It has been a hard time to be a human in recent weeks (months?...years?), especially for those humans who personally identify with labels like “woman” and “lawyer” and “American.”
SCOTUS wrapped up its most recent term in June 2022 by unleashing a whirlwind of legal opinions that were, in the shortest of possible accounts, bad. Mass shootings have been frequent and terrible. People of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to be blatantly discriminated against and attacked by those in power. The COVID-19 pandemic is still very much here with people still very much getting sick, and a new-but-probably-equally-terrible-plague of "Monkeypox" is on the horizon.
And here we are, still trying to get up every morning and just be functional humans with jobs and families and generic non-apocalyptic lives.
Trying to show up on time and to care about whether our shirt has been smeared by sticky children’s fingers before we made it out the door. Trying to at least occasionally feed ourselves something resembling a balanced meal and not just cookies from the vending machine and half a container of Ben & Jerry’s for “dinner.” Trying to meet work deadlines and to keep up with the always-too-much demands of our bosses and careers. Trying to be an advocate for change and engage in meaningful public policy to (just maybe) stop everything from being a complete dumpster fire around us. Trying to care about any of it, when it is all so overwhelming, and we only want to stay in bed under the covers and binge-watch the second season of Bridgterton for the fourth time.
But we don’t usually get such a luxury, and still have to stumble our way through something resembling “life” day after day after day, regardless of what internal or external turmoil and existential dread fills us.
While it would likely be beneficial for just about everyone to spend some dedicated time with a qualified therapist, here are a few Cliff Notes to try and implement in daily life if you’re not in a place where you can handle having your own dedicated professional to listen.
First and foremost—prioritize self-care.
The reasoning for this one is simple: the oxygen mask analogy. While it may be instinctual for you to want to help others first (especially if you’re used to having the caretaker role in your family or job), you simply cannot help them at all if you have already passed out from lack of oxygen yourself.
You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of others. And that includes all of the little daily annoyances like feeding yourself and taking a shower and occasionally getting a little exercise or breathing fresh air outside. Plus the big things, like recognizing when and how you need to recharge when massive burnout is imminent.
So, prioritize self-care. For you. Because it doesn’t happen if you don’t genuinely try to prioritize it. Every day. Every week. Make the time, literally block it off on your calendar, and then—as much as humanly possible—don’t let it get swallowed up by everything else going on. You cannot fight the good fight if you are chronically on the verge of a complete breakdown. Deliberately and intentionally take care of yourself, so that you can then take care of others.
The second—enjoy what makes you happy.
While not far divorced from the idea behind self-care, it is still worth highlighting as a different coping strategy. For example, while you may recognize that it is in fact important for your physical self-care and health to go for walk during your lunch break, actually doing so may not necessarily fill you with instant gratification and unadulterated happiness.
Instead, the things that bring you joy may be hidden away, just waiting for you to remember that you did in fact enjoy drawing or playing the piano or dancing or going to comedy clubs back in the day and, just perhaps, doing so again would bring you a brief spark of genuine contentment. There is a whole lot of terribleness in the world right now. It’s ok to give yourself a moment here and there without it weighing on your soul. Plus, doing so can simultaneously be self-
care too, so now you’re multitasking you
Finally—do what you can with what you have.
It’s ok if you are not in a position to personally volunteer untold hours with COBALT right now to advance abortion access in Colorado. But perhaps you can donate a little bit of money? Maybe showing up to protest marches is not your jam, but you can write passionate blog pieces for the CWBA. Perhaps quitting your current job to be an advocate full-time just isn’t feasible, but you can helpfully explain some of the current legal issues in easily-accessible TikTok videos. The only limit is your own creativity for figuring how to be involved and make a difference, within the scope of what you can give.
Remember, prioritize self-care first. Enjoy the things that make you happy second. And do what you can with what you have third, without sacrificing that always-imperative self-care.
Marty Whalen Brown is a Staff Adjudicator at the Office of Appeals in the Colorado Department of Human Services. She holds a J.D. degree from the University of Colorado Law School and clerked at the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge under the Colorado Supreme Court after graduating.