Photo by Betsy Biddle Lange

While vacationing in the Smokey Mountains one Autumn, I happened across a rock formation similar to the one pictured. Both magnificent and terrifying in sheer size, the onyx colored monolith dominated the median of a boulevard. Impervious to the stream of tiny cars flitting like moths around a porch light, the stone loomed dark and beautiful and threatening.

A natural formation, yet it seemed impossible that the massive boulder was held up by three stones of minuscule size in proportion. I wondered about the mechanics of it all. It was if the Creator, while painting the lavender and rose skyscapes at dusk, had dabbled in sculpture as well. The tableau before me represented art, mystery and danger. I stayed for some time marveling at the unlikely design.

The question remained. How could three small stones safely support the weight of their mountainous burden ? When the conclusion came, I realized the significance at once.


The positioning of the lesser stones provided the strength to hold up the massive size and weight of the larger one.


As a social worker, therapist, or, in fact, as any caregiving professional, the burdens placed upon your shoulders can feel massive and unyielding as well. The demands of your agency, the trauma of your clients and the lack of understanding by the public can weigh mightily upon you. With no easing of the pressure, it is easy to be crushed by it all.

And, it can also be frustrating to be told by the experts to:

  • Take more time off
  • Go home on time
  • Leave it at work.

Because you know that you can never completely follow this plan.

You are expected to respond to emergencies. You are on rotation for weekend and holiday on-call duties. And, sadly, the things you have seen and carried really dont vanish when you leave the office. That frustration compounds your stress, whispering to you when things are tough that your situation is impossible.

However, the inability to fully incorporate the above suggestions, doesnt mean that the ideas are not valid ones. Dont let the small, nagging voice whittle you away until you collapse in defeat.


Like the small stones holding up the massive one, balance is the key to shouldering the seemingly impossible burden pressing down upon your shoulders.

Instead of focusing on the Giant boulder pressing down, find the things you can do to rearrange the base support.

If taking long leave causes you to feel stress due to the fear of falling behind, find a balance. Take a Friday or a Monday off for a long weekend. Most agencies have flex schedules that can be controlled by you. When you work late, arrange to come in later the next day to allow for more sleep. Arrange with your supervisor to occassionally take a long lunch. Invite friends who help you relax and make you laugh. If you have nothing looming before you at mid day, flex out some time by leaving early. It takes some planning, but it also gives you a measure of control, which balances out the stress of feeling trapped.

Leave work on time? No. It is impossible, in your chosen profession, to always leave on time. There are emergencies, placement issues, court reports to finish and so many other emergent things. But dont tell yourself everything is emergent. Assess what is before you as the day draws to a close. If not urgent or emergent, allow yourself to leave.

Not just leave, but also make a point to do something enjoyable. Have dinner with your family together, or a friend. Go to a movie, a play or a festival when you are off. Or simply draw, paint, write or garden if that brings you peace.

The Balance is in taking joy in your life when you can. Making these moments happen will help your base to strengthen and to provide more support.

But be aware. While massive responsibility can be managed by balancing your time and your life, no one will do it for you. It takes planning and effort on your part. But it can be done successfully. I encourage you to find ways to arrange the little stones in your life, so that you are able to stand strong. The weight of responsibility will never disappear, but with planning and the art of plucking joy whenever you can, you will achieve balance.

11 thoughts on “Holding Up

  1. Find some community, whether a religious one or a social one like a book club that isn’t centered on pain and trauma. Remember all the good in the world when you get together outside of work.

    Liked by 2 people

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