The idea for the blog, ” Water for Camels” came from my desire to encourage and help other social workers navigate a difficult and emotionally draining career choice. All professionals who face secondary trauma day in and day out (social workers, counselors, therapists, and others) in my opinion, do so because of their drive to help others and to make a difference. However, listening to and accepting trauma narratives like a daily dose of cod liver oil, can change you. Coupled with the exhausting expectations and bureaucracy handed down from state agencies and other entities can effectively turn a calling into a obligatory and onerous task.
Does it surprise you that so many social workers tend to give up and move away from the field? Or worse, that many of them continue on, so burned out that they lose their ability for empathy? Then there is the public perception of social workers (especially the state child welfare social workers). Media portrayals and sensational news stories focus on the rare cases where a social worker “missed” a cue leading to a child being harmed, instead of the tens of thousands of children who are saved each year. Imagine believing in your purpose so strongly, yet feeling totally ineffective in the eyes of the world for the one thing you feel is your calling…your mission. The only acknowledgement of your work comes from a one-sided public misinformation fest that discounts everything.
Not only had I witnessed such in my years as a social worker, but I also experienced it as well. Traveling the above path over the past three decades led to insomnia, stress-related illnesses and self-doubt. Blessedly, I never lost the vision. The empathy for those who need social workers never deserted me. But learning how to get my “water” when I could, helped me to endure the desert. Therefore, when composing my weekly blogs, I was able to speak with a level of authority on a subject with which I was very familiar.
But I want to make sure that I am clear on my own walk. I have no desire to be seen as the one who made it! The struggle continues, even for me. Mercifully, by regularly blogging, the catharsis of expressing myself through the written word brings relief. Sometimes it is like I can blow the anxiety, frustration and stress into the world by letting it fly through the page. I don’t have to take it back.
It is gone.
And I encourage others to find their “outlet” for self care, because without it, you will falter and eventually wither away.
No one is immune. And certainly, not me.
A couple of years ago, when feeling particularly sorry for myself, I wrote a poem about the weight of my path.
Even the strongest beast,
Born to carry the weight of others
Sometimes fall beneath the load.
How tempting to just stay
Face down in the mud
created by my tears.
Defeat creeps into my every pore
along with the mud
whispering a siren song
luring me to the rocks where I will
crash and burn,
swallowing my warriors cry.
So easy to give up
with strained and stained hands
I lift my weary body
out of the muck
Find my strength
and rise again.Angela McClintock
I included the poem to demonstrate that I , too, still have those days where want to give up. I, too, struggle to find my purpose in this path. Accountability is important to me. Honesty is important to me. Therefore, I never want my readers to think I have “arrived.”
There is NO final destination for us.
There is only the ability to continue on because it is WHAT WE WERE CALLED TO DO.
Recently, (probably the reason for all of this honesty) I realized I was heading down that roller coaster of burn out. Discovered in my weekly self-check-in, I had to acknowledge that my sleep has been affected as well as my positivity. (I am normally a very happy and contented person overall, unless I am suffering from burn out or SDS). Ultimately, the catalyst for the change, while known, was not as important as my reaction to it.
The reality of the hypocrisy struck as I realized I hadn’t written a word in two weeks. I had to laugh at myself for not practicing my own preaching. Here I was, telling others to “make time” to indulge in your self-care activities, and yet I had totally ignored the most effective outlet for me: writing. I returned to working on my new novel, as well as blogging. The stressors remain, but my outlook and ability to keep things in perspective have greatly improved.
My encouragement to you is that it is NEVER too late. Even when you backslide (like I did) you can make the adjustment that allows you to keep walking the path you love. The take-away from my confession is this:
- As long as you are in the practice of helping others, you will face moments, days maybe a few weeks of burn out.
- A weekly self-check will help you to recognize what your brain will try to gloss over as you are pushed to do more with less support. By knowing the signs of your own burn out or secondary trauma, you can make the change needed to get relief and keep going.
- Don’t give up on yourself or what you know is your calling.
- Don’t be afraid to admit when you back-slide. It happens to all of us.
- Above all else, take some pride in the fact that your biggest desire is to create something positive in a world that thrives on negative news. No matter what is said about you, or your profession, you know the good you do. Just keep walking the path.
- I’ll be here to help.