Self-Care – Self-Aware
Greetings to those who are new to this blog: ASK CASA – Ask. Seek. Know. about all things CASA for CASA Advocates, and welcome back to my returning readers. I’m so glad to have new readers and to know that returning readers are here to find out what our first December topic will be.
Let me begin by saying that while I’ve been selecting the topics along with some input from survey responses to help launch this feature of Wisconsin-CASA.org, this is your space. Going forward, your questions, concerns, and comments will drive what is discussed and highlighted. I look forward to hearing from you.
As I write this, it’s already December. Wow! The weather has been mild with plenty of sunny days that might lull us into thinking that the holidays aren’t really just three weeks away. Double-check your calendar. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday are history. Hanukkah begins December 10th, and Christmas is December 25th, followed by Kwanzaa on December 26th! How can we possibly be ready? What about all the preparation work – shopping, decorating, baking, cooking, gift wrapping, and (possibly) cleaning? How can we possibly get everything done including caring for our CASA children and their families and still be loving, welcoming, gracious, and healthy? Are you feeling stressed? Do you doubt that everything will get done? And, how are you taking care of you?
A few questions I have on file from survey responses address that concern. How do we manage personal stress for the trauma we know our CASA children are experiencing? How do we take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our CASA children? An anonymous submission asked: “How do we process our feelings about the trauma our CASA kid faced? I’ve been doing this 14 years and my husband says he knows when I have a really hard case because I swing out my arms in my sleep.” This is an all-encompassing question about how we process our cases and related trauma, how we continue to care for our CASA children – to do what is best for them, to report impartially and objectively, and how we take care of us!
These questions give purpose for this first December blog to discuss the popular phrases Self-Care – Self-Aware. Understanding them and their benefits should help you feel confident and needed in your vital work as a CASA Advocate. This knowledge can help calm occasional stress and helplessness. The Wisconsin CASA Values Statement top core values are: We value children. We value volunteer-centered advocacy. That feels like a warm hug – virtually!
I want to highlight some key points of your ‘job description’ as a CASA Advocate to remind you how and why you are so valuable in the life of your CASA child, and also to acknowledge that experiencing some stress along the way is unavoidable. I would caution you to welcome stress as a prompt to embrace what you have control over and to let go of what is outside the realm of your obligation. Share your thoughts and feelings with your trusted CASA staff/supervisor.
First and foremost, always remember that your local CASA program and Wisconsin CASA support you and believe in you to advocate for children under a CHIPS order. Long before your formal CASA training began, you were vetted according to Wisconsin statutes through a background check and met the requirement of a CASA Advocate, especially, “demonstrates an interest in child welfare.” Professional training and continuing education provide you with knowledge to recognize child abuse and neglect, understand cultural competency, child development, court procedures and permanency training, how to gather and document relevant information, and courtroom etiquette. You are highly trained for your crucial role as a CASA Advocate! Also, according to state statute, your local CASA program and supervisor are required to be accessible to you, to hold regular conferences with you, to conduct annual evaluations, and to provide written policies and procedures of the CASA program, including your volunteer responsibilities.
Look what you’ve accomplished! You are wonderful. Nationalcasagal.org reports in its Research and Effectiveness results under Addressing Trauma, “Judges report the impact of CASA/GAL volunteers is most pronounced in ‘promoting long-term wellbeing’, followed by, ‘appropriate services to child and family,’ and ‘psychological wellbeing’.” You should feel very proud of and confident in your role as a CASA Advocate!
Knowing, understanding, and believing in yourself as a CASA Advocate, let’s begin our conversation about Self-Care – Self-Aware.
Basically, self-care is the ability to be mindful of our own needs so that we are better able to care for and support those we love. That’s how I comprehend and practice self-care: scheduling routine appointments to maintain health – think routine physicals, eye exams, dental check-ups along with exercise and healthy eating. Personally, it also includes occasional pampering appointments: manicures and pedicures and haircut/color/highlight (you choose)!
On a deeper level, self-care also includes emotional, mental, social, and spiritual aspects. Talking with a good friend or therapist, keeping a journal, creating and enjoying art and music support emotional self-care. Anything that stimulates our brains works on mental self-care: solving puzzles, reading for pleasure, and cultural outings – think museums and concerts. Social and spiritual self-care nurtures our relationships with people and our ability to think beyond ourselves. Examples include outings with friends, date nights with our spouse, meditation, attending worship, being in nature. In short, self-care is living a balanced life with a healthy exchange of give and take.
Now, let’s examine self-aware, which is the uniquely human ability to use reflection and introspection in order to see ourselves clearly and accurately. Let me confuse you a bit more with Duval and Wicklund’s (1972) statement: “Self-Awareness . . . is based on the idea that you are not your thoughts, but the entity observing your thoughts; you are the thinker, separate and apart from your thoughts.”
Basically, self-aware is observing ourselves to see and consider what might need fixing or improving, and then weighing the pros and cons of making the fixes or changes. Practicing self-awareness makes us more proactive, better decision-makers, proud of ourselves and our work, and better communicators. Being self-aware helps us see things from others’ perspectives and gives us confidence – just to name a few.
So, let’s look back at the basics of the two questions that drove this blog:
- How do we manage personal stress for the trauma we know our CASA children are experiencing?
Applying the self-aware concept of observing ourselves to see and consider what might need fixing or changing, we may need to accept the hard truth that we cannot prevent what our CASA child is experiencing. However, we can allow ourselves to put that trauma in perspective and truly empathize with genuine responses.
In her November webinar for the Wisconsin CASA State of Awareness program series, Judge Ramona A. Gonzalez, Circuit Court, LaCrosse County, labeled trauma ‘vicarious’ (secondhand/displaced/removed). Her guidance for processing trauma included, “Take care of yourself and be aware of what your parameters are (restrictions/limitations/constraints). You need time to process. You need time to deal with the trauma your kids have.” Wise words to be heeded.
- How do we take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our CASA children?
Practice living a balanced life emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Again, from Judge Gonzalez’s webinar, she asked “What is the greatest value of a CASA?” Her answer: “Awareness.” Judge continued, “Situational awareness is understanding what your surroundings are so you can react appropriately to avoid any mishap, and to improve the situation you are in.” Powerful.
And, Judge left us with some great one-liners to express how important the CASA Advocate is to the system and, especially to the child.
“Awareness is how we are going to do our job.”
“You need to love what you do.”
“Be joyful in the work you do.”
“Stay in the moment with the child.”
“The child is making progress simply by being and feeling safe.”
Just like knowing and understanding your important role as a CASA, knowing and understanding your impact on the system and especially the child, you as a CASA Advocate, should feel proud of and humbled by the work you love to do.
Before concluding this blog, I want to share a trauma story from my first CASA case. Recall that I had three boys under the age of 3, and the two older brothers had their own CASA. The trauma didn’t happen to the boys or the family. The trauma happened to me.
At the end of a fairly routine weekly visit, I thanked Mom for letting me visit and made arrangements for the next visit. Mom was on the couch with the three little ones and the 2nd and 5th graders. OK, the three little ones were climbing all over her and laughing. She remained patient with them as we scheduled the next visit on our phones. Suddenly, Mom had trouble breathing and had a horrified look on her face. I asked what was wrong and what I could do for her. She waved me off and then said once she caught her breath, “No, thanks, Miss Deb. Just a little trouble breathin’. That’s all. I get it sometimes in my heart. I be fine.”
As a teacher trained in CPR and First Aid, I jumped into response mode asking about her symptoms, recommending that she lie down, and asking the boys to sit quietly.
Again, Mom waved me off, saying that she would be fine, she had her boys with her.
I explained my teaching background and CPR training. I asked about aspirin and calling 911.
Mom smiled, but was having trouble breathing again, so she just tapped her phone to indicate she could call 911 if she really needed help. The boys were very quiet.
I said I would stay for a while to make sure she would be OK. I inquired about further symptoms: feeling lightheaded and/or nauseous, any pain in her arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. Mom shook her head to indicate ‘no’, but then she put her head in her hands and said she felt dizzy.
I offered, again, to call 911, but she refused. She said she would call if she needed help. She thanked me for my concern and offer to stay. “I be fine, Miss Deb. You go on home now.” She waved me toward the door.
I realized that I needed to respect her wishes to leave and not call 911. This was traumatic for me. I didn’t want to encounter an ambulance headed toward the apartment while I was driving home. I left with a desperate feeling of abandonment. I knew if I stayed, I could help – at least to comfort the five boys if 911 did arrive or actually making the 911 call if Mom became unconscious. Leaving felt so wrong.
I did leave the apartment and the building, but I didn’t leave the scene. I sat in my car and called my CASA supervisor to talk through my feelings and fears. The calm, comforting voice in my ear acknowledged that I certainly was in a difficult situation. After talking through some scenarios, my supervisor and I decided that I should drive home (less than 5 miles) and then call Mom to check on her, offering to come back if she needed my help. My heart was pounding as I drove home with my eyes and ears straining for flashing lights and sirens.
Once home, I calmed myself with measured breathing while I dialed Mom. She answered after two rings,” Yes, Miss Deb?” I asked how she was feeling. She assured me that she was fine and makin’ dinner for her boys. I told her I was glad to know that because I had been so concerned for her when I left the visit. “That nice, Miss Deb. I be fine now. Thanks.” I thanked her for taking my call and that I would see her at the visit next week. “Sure thing. Bye.”
That trauma happened more than seven years ago, yet it remains fresh in my mind, I think, for a number of reasons. I quickly saw Mom as another human being who needed help. She was no longer the CASA Mom with the case history I knew. She was frightened, yet gracious enough to say thanks for the concern, but no thanks for my help. Also, I sensed the deep desire and pride that Mom had to want to handle her situation on her own terms. I’ve since reflected that perhaps she didn’t have medical coverage for a 911 call or didn’t want the commotion or didn’t have someone to take care of her five boys if an ambulance took her away. I’ve learned to respect that and to not be offended that she didn’t want my help. Judge Gonzalez’s words now flow through my mind – situational awareness helped me to cease being the CASA Advocate in order to become a compassionate human being. I now understand how self-aware helped me to see the situation from Mom’s perspective and gave me the courage to leave, and the courage to follow-up.
Thinking about the various situations we, as CASA Advocates encounter, try approaching each day and each visit with the sense of who you are and how well-prepared you are for the stresses, fears, and traumas entwined within this greatest-of-all volunteer work you do. Keep in mind that Self-Care – Self-Aware is about knowing, understanding, and caring for ourselves. It’s about building and maintaining resilience by honestly evaluating emotions, finding joy in routines, looking for the good in life, connecting with other people, making well-being a top priority, doing something lighthearted, and knowing that it’s OK to fail and then grow. I know you can do this – you are a highly trained CASA Advocate with a true love of caring for and about children. Thank you!
Well, that was a long and emotionally charged topic! I hope you find it helpful and refer back to this blog for encouragement. In the meantime, keep your questions, concerns, and comments coming for ASK CASA – Ask. Seek. Know. – the place where we can connect about all things CASA for CASA Advocates. Looking forward to hearing from you!