Years ago I heard a talk about our four gauges. Let me explain.
The speaker spoke of the various internal gauges that he had noticed in his life. He had a spiritual gauge and as a religious person he felt that this tank was regularly filled. Think of a gas tank. When the gas runs out, the engine stops. He also noticed his mental gauge – as a scholar he kept that tank filled almost all the time. He was also a marathon runner and knew implicitly that his physical gauge was good. So he was in tip-top shape right?
What the speaker did not realize was that there was a fourth tank, an emotional tank. People who are caregivers, or young parents, or counselors, or that ilk are required to empathize with people, to care. You can jog all you want and it won’t fill your emotional gauge. It might be therapeutic but it probably isn’t enough. After a while people who constantly give out begin to “skim” emotionally. They still care in theory but becoming emotionally involved gets to be harder and harder. It is no wonder, then, that many caregivers have secret addictions, or masturbate more than most, or engage in risk-taking or risqué behaviours.
I have arguable the easiest job in the world. I get paid to sit and drink coffee all day and listen to people talk about their issues. When I first starting doing this I heard of counselors going on stress breaks – and laughed. I had just come from owning a restaurant and I knew what stress looked like, or so I thought. Coming to work was a break from my stress, not a contributor to it.
For a while.
After a few years I started to notice I didn’t care as much, didn’t work as hard, didn’t engage emotionally like I once did. I became easily irritated and struggled to emotionally engage with my family. I had no idea what was happening.
Then I remembered the emotional gauge.
Today I listen to audiobooks and do martial arts. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, hundreds and hundreds. On this computer alone I have 63 gigs of audiobooks and that isn’t even my biggest collection, which is on my removable hard drive at home. I listen to philosophy, brain candy, psychology, sci-fi, physics, pop novels, comedies, history etc. Right now I am listening to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a massive chronicle that I have now read almost three times. I use the word “read” figuratively. Last week I listened to Dune (it sucked) and before that Physics Of The Impossible (amazing). I cannot get in my car without an ear-bud attached, it is a full-blown addiction – and very therapeutic. Listening to books fills my emotional tank.
We all have an emotional tank, and when we are stressed or anxious or busy it gets depleted. By now most of us know we should practice self-care but most still cannot make it a daily or even weekly priority. Self-care takes time and we are too stressed or anxious or busy to take that time. It is a vicious circle that keeps us mentally and emotionally ill.
Self-care can smell an awful lot like selfishness, especially when you are trying to drink a daiquiri on the back deck when the kids are screaming for your attention. The tyranny of the urgent is forever clamouring for our attention and we have been taught that self-care is optional, or laziness, or self-indulgent.
This weekend when I get in my kayak it will feel selfish for a minute or two, until I put in my ear buds and return to The Battle Of Britain. When I get home I’ll try to convince my wife that I am practicing what I preach… and perhaps she’ll buy it.
Either way I get to go kayaking.