This past week marked an incredible accomplishment on behalf of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division. The doors to the long-term care unit, a locked unit and one of the only of its kind in Wisconsin or anywhere, really, closed permanently. The last of the clients were moved into their thoughtfully arranged, beautiful and custom-built homes made specific to their unique needs. Was closing this facility and finding new homes for those who lived there a perfect process? No, because it never is when you are dealing with human beings – let alone human beings with remarkably complex lives. But I can say this. It is a new day – for those clients, for the Behavioral Health Division, and for our community. A new day that will have challenges and triumphs and a whole new round of considerations. A new day that my incredible team helped make.
On Friday after the last client had moved out, my team and I just happened to be spending our lunch hour together for a potluck because we had never had any sort of holiday celebration. It was fitting that we had come together on this historic day, and I took the opportunity to say a few words of sincere appreciation. It’s not easy working for the public sector system. There is a lot of scrutiny and criticism and back seat driver-worthy assumptions that can make even those with the purest heart occasionally fill with doubt. But those of us on the inside know the truth, and we have to remind each other of it: We work hard, we care deeply, and although it might take longer than we like, we overcome barriers to do the right thing for the people we serve. We are in it for the right reasons.
When I got home on Friday night, I mindlessly ate the sandwich I picked up from Culver’s and sunk down in my favorite chair with my feet propped up on the ottoman. I’ll be damned I thought. We actually did it. I wasn’t sure the day would ever come and when we first set out on the venture, I surely didn’t know how we’d get there. But we did, and at the end of it all I felt equal parts disbelief and pride. That team of mine, I am telling you, they are something else.
By about 7:15 that night, I felt an exhaustion so deep and so unrelenting that I had no choice but to make my way to my bed. It was as though I had run a marathon and collapsed at the finish line. I slept a deep, peaceful, sound sleep that had evaded me many nights over the course of the last two years. When I awoke early Saturday morning, I knew what I needed to do.
What I needed to do was take care of me. Without hesitation, I declared Saturday, January 16, 2016 “Be Nice to Jen Day.” I’ve instituted such days before, and in fact I try to make sure they happen a couple times a year. Now don’t get it twisted, this is not a community-wide event. The only person required to be nice to Jen on Be Nice to Jen Day is Jen. It is merely optional for everyone else.
Most of my Be Nice to Jen Days look similar. A little sleeping in, a little getting my house in order, a little time alone, a little time with those I love the most, a little pampering, a little eating something wonderful, a little snuggling with my kitties. Yesterday was no different from any of that, and I loved it every bit as much as I always do. The combination and the details may vary slightly, but the restoring of my soul is always the same, beautiful, well-deserved outcome.
The truth is that part of the human experience is craving love and validation from those around us. I can agree that it’s wonderful when it happens, but I would also say it’s too big a gamble to wait on it. Instead of always focusing externally, why not start with you? You are the one person – the only person, arguably – you can directly order to be nice to you. If you do it enough, others just might take notice and decide they’d like to join in, too. But that’s their deal and for them to decide.
Your deal, for you to decide, is not if you are going to lovingly tend to yourself, but rather how.