Know Thyself, Love Thyself
BY MELANIE FARRELL
When preparing for my year of service it was hard to know what challenges lay ahead. I researched the program, I asked friends about their similar experiences, and I read blog posts written by former Loretto Volunteers. However, I found that there were many ways that people interpret their experiences, so I took every piece of advice with a grain of salt. It was not until I began working at The MICA Project that I was able to identify my own obstacles.
Much of what I do at The MICA Project involves client support. I do this by assisting the attorneys on an administrative end, which requires me to read many client testimonials.
I still remember the first day that I had to read through a client’s case file.
It was an unsuccessful case for a woman who tried to claim asylum in the U.S. Even though it wasn’t necessarily required for me to read her entire story, I became invested. I pieced through documentation of countless tragedy, I read her affidavit, and I looked through pictures of her family members and loved ones, most of whom she’ll never see again.
After reading through her story, I sat in reflection. There were so many thoughts in my head that it felt like a circus. One thought chasing the other, spinning around in my head on a countless loop. How could someone force this woman to return to a place that is so dangerous? How can one person withstand this much trauma? What happens now? What am I supposed to do?
This was the first of many instances where I felt helpless. I saw the pain this client was going through, and I felt as though there was nothing that I could do to help her. This type of thinking led me to read even more stories and immerse myself further in my work.
I thought that this was the right thing to do. I told myself that in order to be the best support for our clients, I needed to embody perfection at all times. If I made the smallest error, or had the most miniscule lapse in judgement, I would allow that stress to overwhelm my mind for the rest of the day. In my mind, one error equaled failure. One error meant that I directly affected the success of our organization. One error meant that I affected the success of our clients.
It was not long before this method of thinking began to take a toll on me emotionally.
I wish I could say that this was the point where I identified the problem and made a change, but it was not. Unfortunately, in the fast-paced nature of social justice work, you forget to take care of your mental health. Your needs become secondary to those you are working with. I allowed months to pass before I was able to recognize that something was wrong.
I am fortunate to work in an office environment where discussions of mental health are encouraged. At our weekly meetings, we started to have conversations about self-compassion. In these moments, I see a new side to my co-workers—a side that I never knew existed.
Just like me, they feel overwhelmed, doubtful, and helpless at times. Even though my co-workers have been working in this line of work longer than I have, they still struggle with similar issues. Seeing my staff open up like this allowed me to see that I have so much support surrounding me, and I have people I can depend on. I am not alone. Below I have included some great advice that I received from my co-workers at MICA:
Forgive yourself for mistakes. Understand and acknowledge your limitations and don’t push yourself too far beyond those.
-Stephen, Bilingual Legal Assistant
Give yourself the same kind of treatment that you would give a client.
-Maria, Coordinator of Client Support Services
The lesson is in recognizing that I/we can’t do it all and being limited isn’t a flaw—it’s a reality.
We preach self-care, but many of us never learn how to practice it. We know it is harmful to be hypercritical, but, unfortunately, once something becomes a common practice it’s hard to stop. I saw myself falling into a vicious cycle and believed that the work that I was doing was more important than my own needs.
If I am to continue in this field of work, I need to continue striving to find a balance. My heart is what encouraged me to pursue social justice; however, it is imperative to devote that same sense of love to myself.
Know Thyself, Love Thyself.
I am on the road to discovering who I am and loving myself despite my imperfections. I am forever grateful towards Loretto and The MICA Project for teaching me to care for myself the same as I care for others.
Melanie Farrell is from Warrington, PA and graduated from James Madison University in 2017 with a B.S. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication. During her time in college, Melanie served alongside various communities, specifically working with survivors and victims of human trafficking. She is an avid coffee-drinker and lover of writing. She also enjoys reading mystery novels and playing with dogs. This year Melanie is working with M.I.C.A. Project, an organization committed to working with low-income immigrants to overcome barriers to justice in St. Louis, MO.
5/2/2018 05:55:16 pm
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