Years ago when I lived in Savannah, a friend of mine bought a "relaxation deck" of cards for me from a quaint downtown boutique. The cards each had a message to relay with a correlating image. My absolute favorite is the picture of the water pitcher. The idea is that we each have a finite pitcher of water. When we are constantly giving to those around us, we deplete our pitcher. Unless we refill, it will become empty and we will then have no more water to give.
Those of us with special needs children know about the finite pitcher of water. Some of you give away your water by making gluten free, dairy free, low sugar adjustments to your cooking routines, others of you give at the CST meeting at school, trying to portray why the administration needs to invest in your child, others give it massaging sweet little legs that are too restless for sleep. It seems water flows even more freely when discipline is a struggle or your little guy has out of control OCD or even fits of rage.
How do we fill a pitcher that seems to need an endless supply of water? What do you do when the pitcher can't make it back to the sink? Compassion fatigue is a risk for every parent with a chronically ill child. If you have two or more family members who are ill or if one of your loved ones' symptoms are significant, the task becomes that much harder.
Success lies within a varied strategy. If we are going to fill our pitchers, there needs to be more than one source of water. What fills you? Friends? Reading a good book? Going cycling? Don't just pick one, pick a handful. Write a list of all of the activities that make you you. They can be small, quick activities or long drawn out events. Some cost money, others cost time. Remember the things you used to do and also the things you want to do, but haven't. The more we fill up our pitchers, the more we have to give. Sounds counterintuitive, but it really does make a difference.
The next time you feel like you don't have the time to go for that jog, ask yourself. How full is my pitcher? Am I at risk of running out? It is hard to take care of yourself when you see how much those around you are hurting and suffering. It is difficult to leave them to ease your own pain, but it is crucial. Parents of a chronically ill child are less likely to be selfish and more likely to give to the point of exhaustion. Taking care of yourself does not have to be a selfish event, but a necessary stepping stone in watching your family rise to the next level of health and maintenance.
I encourage you to sit with a friend or loved one who really knows you. Someone who can help you write an honest list of the things you need to do to keep your pitcher full. Not just for the sake of giving. Of course this is important. Your family is struggling. But more importantly, you are worth filling. You are more than a giving vessel, you are worth being filled just for the sake of having fresh water within yourself.
Unless specified, Gabrielle Anderson, lmft is the author of these posts. Gabrielle is a Therapist and the Director at FTC. She is a married mother of 2 and has experienced chronic infection in the practice, herself and in her family.
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