Self-Care: “I Have to Start Somewhere”

by David Sisneros
April 03, 2012

Image of David Sisneros

David Sisneros is the Program Director at the Metropolitan Homelessness Project men’s shelter, The Albuquerque Opportunity Center (AOC). He also fills several other roles at the organization. David describes his realization that he needs to take better care of himself and his journey towards self-care in a conversation with Wendy Grace Evans after her visit to the shelter.

There can be a fine line between serving others and taking care of myself. I provide all personnel supervision, job coaching, and on-site training at AOC. I directly manage all of our residents in the veterans program, and I am responsible for ensuring the safety of all residents. For us, this typically totals 75 men per night.

I focus my time on getting to know both staff and veterans. Getting to know people on an emotional level, especially people who are struggling, and who come and go, is not an easy task.

I value working diligently with the men in our program. Sometimes, they are victims of circumstance. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they have a mental health or substance use relapse. I have been in this field for a long time, and it is difficult to feel these tragedies. I can’t let them rest heavy in my heart.

I have also seen my own family struggle with both mental illness and substance use, and I have seen how we have overcome them. I have always known that I wanted to serve, and I gain a great deal from serving others.

Six months ago, I realized that this was all too much. It was clear that I was overwhelmed and was working myself to death. Working 50-hour weeks at 110 percent just to get the basics done is unhealthy.

When I first started working those hours, I felt proud that I could do that much, and do it well. But people started asking me, ‘How do you take time for yourself?’

That is when I realized that I wasn’t taking time for myself.

Initially, my wife was supportive of my pace, but then I started hearing, ‘We want to see more of you.’ We started bickering more about when I would be home. I felt resentful that she was putting pressure on me when I was out doing something for the community.

But then I remembered—she is my wife. She is my family, and she and my daughter deserve more attention.

Since realizing my need for self-care, I have started making some changes. I go hiking and camping with my family. And while I don’t yet feel I am in a place where I can take an hour for myself to go running, I am finding joy in being present at home with my wife and daughter.

I have also been a musician for a long time, and it was hurting my heart that I didn’t have time to play music anymore. So I joined the West Side Drum Circle, and now I play with some guys and bang the heck out of African drums.

I would love to take yoga. Physical exercise is a part of my life that is out of balance. When I think about self-care, I think of people spending time by themselves and taking care of themselves. I guess I am doing that now, and that’s a start. I have to start somewhere.

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