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Return to Wellness: Traumatic Consequences of Inadequate Self-Care

by Kay Zega(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 179 - February 2011

The past 18 months have been challenging for me from the perspective of personal wellbeing. Ironic for an 'expert columnist', professional counsellor, multi-therapist and wellness and positive life change specialist in the field of holistic wellbeing.

We 'experts in our field' have considerable knowledge regarding what's involved with and necessary to promote and maintain physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellness. As such, as Sandra Goodman says in her blog[1] "the problem with being ill . . . is that it becomes acutely embarrassing if you are a so-called expert who ought to know better" and that "it is evident that so-called experts are just as human and fallible as the rest".

We support, guide, assist others towards therapeutic change, but do we take our own health and wellbeing for granted? Do we become almost blasé, regarding ourselves as immune to the various maladies with which our clients/patients present?

I am ashamed to admit that I did without realizing it.

Overwork and inadequate self care compromised my immune system and I succumbed to:

  • Series of chest infections and laryngitis;
  • Lower back injury;
  • Shoulder injury;
  • Adverse reaction to insect bites and bee stings abroad;
  • Dental trauma resulting in hospitalization.
As I look back over those 18 months and review the periods of pain, dis-ease and dis-ability, I recall how traumatic the whole experience was. And how enormously frustrating and distressing it was failing to measure up to the high standards I set for myself, being unable to do my work and to meet varied deadlines.

Of greatest impact however was the debilitating effect of the pain. Needless to say I have even greater compassion than previously for those for whom pain is a constant companion. 

Self Care is not Selfishness

I counsel clients and teach students to put themselves first and stress that it's not selfish to do so it's self care. But I did not walk my own talk.

As Maggie Turp[2] says, "lapses in self care can result in injury (external) or damage to health (internal), in frequent potentially avoidable accidents leading to injury, in neglect of a known medical condition resulting in serious ill health or disability, in overworking to the extent of serious ill health or death, going without sleep; etc.

Self Care is an essential element for anyone and certainly for professional practitioners who daily care for others. In my expert column about practical protection for professional practitioners,[3] I mentioned that many people involved in the healing professions tend to put their own needs last and fail to achieve a balance of therapeutic giving and receiving.

Therapists are very mindful of 'duty of care' for their clients/patients in their various disciplines and settings, whether working independently or within NHS or other healthcare agencies. Policies & Procedures, Codes of Ethics, rigorous professional standards . . . remind us of our responsibilities, stipulate, specify, allude to, and at times confuse or scare practitioners into over commitment. Protection of the public has been and continues to be of huge consideration in the regulation of therapies. This is appropriate. However, in my opinion (and experience), insufficient emphasis is placed on the importance of protection of practitioners and especially their self care.

My Journey to Recovery

My periods of incapacity gave me ample time to think and my introspection highlighted that for too long I had been working too hard and expecting too much of myself.  My immune system became compromised leaving me vulnerable to illness.

The pain I experienced as a result of my inadequate self care - acute at times, nagging and persistent at others; the sense of vulnerability at being less than my usual super woman self was humbling. It forced me to admit to myself what I could and couldn't do. It also taught me greater respect for the medical profession and helped me embrace more fully allopathic approaches as well as complementary therapies in my recovery.

I had to take a good long look at myself, at my thinking and my patterns of behaviour in order to rebuild my strength and regain wellness. This involved treatment regimes at different times during the 18 months which included homeopathy, herbal supplements, physiotherapy, shiatsu, acupuncture, prescribed medication and a medical intervention (which I initially resisted and thus suffered longer than necessary). I had to learn to ask for help when I needed it. I had to reduce my workload (and the pressure I placed upon myself); relax more. I meditated and did more walking. I also consciously sought out ways to increase the amount of time spent in pure enjoyment with my beloved husband. I receive regular healing and reflexology treatments and have noticed a cumulative beneficial effect.

Knowing about the difficult time I've had, Sandra suggested that my column this issue be about my own recovery from trauma. Writing this piece has made me realize that, being almost fully recovered once again, the memory of the trauma had dimmed. This is a natural part of healing but I must be alert to tendencies to slip back into old habits of overwork. If I start to do so, I will read this column as a reminder to myself of just how thoroughly miserable a time it was for me.

Hopefully this account of my journey and what it taught me will encourage you to take greater care of your own wellbeing.

References

1. Goodman S. Embarrassment of Knowing It All. 2010. www.drsgoodman.com/blog-goodman  
2. Turp M Self Harm, Self Care & the Way Forward: Counselling Master Class, Worcester, UK. 2009.
3. Zega K, Practical Protection for Practitioners Positive Health Issue 149 - July 2008. www.positivehealth.com/article-view.php?articleid=2450  

Further Resources

Turp M. Hidden Self Harm, Kingsley, London. 2003.
Zega K www.counselling-directory.org/counsellor_21374.html  
Zega K, Touching Stillness to Assuage Stress, Positive Health Magazine, Issue 144 February 2008. www.positivehealth.com/article-view.php?articleid=2256

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About Kay Zega

Kay Zega MA DMS CertEd Adv Dip (Couns) MCS (Acc) MBACP is a registered Angelic Reiki teacher, accredited counsellor, registered holistic multi-therapist, wellness and positive life change specialist and lecturer. She has a gentle motivational approach and a track record helping others to achieve empowering positive life change. She offers a range of wellness boosting workshops for individuals and organizations and assists companies to integrate counselling and complementary therapies into their wellbeing programmes and occupational therapy provision. Kay practises and teaches a number of holistic therapies (including Angelic Reiki®), in the UK and abroad, offers Retreats in Worcester, Glastonbury, The Netherlands and South West France, and has her own private practice in Worcester. She can be contacted on Tel: +44 (0)1905 26002; enquiries@angelicreiki.net  www.wellnessnow.co.uk    www.angelicreiki.net

 

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