There’s a fantastic poem by Shel Silverstein called “Me Stew.”
It’s in Where the Sidewalk Ends, and if you don’t own that book, go buy it RIGHT now! Use this link. In this poem, the narrator has nothing to cook for stew, and so he throws himself into the pot and encourages the reader to enjoy him “with crackers.”
If you are a caretaker, a mother, or a person in a helping profession (social work, healthcare, etc.), take a minute to consider if you are serving up Me Stew to your care recipients.
It’s an easy enough trap to fall into. It starts with motherhood, as you give yourself over entirely to a helpless infant. If you have multiple children, that self sacrifice is repeated. As your kids get older, it’s easy to forget that you can reclaim your own life as they carve out their own. Add in aging parents who need help, and you’ve got a good recipe for Me Stew.
And this isn’t just for parents! I know a lot of people who work in helping professions: coaching, social work, volunteering, religious leadership, teaching. And most of them struggle with boundaries and self-care. I’ve been there myself. When I volunteered for a sexual assault hotline, I had one caller that I talked to each week.
It was tremendously difficult for me to figure out how to create emotional boundaries so I could continue to live and enjoy my own life while knowing the hell she was enduring.
Currently, I volunteer at Love Wins Community Engagement Center, and I know all of the staff and volunteers there struggle just as I do. Every day we close at 1:00 PM, and I watch our community members walk away, knowing that most of them have nowhere to go, nowhere to be safe, no other community to care about them. It’s hard enough when it’s 90 degrees outside. What will it be like when it’s 40 degrees, and we know that they won’t be in a heated space again until 9:00 am the next day?
When you are in the stew pot, you are on the path to burnout. Giving of ourselves is noble, but we can make a delicious service stew that doesn’t require our lives. In the Me Stew poem, the chef has nothing to cook, so he cooks himself. When you fail to maintain healthy boundaries or give yourself basic self care, you have thrown yourself into the pot.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking about how we can get out of our stew pots. But for now, just think about yourself and your life. Are you making Me Stew?
Red flags that you are in the stew pot:
- You feel guilty about enjoying your life and your blessings.
- When you fill your legitimate needs, you feel completely selfish.
- You are get angry when other people aren’t outraged by the issues that you deal with.
- You can’t stop worrying, especially about things you can’t control.
- You feel personally responsible for fixing other people’s problems.
- You are neglecting your health – you haven’t seen a dentist in over a year, you haven’t had a physical or a tetanus shot in over 10 years, your glasses prescription is 5 years out of date, etc.
- You have no energy for personal hygiene: the thought of showering, hair-styling, dental care or shaving is overwhelming each day.
- You get less than 7 hours of sleep most nights.
- You have a constant sense of impending doom.
If you identify with a lot of those statements, schedule a Breath of Fresh Air with me. It’s a free 1 hour call and we’ll talk about why you’re in the stew pot and how you can start to climb out!