Monday, April 19, 2010

"Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others..."

Over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation conference in Baltimore, Maryland.  The circumstances by which I attended this conference were almost serendipitous.  A colleague heard about the conference and mentioned it to her supervisor, who said it would be a great professional development opportunity.  Her supervisor then mentioned that she should ask me to go.  INTERESTING.  We work in separate divisions, and I'm not someone in the supervisor's sphere on a daily basis.  So, when I heard about this conference, took a look at the website and the workshop descriptions, and found out I would be getting a free trip to Baltimore, I thought, HECK YEAH!

The conference took place during a full weekend of events at work.  My women's leadership group had an important culminating activity as part of their community service project on Saturday, and on Sunday the student staff we just hired for our summer program had their first training session.  However, for some reason, I felt the need to go to this conference.  I got the go-ahead from all parties involved, and I went.  I truly enjoyed myself, and came back yesterday with a new energy that I needed.

The entire spring semester had been personally and professionally taxing.  Family and relationship issues were weighing heavily on me, and I had been staying at work late almost every night.  When I say late, I don't mean an hour.  I was leaving work three or four hours later, either because I had an event to coordinate or attend, or because someone needed to talk to me.  No matter how much I said I needed to take care of myself, I found myself sacrificing myself because I felt needed.

Finally, after several months of late nights and weekends at work, I got sick.  Fever, chills, sore throat, sinus headache, and a cough lasted more than these things ever need to last.  Obviously, my immune system was not working well.  I had to miss several days of work during academic advisement, one of the busiest times of the semester.  While I was home sick, I thought, "I have been sick for the past three days, had the past two days off from work because I have run myself into the ground, and I wonder, how do I stop that from happening?"  When I was married, my ex-husband would make me get in bed when I started to look "peaked" as he used to say.  But now, it doesn't seem to hit me until it hits me full force.  No one is there to make me get in bed.  No one is calling me to come home.  No one really kicks me out of the office, either.  People always tell me I need to take care of myself, but the question remains: "How do I take care of myself?" 

The keynote speaker at the Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation, Dee Marshall, was a ball of energy who had so many inspiring things to say.  The theme of her keynote speech was "Do You, Be You, Love You".  I think I have the "Do You" and "Be You" portions down; and I do love myself, but as I stated in my last post, love requires action.  I'm not doing anything to show myself, or others for that matter, that I love myself.  Loving others requires that you love yourself first; you have to fill your own tank with love before trying to share love with others.  At one point in her speech Ms. Marshall stated, "Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others."  That really hit home.  In order for me to "Love Me", I have to "secure my oxygen mask".  Let's look at the definition of those words, courtesy of

Verb: To free from danger or harm; make safe; to effect; make certain of; ensure; to protect from attack by taking cover.  Adjective: Free from care; without anxiety.

A nonmetallic element constituting 21 percent of the atmosphere by volume that occurs as a diatomic gas, 
and in many compounds such as water and iron ore. It combines with most elements, and is essential for plant and animal respiration. 

Any protective covering for the face or head.
If we look at the definitions of the above words, the phrase "Secure your own oxygen mask" means to protect yourself from harm and ensure your safety by utilizing the necessary elements for your survival.  Once you are able to identify the elements necessary for your survival, you can protect your mind, body, and spirit.  Once all of these necessary elements of your life are protected - then, and only then - are you are able to assist others.  

I find it interesting that the adjective "secure" means "free from care; without anxiety".  Taking care of myself will help me to be free from care and less anxious.  This will make me better and more effective to those who require my assistance.

The Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation conference gave me an opportunity to step back from everything that has caused me stress and anxiety, and affirmed that I am valuable enough, to myself and to others, to "secure my own oxygen mask".  I am more determined now than I have ever been to learn what "loving me" really means.  I know that once I can "love me" - by identifying the necessary elements for my survival and implementing them on a daily basis - others will have a better, more effective version of me.

Am I right or what?  What are some ways we can "secure our oxygen masks"? 


  1. When I am flying the flight attendants tell you this. As a mom, my instincts are to protect my children first. The subject has been up for discussion many times and probably will continue to be. Loved your blog!

  2. What I find interesting is that I see myself doing this with others who are not even related to me! I can't even imagine what it will be like when I have my own children. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  3. Ana Perez-LeporeMay 2, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    Your story has hit home..after suffering two miscarriages, and undergoing various testing, the root cause of our loss was simply - me!! Like you, weighed down by professional and personal responsibilities, and consistently driven to give, give, give, I stopped "loving myself" long ago, becoming so unhealthy to not only properly sustain my own life, but to bring new life into the world. And where I am fortunate to have a loving husband who attempts to take the load and provide me an environment to take care of myself, I've made the choice to use that newly found window of opportunity to take care of someone/something else! So, several weeks ago, after facing the true and difficult fact that it is ME who is the problem, well, the change has begun. Reaching for that oxygen mask each well, my friend, and thank you for sharing!

  4. Taking the time to heal yourself is so important because how can you help the world by running yourself ragged. Another way to look at it is to think about being a vessel for God.
    Imagine a pot dirty, cracked, filthy and overfilled with junk, and a pot clean pristine and empty. Now God has a sacred liquid of love, fulfillment and blessing. Which vessel would He use? Also if a drinker were to pass by which pot would he drink this precious liquid from?
    Taking a time to self diagnose yourself by saying:
    1)Am I happy?
    2) Am I fulfilled?
    3) Do I see drive purpose and commitment in what I choose to do?
    4) Am I surrounded by support and understanding?
    is more that just keeping healthy. It is key to keeping your vessel clear for God's will. I have experienced when I take the time for me I have more time to give. However its just not about me others. Its about me and God. I give way to God to place great people and experiences in way path. This fufills the cycle of spiritual. I give praise and take the gifts from God, which I use to serve Man. I rest reevaluate and pray so more and I am replenished.
    I'm so happy for you Ms G. Make sure you keep you life open and clean.

  5. Thanks Ana and Phara, for sharing your thoughts. It is always important to take inventory and realize where the responsibility truly lies. Ana, I appreciate your sharing such deeply personal experiences. A big part of reaching for that oxygen mask is being open and honest, as Phara mentioned, and also, leaning on others.