Sunday, January 24, 2010

Recognizing Respite...

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, respite - pronounced RES-pit, not re-SPITE, incidently - means "an interval of rest or relief" and, thus, is one of the most important aspects of self care for helpers who want to increase their resilience to burnout and compassion fatigue.

But what constitutes respite? A vacation away? Sending our kids away and staying home doing nothing? Time in our own gardens? An hour with a good book? A night on the town? Not answering the phone when the office calls about overtime this weekend? A soak in a hot tub? A regular early morning run?

The answer is "all of the above" - and more. We are learning, through conversations with many kinds of helpers, that respite is a highly individual experience. What provides "an interval of rest or relief" for one person can be an exhausting energy drain for another.

Much of what constitutes respite for a given person arises from his or her personality type. For example, an introvert, (someone who finds refreshment in the inner world of thoughts, feelings and mental images when depleted), will have very different respite needs from an extravert (someone who is drawn to the external world of people, places and things for renewal).

I am an off-the-scale introvert and when I am tired, what I need most is uninterrupted time alone in a quiet, peaceful environment. During the years that I was balancing a trauma therapy practice with family caregiving, I was told, seemingly continuously, about how important it was to "get out" and to "interact with people" in order to "reduce my isolation" and "get a break". That was the last thing I needed or wanted! What I ached to do was to spend time quietly alone, puttering in my own flower garden.

Unfortunately, respite-as-outcome or, put another way, respite as whatever makes YOU feel better, was not well understood in those days and home care regulations required that I leave our home whenever the home support worker was there to care for my husband. Not the best solution for my introverted soul.

It took a while, but eventually I sorted out a compromise that respected the rules but didn't wear me out. That compromise was to spend one full morning a week, alone, at the local Market, sitting at a small table, sipping a latte, and reading, writing letters or just staring out at the sunshine on the water and the happy red and white of the tugboats tied to the dock. It was a perfect solution for me - sights and sounds to feed my soul but absolutely no need to contribute my energy to anything. I didn't have to care for anyone but myself. It was sheer joy- such a wonderful gift, in fact, that I continue to do it once a week to this day.

What about you? What would create "an interval of rest and relief" in your life? It doesn't matter whether someone else would recognize it as such. It just matters that YOU would find rest and refreshment in that situation.

Photo by D Kirby.

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新衣 said...
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