Serving in Poplar means that sometimes you find it difficult to focus on the silver-lining, especially when you feel that you try to do so every day, and you’re exhausted. There is one personal silver-lining that I have not focused much on, because to me, this year is not about me, it’s about serving others. However, when serving others, self-care is pivotal. How can you serve others without the “you,” and who is that “you” when she is not being cared for? Is she caring less? Is she more removed from those whom she is serving?

The basic psychosocial answer for any human would be, yes, you cannot truly care for others until you learn to love yourself and care for yourself. I use this phrase all the time when I see people I know in relationships with humans who have not learned this lesson. But how am I applying it to myself? I accept and appreciate myself, but am I truly caring for myself? If I absorb the stressors of others, as well as my own many stressors, without filtering and processing them properly, this leads to compassion fatigue. There can be no true service to others with compassion fatigue.

Self-care is not only important for those with stressful jobs, for those working in social work, counseling, or any other social service positions. For those people who live stressful lives, due to economic or other social factors, caring for their mental health will not supercede their need to care for their physical health and survival. If you can’t pay your bills because you can’t get a job with decent wages, why are you going to worry about having time to relax, physically and mentally, and focus on this thing called “self-care?” In this scenario, self-care is called survival.

For those without access to therapy and the resources to focus on mental and physical self-care, sometimes this leads to other issues with human interactions and relationships. If you feel less respect for yourself, you may have less respect for others, and may feel the need to pull others down. Depending on how much guilt, hate, anger and sadness you let brew inside of you, bullies can be born. I see this in the students I work with every day.

That recognition is what has solidified my desire to work as school counselor, a youth therapist. I had been pondering this desire for a couple of years before moving to Montana. I was not happy with my job and I was not using my degrees. Why not give myself a year to decide? I had always wanted to join AmeriCorps when I was younger. If I want to do it, and it’s not hurting anyone, then I should do it. Self-care step one is to focus on what makes me happy.

Helping these students here in Poplar, with my office in the counseling center, allowed me to decide that I will be returning to school for a fourth degree. That’s my personal silver-lining. Through the stress of serving, I can always focus on the silver-lining that benefits others, but where is my silver-lining in this? I have gained tremendous insight, focus and awareness. But I have also been able to focus my skill set, and with that focus on counseling, I feel that I can always directly be serving.

Danielle Scudder
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Poplar, MT