Jessica Feeley: Secure Your Oxygen Mask First


Sometimes my words feel trapped within me somewhere. I will start and scrap several topics before eventually finding what feels like the “right” words. That’s been my experience as I’ve tried to write this particular blog. Watching tragedy unfold in the world at large as well as in the lives of people close to me has stifled my creativity and passion. A few weeks ago I was really struggling with all the pain I saw in the world and it felt like too much. I tried my best to avoid the feelings but eventually I couldn’t. John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, wrote, “That’s the thing about pain; it demands to be felt.”

As social workers, I think many of us have this empathetic gift that can be honed for beautiful connection and support for others. It can also feel like a burden to feel the pain so strongly of those around you. At least that’s how I feel sometimes and I’d like to imagine I’m not alone in this. Yet, I know I have this gift that won’t fix anything or take that person’s pain away. The gift of empathy is like a person who comes alongside you and says, “Me too.” It reminds the person they are not alone, no matter what situation they are facing. And as social workers, this is what we do. We help bear the burdens of others, which is precisely why burnout and self-care are common phrases in our vocabulary. I usually find myself burning out before I even realize it and then I have to take a step back to look at my life.

One of my favorite metaphors for self-care and how it applies to our work is one most people have heard. After boarding an airplane, putting your bags away, and settling in, everyone is forced to listen to the flight attendant’s instructions for emergency preparedness. “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” The point is no one can help someone else get their oxygen mask on if they don’t have oxygen themselves. This is vital to our practice as social workers. We must find out what gives us oxygen and make sure we actually do it. Let’s all take the pledge today to care for ourselves first.

-MSW Student Jessica Feeley

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