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Energy gains and drains: Advice from my therapist

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My dad passed away, my marriage ended, I left the church, quit my job and put my dog to sleep – all in the same year.

My therapist, Linda, first labeled my melancholy as marriage grief, then, after more discussion, decided I was suffering cumulative grief.

She handed me a clipboard with a sheet of paper that had a line drawn down the center.

“One of the biggest fears of women is that they will live a life with no purpose, but I believe purpose is less about what you do for other people and more about how you take care of this one precious life you are given. You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve tried.”
“So, let’s think of some ways to fill you up. “When do you feel most alive?”

“In the morning.”

She smiled. “On the left side of the paper we’re going to write down your energy gains. On the right side your energy drains. What is one simple thing that when you do it, you feel better?”

I thought for a moment. “Take walks, I guess.”

Linda pointed to the paper. “Write it down. Left side. What else?”

“Yoga on my patio. Metal detecting on the beach. Gardening. Picking air plants out of the trees.”

Linda laughed. “Perfect. Now let’s go even smaller.”


“Yes. Simple pleasures. Little things that just make you feel better. For example, I find surprising joy in making myself a glass of iced tea with freshly squeezed lemon.” 

I said each one out loud as I scribbled on the paper:

Taking my son to the skate park

Reading personal growth books

Watching romantic comedies

Bubble baths with candles

Staying hydrated

Planning small meals throughout the day

Craft fairs and art festivals

Getting a good night’s sleep

Making a plan for my week

Writing and going to my writer’s group

“There’s still room to add more as you think of things, but let’s move on to energy drains. What depletes you of your energy?”

My pen hit the paper:

Too much sugar and processed foods

Too much alcohol

Watching TV, especially the news

Scrolling social media

Overcommitting myself to other people or projects

Worrying and what if-ing

Feeling pressured to do something

Linda gently raised her hand. “Tell me more about the last one. When do you feel pressured to do something?”

“All the time,” I said. “I’m more worried about pleasing other people than pleasing myself.”

“If another person sucks the life out of you, then they go on the energy drain’s list, and you avoid those people at all costs. This time is precious in your healing. Don’t allow anyone to take that away from you. Self-care is not selfish.”

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