One thing that has been nice about relocating across the country and starting something new is that I’ve had the chance to do more work in direct practice. A lot of this year was spent being a desk in my cubicle and while my work had an impact on a lot of people, I wasn’t working directly with clients. One thing that I’ve had a chance to see up close is the fragility of life and how quickly things can change–especially working in a hospital. Instead of being in the background I’m on the front lines answering questions, de-escalating situations, talking to concerned family members, and a list of other things that don’t full under the “medical” category. Each day is unpredictable and there are multiple interruptions and interventions that have to be made in addition to all the daily duties. There are multiple impromptu therapy sessions where I process varying emotions with clients that almost always consist of frustration, anger, and helplessness in some regard. There are constant adjustments to make and people to call or talk to in order to coordinate resources. But it’s made me more grateful for the things that are typically taken for granted, like the use of my limbs or the ability to move around without an assistive device. All that being said, carrying the emotional weight of people who are going through major life changes and have to adjust to a new way of living along with their families can be draining (to say the least). It’s definitely made me become more aware of the need for all social workers (including myself) to do something for self-care. I’ve had to pull some things out of my own toolbox to ensure that I’m able to be emotionally present for my clients. In a profession where burnout happens frequently, it’s imperative to take care of yourself so that you can competently and compassionately take care of others. You owe it to you.
I’m a Jill Scott fan from afar. I say that because while I like almost all her music, frequently play her Pandora station and listen to full albums on Amazon music, but I can’t name more than 3 of her songs off the top of my head. One of them is the one that I posted. It was my go-to during the months I worked night shift and I used to play it over and over. I don’t know how but her songs feel like a warm blanket on a cold day. They are genuine, transparent and capture the human experience with a lot of honesty. I got the chance to see Jill in concert over this weekend and she was great. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a fan of music that not only tells a story but also transmits the emotion of the artist. That’s why I love Jill. Her music is warm and friendly reminding you of a godmother or beloved aunt that’s being honest about her life and experiences with love.
I saw this CNN article and found it pretty relevant to my life because I work in a crisis type of position. You can read the article here. One thing that was interesting was the fact that many social workers and crisis counselors report that they like their job. This wasn’t surprising to me because despite all the craziness and unpredictability of my job, I don’t mind it. People get into a helping profession for a variety of reasons. In my case, I can’t NOT help people and I figured that I might as well have a job that allows me to do that. I’ve had stressful jobs in the field of social work before, but nothing comes close to the emotional drain from crisis work. It’s the kind of job that make you want to take a month long vacation after every shift. However, it’s also meaningful and you get the chance to encounter people from various walks of life and separate those who truly want help from those who don’t want any help. The article noted some great ways to deal with the stress that comes along from constantly working with people who facing some pretty big life challenges. There was an article I read not too long ago about a email that was intercepted from a social worker to another that contained some inappropriate humor that caused a public outcry. While the things crisis counselors deal with is not a laughing matter, sometimes you have to see the humor in things. It’s similar to the whole idea of laughing instead of crying as you see the dark side of humanity over and over again. It’s the kind of job that has really high highs with lows that are just as dramatic. The ability to disconnect is so important in this kind of field and I think it’s the reason why there’s an abundance of impromptu happy hours between colleagues who work in the field. All that being said, it’s a fun but hard job and I honestly believe that to have longevity in this type of field you have to have a pretty effective way of taking care of yourself so that you don’t get burned out.
For the past few years I’ve been one to associate happiness with a geographical location. Namely foreign countries and the southern region of the United States. However, I think that that is also related to my occupation. From the moment that I say I’m a social worker the usual reaction is, “I could never do that, it’s such a hard job.” And I agree that it is. My undergraduate experience with social work was varied and included working with felons and patients on hospice. It was then when I had to work hands on with others when I discovered that people are a lot more complicated in real like than they are in textbooks. Thankfully, I had a very well rounded experience in college that gave a pretty accurate depiction of the field. I knew that I didn’t want the stereotypical job of a county caseworker and I wanted to focus more on the counseling side. Somehow I found my way to the mental health field and have stayed in some capacity ever since. The thing about mental health is that it is the opposite of predictable. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, it’s stressful and it’s real. But it’s also rewarding. However, it takes a lot out of you. I’ve heard stories that have been horrific and have talked to hundreds of individuals who are experiencing their own personal crisis. That’s why this field is so notorious for burn out and people who are so overwhelmed with their job responsibilities that they’ve given up completely. There are some days where I wish I could publish some of the stories I hear because truth is stranger than fiction. One of the best things about traveling is the physical distance between myself and the daily chaos I work in. It’s like a breath of fresh air and a chance to finally relax to some degree and not think about work related things. Self care at its finest.
That moment when you want to write something profound and prolific and the brightness of your screen and the text box of blankness waiting to be filled just seems to mock your efforts of gathering your thoughts together in a coherent way. That’s how I feel. This past week has been particularly busy as I’ve started school again (oh joy) and started the transitional process on the career front. One thing that has grown during this school experience has been the respect that I have for people with spouses and/or families who are being persistent and completing their degree. Something that is talked about in the social services world is the importance of balance and self care. I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk and dialogue with people who have been therapists and social workers for years and in answer to the question of how they find balance and take care of themselves, they have said that they’re still figuring it out. I think that this is because there’s no one formula. I went to a training this week about working with individuals who have experienced trauma. The main thoughts behind this specific modality was that stress is stored in the body and it need to be expressed in some form in order to reduce symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. The interesting thing about it was that the presenter asserted that one of the reasons why stress is not expressed and stays in our bodies is because we decide to ignore it. We distract ourselves with food, exercise, books, activities, etc that mask our true need of confronting the traumas and experiences that are the sources of our stress. In the therapy world these things are known as coping skills. That being said, I think that a lot of people (including myself at times) have gotten use to artfully dodging their own issues and have instead channeled all that energy to another activity instead of confronting their own past hurts. It’s a hard place to be in and nobody wants to get uncomfortable even if it’s just to heal from past hurts. Uncomfortableness is hard.
I’ve had awesome opportunities to travel this year. I’ve posted on quite a few of them. I’m in the process of finalizing the plans for the last few trips of the year. This year has been full of changes and I can honestly say that I feel like a different person from the one I was in January. It’s funny how a change of perspective can also change your actions. While I’ve always made decisions based on my career goals and professional opportunities, it’s time to make some for more personal reasons. Like something as trivial as happiness or a comforting illusion like security or stability. The truth of the matter is that we won’t live forever and we aren’t allowed do-overs in life. That being said, I think life is too short to spend substantial amounts in places you don’t like for the purpose of professional goals. We are all familiar in some way with sacrifices needed in order to get where we want to get in life. But it quickly becomes pointless when sanity is sacrificed and self care is abandoned. So there is a choice that has to be made. The choice to do something for you instead of for your goals. It’s time.
The training to become a social worker is arduous, demanding, and complex. What isn’t always stressed enough are the issues of burnout, compassion fatigue, and the need for self care in the profession of social work.
I saw this article and thought about how applicable it is to my life right now. As someone who works in the field, this has to be one of the best articles I’ve read on the reality of burnout for social workers that is typically ignored. My absolute favorite quote from the author: “In our work, although we are surrounded by people all day long, there is not a balanced give and take. Concentration is on clients, not ourselves. In the truest sense, we are alone—we are the givers, and our fulfillment comes from seeing the growth, hope, and new direction in those with whom we are privileged to work.” I don’t think that truer words have ever been spoken. I’m a huge proponent of self-care but admittedly have a hard time taking my own advice. It’s easier said than done when you are by nature a giver and you put the best interests of others before yours and don’t impose your opinions on others deliberately on a daily basis. Any deviation from this can be self-perceived as selfishness. However, the article brings home the fact that self-care is necessary because it helps you to operate from a place of being okay. Still have a lot to learn in that department.