Craig Bidiman, Health Education & Promotion Specialist, UMass Boston
April 4, 2017
As a whole, we, as a human race, are terrible at taking care of ourselves. Couple this with the busyness (and sometimes odd hours) of student affairs work, and we get a field full of people who could be better to themselves. I suggest we can do better through good old-fashioned self-care.
In my unique role on my campus at UMass Boston, I have the opportunity to support and educate students on personal and overall wellness, as well as mental and emotional wellness, and sexual health. Needless to say, I cover a bit of ground in my work as a health education and wellness promotion specialist. It’s a complicated job, but it’s a job I am thankful to have because it has truly consumed my life in some of the most meaningful ways.
Because of the nature of my job, I advocate for self-care every single day at my job. I also push my students to advocate for themselves and their needs.
I learned how to advocate for myself when I was in middle school. As a young man with ADHD, there was a lot of stigma surrounding my existence as a constantly distracted and easily over-stimulated student. Since there weren’t many teachers who advocated for me, or even supported me, I had to speak up for myself. I made requests for regular breaks from class, and the ability to have something to fidget with to help me concentrate in class.
These requests followed me into college, except the needs changed. The new accommodations were related to my mental health. I would be upfront with my professors about my depression and anxiety, as well as my fidgeting problem. I only ever had one issue with a professor, but we worked it out.
Because I was upfront with my professors about these needs, it was much easier for me to communicate with them when my depression or anxiety were flaring up and needed to miss class. Instead of these issues being a crutch or an excuse, my professors knew that I was being honest with them, that these accommodations were genuinely necessary for my success. It also made it so that I didn’t have to unnecessarily stress about my classwork.
I hold the belief that it is better to be honest with people from the beginning so they know what to expect—or at least that there is a possibility of something impacting my work—instead of these needs popping up at inconvenient times that make them appear as excuses.
So now, as a professional, I am upfront with my supervisors and colleagues about my mental health, and really any aspect of my life that might impact my job. My supervisor knows that I will ask for mental health days if I need them and we have an agreement that I can say when I need time to step away. As I said, I do a lot in my job—as do many of us—so it’s important to me to have a supervisor who understands my needs and my circumstances.
I recognize that not everyone has support like this in their work environments, and that truly bums me out. Because I wish we had a culture of support built into our work environments. To me, this culture would be built on a simple code of ethical understanding that all people have different needs.
That’s it. Very simple. Right?
I would love to see our field shift to a complete understanding that self-care and advocacy for ourselves is paramount. Because, in addition to advocating for my needs, I am very comfortable speaking up for how I self-care, and for prioritizing self-care.
I love music, so I often have music playing in my office. I love painting, drawing, and coloring, so I have coloring books in my office, as well as a number of my own paintings on my walls. I am also a runner, so I have worked it out with my supervisor that I will not take a “lunch” break, I will take an exercise break most days. I use this time to either go for a run around campus, or to go to the gym. This break is for me. It allows me to get out some energy and take care of my body, which as I said earlier, taking on this position has given me a greater appreciation for prioritizing my physical wellness needs.
I use my breaks and my time away from work to focus on all of the things that I enjoy outside of my work—these are almost all related to art in some capacity. Painting is helpful for my mental health because it gives me a creative escape in the moments when I feel like I’m not in control of my life. When I paint, I am in control of the canvas and the visuals created. I paint for myself, my colleagues, as well as the nonprofit that I run with my partner. I also make poetry and music to get out my frustrations and anxieties about life. These are my most personal outlets and it’s such a release to be able to let out some of my demons. I also attend concerts to be among people who appreciate the same music I appreciate, and to give myself a break from the reality of work and life. All of these outlets contribute to my quality of life and my balance.
Because I have learned enough about my forms of self-care, I have become vocal about how I take care of myself in my workplace. It’s important for more professionals to discuss their self-care needs upfront and personally with their supervisors so that this culture shift can actually happen. The more we are comfortable talking about our needs, the easier it will be for our field to recognize that advocating for self-care in the workplace is essential for success.
Continue the conversation below – what are some other ways we can be better about self-care?
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