What happens when healers need healing? Ideally, healers have the inside track, but often self-care can be hard to come by for those in caring professions.
Several years ago in a workshop for non-profit workers, I heard a presenter say that he only hired individuals to work with him who engaged in radical self-care. “I only hire people who engage in radical self-care,” he repeated, leaning in toward the microphone. I squirmed. Self-care of any sort often escaped me. After years of work in non-profits, I had fallen into the habit of giving everything to the job to the point that often there was not enough for me at the end of the day. This habit left me empty, feeling neglected, and eventually, it bred resentment.
Luckily, circumstances forced me into for-profit arenas before I experienced the full negative impact of this personal neglect. Over time, I identified my need for self-care and learned what that speaker had meant by radical self-care. Today, I only regret that our society needs the descriptor “radical” to explain essential self-care.
When it became necessary for me to step down from work as a copywriter in order to go through treatments for a longstanding medical condition, I began to more fully grasp the concept of radical self-care. I found myself in a place where self-care had to become my full-time job. It was literally a matter of survival.
At the same time, years of socialization began to battle against me. Was I being lazy? What if the work of self-care wasn’t sufficient? With the loving support of my wife, my best friend, my therapist, and an amazing medical doctor, I recognized the importance of radical self-care. I would eventually move on but only by moving through some difficult treatment. My survival literally relied on my attention to self-care.
Through those months, I began to tap into new creative outlets. Words could be difficult for me, but I found new ways to express myself. I spent hours in parks, slowly strolling through gardens for photo opportunities. I developed my artistic eye. Eventually, at the suggestion of a friend, I began to paint. The flow of water on paper felt like a miniature ballet—dancing with a paintbrush.
To Heal Others
People like myself whose calling is to heal others cannot stop at radical self-care. Just as we will fail in the absence of radical self-care, we will also inhibit our personal growth if we do not reach out a hand to aid others. For me, the call to healing came when I couldn’t even care for myself.
I had finally undergone a critical surgery to fix clubfoot. The operation, usually performed on minors, is seldom done on people over 40, so recovery expectations turned out to be far from my reality. I had optimistically set a coffee date two weeks post-surgery and found myself calling to ask if my friend would instead drop by my home to bring me food. I could scarcely lift my head off the pillow.
My friend arrived with food, compassion and a proposal that would change my life. After feeding me and listening compassionately to my frustrations at my lack of mobility, she told me about her plan to host an interpretive dance class. Would I teach? As the class would not be starting for a few months, I eagerly agreed, thinking this to be an excellent opportunity to get the physical therapy I would need once my cast was removed.
Recovery continued—slowly but steadily. The day after New Year’s, my friend called to ask if I would like to start teaching dance in two weeks. Despite being freshly out of casts and wearing a full-time leg brace, I agreed. At that first dance class, one of my students helped me up and down every time I instructed the class to move from floorwork to standing to dance. But I kept at it. I began to teach others—based on what my body taught me and the things I have learned from my own experience. Miracles happened every week. People moved. People emoted. My feet—both of them—began to heal. After a month, I went to my final follow-up visit with my surgeon. He said of my recovery, “You are doing everything perfectly.” I kept at it.
After two months, we had to take the dance classes online. Although this felt like disaster, it expanded my audience. In the early days of the COVID-19 quarantine, I had scores of participants attending my Facebook Live classes each Tuesday night. My audience expanded from solely Kansas City locals to an international crowd, and I received requests to add new times in order to accommodate more participants.
Then one night it became clear how much self-care played into my ability to lead others in healing dance. After a particularly successful day in creative pursuits, I started class as usual, and during the expressive movement portion, a student messaged me, “You are glowing tonight.” She’s right. I was because I’d taken the time to lay a ground work of radical self-care.