Writing about mental health from a feminist counselling perspective
Note: this post was adapted from a newsletter I wrote in November 2019. I usually call this time period “No Work December”, but since this year I won’t be travelling until February, I'll be working until December 18 before taking a break, as a trade off. While I will still be around Edmonton during that time, my plan is not to check email and instead to focus on rejuvenation. Okay, here it is!
As we go into December, I'm winding down with clients for the year. Some of you may be familiar with my inclination to take the month off client work and engage in a mix of travel, other projects, and rest. I started doing this a number of years ago, mostly at the prompting of my parents, who kept telling me "you work too much!". I wanted to share what this means to me. So, why take an entire month off?
I say this often, and it remains true: I want to be doing healing work for another 50 years or so. Each year that passes, I take more seriously what's going to make it possible in the long run. To aim for sustainability, I need to carve out time away where I can remind myself of the other parts of who I am. My work is incredibly important to me, but I can't forget that there are other parts of me that also need attention. This is essential in helping me remain connected to joy and aliveness when I do show up to work, therefore making it sustainable.
I've also found that it's not enough to have a day or two away from the office, because I end up staying in work mode. Having a long break where I'm physically away from the computer and the office for a sustained period allows my brain the mental reset it needs.
2. Living alongside chronic pain
I need to be as healthy as possible in order to show up, be present with clients, and do good work. As someone living alongside chronic pain, this means that my life revolves around my health, not around my work.
This mindset was inspired by business coach Jen Carrington, who, in her weekly letters, speaks about having purposeful space to rest and recharge. I have to remind myself that there are certain compromises that are okay to make — but my health isn't one of them.
3. Aiming for "good enough"
When I first attempted “No Work December” a few years ago, it was because it was getting close to December and I was more tired than I wanted to be. My parents kept telling me that I worked too much, so I had a good conversation with them because I was trying to figure out when “enough” was enough.
I was still new to being self-employed and was having a hard time knowing where the limit was. When have you put in “enough” hours? Made “enough” money? I knew I technically could keep working, but should I? Everyone seemed to do it differently, with some people working a lot over the holidays, and some people not at all. Likewise, some clinicians seemed good with eight clients a day, whereas others drew the line at four. I could continue to do more work, but if I was honest with myself, I was ready to be done for the year. So, I gave myself permission to aim for “good enough” and stop there.
4. Being brave enough to follow my own advice
Most of the encouragement I give clients centers around listening more closely to our bodies and finding some way to give it what it needs. I encourage people all the time to take a pause from doing and let themselves be. Often, this ends up involving gently reminding people that it's okay to take a break from work.
So if I'm reminding everyone in my life to do this, then I absolutely need to be willing to do the same thing. I don't believe boundaries are just for “other” people. And I absolutely know it'd send a pretty weird message if I were to say to my clients “yes, listen to your bodies, take a break from work, but me? No, I'm not going to do that.” If I'm asking everyone else to be brave and deal with the guilt, then I'm going to do it too. I’m going to be brave enough to follow my own advice.
I wanted to share a little bit more about what it means to me to take an entire month off in the hopes that it will encourage you to know that you can also take the time you need. This is especially important for people who are helping professionals, activists, caregivers, educators, and in any other caring role that is particularly vulnerable to vicarious trauma.
If you're in crisis during this time, please contact Drop-in Single Session Counselling or the Edmonton Distress Line (780-482-HELP). If you are a client and your query is related to changing or booking a session, please do so via the Owl Portal.
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.
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