believed I had the ability to look after my own mental health while looking after others. But I found this particular situation very disturbing and before long found that it was severely impacting my own mental well being. I found myself thinking about the situation constantly. While also trying to deal with the day to day mini disasters that often accompany people with addiction and/or mental health issues. All this while also being on the rollercoaster of emotions that I was experiencing. It was all too much and soon I knew I couldn’t cope with someone intent on self destruction. I had tried to talk sense into him. Tried to get help and be there. I tried to make him see what was happening and the situation was just getting worse.
Eventually after much soul searching I realised I had to take a step back for my own well being. I realised that you can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do. You can’t make someone see sense. You can’t love someone into getting help. You can’t strong arm someone into therapy. You can’t cajole someone into valuing themselves.
The only thing I can do is look after myself and let my friend know that I’ll be there when they are ready to get help.
We often fall into different roles when dealing with other people and sometimes its at our own expense. I always want to be there to offer a helping hand but unless someone wants help – it’s futile.
If you find yourself in such a situation in your life, please look after yourself.
Here are some practical steps to take to look after your mental health
Don’t be afraid to talk about what is going on and share what is happening. Talk to others that have been in that situation.
Speak to a professional or find a local support group.
Think about yourself
Make sure you are looking after your own mental health by exercising, meditating and getting outdoors.
Spend time in the company of loved ones who can offer you support and love.
Listen to yourself
Listen to your own needs and make sure the decisions you make not only support your friends and family but also yourself.
And expect other people to respect them. Respect your own boundaries and lead by example.
Rest and make sure you are getting the right amount of sleep as you may feel mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.
Make time to do the things you enjoy such as cooking, music, gardening, socialising etc as these activities will help you to feel happy and healthy.
Journal and express how you feel on paper. Often this allows us to free up some mind space.
And finally, remember if you are not looking after your own well being and mental health then you won’t be in a position to help anyone else if and when they eventually come around.
Lee Tracey is a qualified Jivamukti yoga teacher who has travelled from Costa Rica to New York, Berlin, and Paris studying and teaching yoga. Her goal is to bring yoga to people that are interested in self-expansion and growth. For more information visit leetraceylife.com