Workshop delivers self-care and resilience techniques
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Those attending the online Presbyterian Border Region Outreach conference last weekend enjoyed a 90-minute respite during a workshop given by the Rev. John Cheek and the Rev. Suzanne Malloy.
Their topic was self-care and resilience. Each presenter has a long history in both realms.
As members of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s National Response Team, Cheek, transitional pastor at The Holy Way Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, and Malloy, a trauma chaplain at a hospital in Santa Barbara, California, are well versed in helping others overcome stress brought on by the pandemic, the care requirements for people entering the United States through its border with Mexico, and other stressors.
“The work we do has a lot of stress,” Malloy told conference attendees, most of whom are doing extraordinary work caring for migrants and those in their communities who provide them services. “We need to identify how that stress impacts us.”
Cheek called the effects of the coronavirus and the stress that comes with work at the borderlands “slow-moving and ongoing. They don’t fit the same model as a tornado, a hurricane or a public shooting. But some dynamics are similar.”
Immediately after a disaster, people generally pull together, reasoning, he said, that “we will face it together and be better than we’ve ever been.” He said he saw that response in person as part of the National Response Team following the 2012 mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. When his plane landed, “I saw signs in the Denver airport saying, ‘Aurora strong,’” he said.
Unfortunately, he said, “it doesn’t last.” There’s a “precipitous drop into disillusionment, despair and hopelessness. I’m guessing many of you in this meeting find yourself somewhere on that slope. It’s a period,” he said, “when you really must have resilience going for you.”
Cheek, whose first career was in law enforcement, said he’s more tired now than he’s ever been, either as an officer or a pastor. “This is a season that has kicked my butt,” he said. “Resilience keeps me from being more of a mess than I am. I am maintaining an attitude that finds places of gratitude and empathy, and that’s because of the resilience work.”
One of the helpful tools Malloy uses in her work is something she calls a “doorknob affirmation.”
As she’s about to open, say, a patient’s door, or her boss’s door, she’ll ask herself, “What am I doing here? What is my purpose? My purpose is simply to be fully present to others who need that presence. I practice that often.”
It’s an affirmation she wishes she had, she said with a laugh, when she used to get called to the principal’s office during her elementary school days.
“I do this work because I know I am making a difference,” she said. “With our intentionality, we can take a negative experience and say, ‘What did I learn from this?’”
Doing this kind of work for the long haul “requires we do some self-care,” Malloy said. “Our immigrants have needs, and they will continue to have needs. How do we sustain our energy for helping and being present for them? A lot of it is, how well do we take care of ourselves? A lot of times, it’s not so good. We give, but often we don’t receive.”
Malloy suggested daily devotions “as a way to center us spiritually.” To counter the long hours at work, she writes self-care time into her calendar each week.
Cheek said he and his wife are learning to weave in an effort to persevere during the pandemic.
“Isolation is fatiguing,” he said. “I spend five days a week in my office at church completely alone. Even though I’m an introvert, I miss people.”
He suggested enlisting the help of “people who won’t try to fix you. Their role is to be available to take your call and listen. Maybe you can invite them to help you be accountable.”
Upon waking up each morning, Malloy comes up with three things she’s grateful for. Each night, she writes about her gratitude for three things that happened to her that day. While walking her dog, she scours the neighborhood looking for little things for which she is grateful.
“I get home from gratitude walks feeling relaxed and centered, in communion with God and God’s Creation,” she said, “and I see how I am connected to all of that.”
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