Right off the bat: This is not a COVID-19 post. We’re not going to be discussing N95s, hand sewn, or simple bandanas. I have nothing to add to that conversation that hasn’t been said a million times by people more qualified than myself.
In the event of an emergency….
You ever wonder why the safety talk on an airline tells you to put your mask on first before you try to help anyone else? One simple word. Hypoxia. If the cabin looses pressure enough for you to need a mask, you have about 30-60 seconds before your fucked. With some warning, you can extend that time a little. But not by much.
The real insidious part is you don’t even realize just how fucked you are. Your motor skills rapidly degrade. As do your decision making abilities. Critical thinking goes out the window. By the time it is too late, you don’t even care that it is too late. Before you even realize something has gone terribly wrong, you’re dead.
So, you give your mask a sharp tug and pull the rubber band around your head. Once you’ve done that, you can start helping others who can’t manage for themselves. Like kids. Start with your favorite child first. Save the little bastard that has been kicking your seat half the flight until the end. (I’m kidding [or am I???])
(Side note: The plane isn’t carrying oxygen tanks to fuel those masks. It is chemically generated by a mixture of iron oxide and sodium perchlorate. Science is kick ass.)
We’re not in an airplane…
So, what the fuck am I rambling on about airplane safety briefings for? Because the same principle applies to day to day life. If you want to be able to effectively help anyone else, you have to take care of yourself first.
Or, to put it another way: Let’s imagine you’re sitting on the shore of a beautiful lake. It is a gorgeous day. The weather is perfect. You may even be dipping your toes in the water. I don’t care. Dip away, if that is your thing. There is a guy in a canoe moving along about 100 feet out. All of the sudden here comes an asshole in a speed boat that creates a HUGE wake. It causes the canoe to capsize. Now the canoe guy is having a very bad day.
In a perfect world, you might jump in and swim to his aid. You’d help him get back to shore. Everybody would high five and go for ice cream. The mayor might even give you keys to the city. I don’t know. Make some shit up that sounds really good to you.
But let’s change the scenario just a little bit. You’re not a world class swimmer. You can’t swim at all. You’re terrified of water and sitting on the shoreline is exposure therapy. You’re sitting on the shoreline enjoying nature while sitting in a wheelchair with 2 broken legs. And you’re wearing a full suit of plate armor. For reasons. Are you still jumping in? Fuck no you’re not. And anybody who says otherwise is feeding themselves a line of bullshit. Nobody is going to judge you for not swimming out to help
But let’s take our hypothetical just a bit further. We’re still on the broken legs and armor scenario. Say you DID wheel yourself into the water in a noble and valiant attempt to render aid to someone in need. Because that is exactly the kind of thing someone who wears plate armor to the beach would do. What happens then? Simple: Now you’re just as fucked as the canoe guy. And you’ve made the people who can effectively help have to work twice as hard. Because they now have to help both canoe guy and your dumb ass.
So why then???
Obviously, the above scenario was taken to absurd levels. Yet, you can look around on a daily basis and watch plate armor wearing people, with nothing but good intentions, flinging themselves heroically into the depths. Why? Or more importantly, why are they derided when they chose to take a moment to take the heavy plate off before continuing?
There is a common thread in our society where people still view mental health as somehow less important than physical health. Take blood pressure medication or pain killers and nobody blinks twice. But take a mood stabilizer or anti-depressant and suddenly you’re a second class citizen.
Fuck that. Period. Never let anyone shame you for taking care of yourself. Because anybody that would shame you for that, isn’t going to be around to pick up the pieces when you break. Never measure yourself with someone else’s ruler. You know your limits. They don’t. It is your right and responsibility to operate within them.
But don’t get me wrong… Medication is far from the only form of self care. Self care can be anything that helps you relax and “recharge”. Read a book, take a walk, crank some tunes and dance like nobody is watching, put a puzzle together, something. Take a bit of time to take care of yourself. So, you don’t burn out taking care of others.
Burnout and Hypoxia are birds of a feather
Just like you don’t realize you’re about to succumb to hypoxia, people often don’t realize they are getting to the end of their rope. And burnout can be devastating. When you hit the wall, you hit hard. A problem that could have been mitigated with a few hours of self care can turn into days or weeks of inability to function. So, don’t let it happen. Even if it just 5 minutes a day. Take time to take care of you.
Or, in other words, put your fucking mask on before you try to help someone else with theirs. And don’t swim in plate armor. That is a silly thing to do.