It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been so long that I can’t tell you what my last post was about. I need to blog in order to meet my goals for my writer’s group though so… Here I am.
Things are… odd. I’m still doing the job that sucks at my soul on a daily basis. I haven’t found the balance that I wanted to find which would let me do my job and still do the things I love. I’ve found that once again I’m being sucked into a void that is hard to see out of most days.
When I mention feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, the response I get from most people is either that it’s my own fault (poor boundaries, a bad attitude, etc.) or that I’m just not cut out to be a social worker (aka I’m too weak to do the job). I’ve known for a while now that my current job isn’t for me. The only reason I continue to do it is because I have bills and responsibilities and therefore can’t just quit my job like I did in my twenties because I’m unhappy. If I could walk into my office tomorrow and say, “I quit” it would be a glorious day. But I know that quitting a job in this job market without having another job lined up first is plain stupid. So I keep working. And I keep slipping.
I attended a training today put on by the state for social workers in my field. It was all about self care and not losing yourself in the massively difficult job we have of saving kids lives. We talked about burnout, secondary trauma, and compassion fatigue.
By the time the trainer went around the room at the end of the day and asked us what we learned today I was in tears. Because for the first time since I started this job five years ago I wasn’t being blamed for feeling the way I feel. I was told that when you’re a good social worker who cares and work your ass off, sometimes you get burnt out. Sometimes when you’re dealing with other people’s trauma, you take on their trauma. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad social worker or you’re too negative or you have shitty boundaries… It just means that you’ve been through shit that has made a mark on you. And maybe instead of people saying “you need better boundaries” or “you’re too negative” what you really need is a break. And for someone to acknowledge what a hard fucking job you have and that dealing with so many different people’s trauma isn’t something you can always just shake off so easily.
I cried pretty much all the way home from training today and it was a 45 minute drive. I’m not one to cry out of frustration. I cry at weddings, funerals, movies and when little kids sing. But when it comes to having a crappy day, I’m not a crying kind of girl. So when I DO cry like I did today, it’s a sign that things are really bad. Like I said before, knowing that I need a new job wasn’t a new discovery for me. But just the realization that feeling the way I feel is NORMAL and something that happens to other people was enough to open the floodgates.
I’ve spent so much time doing this job and thinking that I’m not good enough. I thought that because I struggled with it, it must mean that I’m weak and I’ve failed. In my heart I knew that wasn’t true. But the people who were supposed to support me and understand how I felt repeatedly acted like it was all in my head and all my fault. So after a while I figured they must have been right.
They weren’t right though. I’m a good social worker. I have faults, I have baggage that sometimes gets in my way, and I have things that I need to work on. But I am not weak for feeling overwhelmed. My boundaries with clients are just fine. And yeah, sometimes I’m negative… But you know what? You’d be negative sometimes too if you had to do the things I do, see the things I see, and hear the things I hear. If you had to spend time in someone’s home every day trying to teach them skills they don’t want and listen to them yell at you and know that there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it, you’d probably have a negative moment here and there too. What I do isn’t easy. So when I have a bad day and need to vent, I don’t need anyone telling me how I need to be happy to have a job or to focus on the positive. Sometimes I just need to be upset and sad and overwhelmed because someone who beat their child with an object spent two hours yelling at me and telling me how “no one” including me is helping them and I couldn’t possibly teach them anything. But then I have to continue going back to that house where I’m unwanted every day until my case is done because its my job.
I had the most frightening and frustrating case of my career earlier this year. It only lasted 8 days instead of the usual month. When it was over, I had to take a couple days off to process and come back down from being in constant crisis mode. Looking back, those few days weren’t enough. That case messed with my head and being expected to just bounce right back like it was no big deal made things worse. I was in danger every single day of that case and I didn’t get the support I needed. I did my job, I helped the family, and it’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career. But it also broke me.
I know now that the way I’ve felt since that case is normal, it’s okay, and it doesn’t show weakness on my behalf. It just shows that I’m human, I was scared and while I was supporting my client, no one supported me. So yeah, it fucked me up a little bit. Then instead of dealing with it, I tried to do what everyone was telling me to do. Just be positive! Focus on the good stuff! Know that you’re helping people!
Those things are all fine and dandy. But rule number one of social work (and life, for that matter) is if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.
So hand over the resume paper… I’ve got to take care of myself and find a job that doesn’t suck my soul.