Patient advocacy relies heavily on being able to create a narrative, and by extension, sell yourself. The more gripping or devastating the story, the more advantageous it is to use, at least from a marketing perspective. Getting people to empathize with our struggles, allows for the creation of new ideas, treatments, and solutions. What is often not acknowledged is the tremendous emotional effort it takes for someone to share some of their most painful moments. We do this in the hopes that it will change something in the hearts and minds of our audience. Yet, do we ever actually examine the toll it takes on us?
Once, I had someone ask me if I liked writing so much, why I didn’t I do it more. The quick answer is because it is exhausting. The longer answer is that it is like a small death each time I put words to paper. While the majority of what I write is cathartic, it is also incredibly painful. I have written countless posts while sobbing. Sometimes, I write them, just to scrap everything and start over again. I have gone too far.
In my case, sharing too much makes me feel like a stone fracturing from the inside or like a small flame barely surviving as its oxygen supply gets cut off. Neither of these are particularly desirable and it is important to realize the importance of self-protection, of caring for oneself first. If we fail in this simple task, we leave ourselves too vulnerable and spent.
The audience is ever-present and always demanding more of our grief, of our energies and insights, and it is up to us to ensure that we take steps to protect ourselves. What this looks like will be different for every advocate. As someone who is extroverted and also expends considerable emotional energy investing in others, here is a brief introduction to some of the things I find helpful. I could easily write entire entries on each of them and probably will, but this is good for a start.
- Set Boundaries– I wear many hats, as a wife, mom, public health professional, advocate, friend, patient, and more. Setting boundaries in terms of what I am and am not willing to do, is incredibly important to my well-being. It is a line I will not cross in a relationship, an area in which I will not give too much of myself, for any reason or any one.
- Say “No”– I cannot stress this enough. It is so easy to say “yes” to writing one more article, participating in one more chat, or chairing one more working group. It feels like the more we say “yes”, the more people we will help. This is ultimately false. What ends up happening is that we end up burned out and helping no one.
- Self Care– I know this suggestion is almost overdone at this point, but I would be remiss in leaving it out. I am not talking about spending gobs of money to do self care like they show in the magazines. I am talking about caring for yourself in its most basic form: take your medication as directed, drink water, try to get enough sleep, compliment yourself, do something that makes you smile each day.
Are there any things you find helpful in avoiding burn-out? Feel free to add them below in the comments.