The Soothing Break of a Self-Care Matinee
Last week I was on a reporting trip that spanned Colorado and Texas, catching up with sources whose lives I have followed and reported upon for years. Their stories are inspiring, complex, and each center upon trauma. So often, I find myself covering the ways institutions enable and cover-up abuse, and it’s vital to ground these big, systemic problems in the felt details of real people’s lives.
I’m able to keep an objective but empathetic distance in my work when these deep dives come weeks or months apart. I know enough to be aware of vicarious trauma, or even the simple exhaustion of doing extra-long shifts without the breaks required when home with kids in the evenings, forced into some work-life balance. More than anything, I need to keep my wits about me so I can carefully handle conversations with sources. It cannot be about me.
Even as each interview ran hours — as I was delighted to see how my sources’ lives were becoming more stable, more content than when I first met them — I felt invigorated. There was a unique joy in only having work to do, after pandemic years of juggling work plus kids plus care coordination for my parents plus the press of plague.
My husband was managing everything at home. I had given fair warning all around that I’d be away and unable to be reached for long stretches of time. If there was an issue with my parents, I’ve finally reached a point where I can trust the staff at their nursing facility to take care of it.
My phone started lighting up with calls, as it does, during one of my interviews. I felt obligated to explain why I kept hitting ignore as “Dad’s Cell” repeatedly flashed — he gets anxious, calls, forgets, calls again. I’d crossed two time zones to better understand my source’s story. She needed to be my focus.
Once we were done and I was in my rental car, I let my everyday reality crash back in. After a few blocks, I pulled off and listened to my voicemails: My father was angry, he was waiting too long for his nurse to respond to the call button, he wanted me to call the cops because a man with dementia kept wandering in, he wanted me to call before…