My first job out of college was at a law firm. Great people, good pay, and solid opportunity for growth…but I was miserable after about a year. The work had become monotonous and thankless. Who was I helping? I just had the feeling there was something else I was supposed to be doing.
I had always wanted to work in healthcare, so enrolled in a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) course that met on evenings and weekends. Immediately I felt as though this was a step in the right direction. Upon graduating and passing the state certification exam I accepted a position at a local nursing care facility. The job did not pay as well as my law firm position, but I happily gave notice and began the new career.
I was responsible for 8 residents and assisted them with everything: getting dressed, bathing, using the restroom, eating, getting in and out of bed, taking vital signs. This is physically exhausting, back breaking work. There is no time to sit and rest, and the residents require full attention at all times. It can also be mentally draining. Spending 40 hours a week with a small group of residents means getting to know them, learning their personalities, and hearing stories about their extraordinary lives. Some were very ill, all were elderly, and of course some passed away. This was very hard on me emotionally. I always hoped I’d done enough for them, and hoped they knew I loved them.
One thing I recall clearly about this period in my life is that I actually took care of myself. I got plenty of rest. I was on my feet so much at work, literally running for 8 hours a day, that I did not need as much exercise. I ate very well during this time, and did not give as much thought to calories, carbs, and the other little things I consider before having a snack or a meal. All that mattered to me was that I have the energy to care for my residents. The time and attention I gave to them had a very positive effect on me. For the first time in years, I was completely without eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.
Eventually I moved on to other positions, all in the healthcare field with the exception of my current job, which is with an education nonprofit that works with at-risk youth. I remember every single patient I’ve worked with, each student I’ve helped, and recall that every time I have been giving from the heart to another human being I have not felt the familiar emptiness and distress that comes from the eating disorder.
These days I am happiest when I am writing for You Part Two, or researching helpful information to pass on to you. This project is helping someone somewhere. I do miss sitting across from people, hearing their voices and seeing their smiles. I am always thinking of ways to expand You Part Two, and most recently I thought that it would be wonderful to work with people in recovery to connect them to volunteer positions they might enjoy. I feel so strongly that giving of our time to others has a very positive impact on recovery.
I’d be very interested to hear how your experiences helping others, whether in paid or volunteer positions, have had an impact on your recovery process. Please join us on Facebook and Twitter and share your thoughts!