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  • Writer's pictureLaura Kustaborder

The Empty Cup

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Last week I stood in front of a room of eager, wide-eyed graduate students on their first day of PA school and I told them just that as I began my talk on managing stress and burnout in graduate school.

I explained how I had done such a poor job taking care of myself and the journey that led to my burnout. I worked myself into the ground as a clinically practicing PA. I thought that extreme stress was just part of the job. I thought that if I didn’t feel exhausted and depleted, I wasn’t a good physician assistant. If I wasn’t constantly worrying, I wasn’t providing excellent care. I thought I had to do my work as well as others. I just kept pushing myself.

What I didn’t know is that this level of nonstop doing was killing me. My traumatized and yet undiagnosed CPTSD brain had not learned normal coping mechanisms. I didn’t even realize that I had trauma that needed healing. I had never learned about the importance of self care, compassion or healthy boundaries.

I just worked until I could go no more and thought that pushing myself through workouts was all I needed to manage stress. I never rested unless I got sick or injured. Sadly, both of those things happened a lot.

Then I burned out. In 2021, I walked away from my career because I had nothing left to give. My cup was beyond empty.

It took hitting rock bottom to start healing and learning how to fill my cup again. It has been a process that has been challenging, rewarding, very necessary and definitely not linear in progression.

Since starting my new job in education, I have found myself slipping back into some old patterns and bad habits. My self care practices have taken a hit and I’ve found myself working nonstop, having sleep issues, eating poorly and feeling physically unwell.

Fortunately I caught myself this time before it spiraled out of control.

I’ve started asking myself each day how I can fill my own cup.

What do I need? How do I take care of myself? What needs to be nourished?

Then I listen instead of putting myself last. I come first. I matter above everything and everyone else.

I encourage you to do the same. Self care isn’t selfish. It’s necessary.

Take care & be well.


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