August 17, 2013

Part of the story

part of the storyI was listening to a man speak on the radio the other morning about the way he, as a journalist, found it difficult to ensure he remained objective. Objective when reporting trauma and death in his own country. That it was impossible for him to stand back and report the facts of what he saw without emotion and passion seeping through the sides.

The most common question I’ve been asked since becoming a Social Worker back in the late 1990s is ‘how do you cope with all those stories?’ I have a well worn, possibly cliched, response that focuses more on what I’ve been given rather than whats been taken from me. 99% of the time it works and 1% I fail terribly.

The line was crossed the moment I became a parent. The line that allowed me to look at things objectively. Suddenly the small baby that sat on my lap in a Government office 8 years prior was no longer a cute kid that I got to hold until an emergency foster care place popped up but a bundle of separation from the only person he had known his short life. His mum. With such clarity the woman who sat moaning on the floor in the waiting room heavily pregnant with her third child screaming that she just wanted to keep one baby was a person who had clearly needed much love and support decades before that day.

The stories have crept in again recently as I juggle my personal world amongst my professional pieces. The last few nights I’ve been woken by scary dreams where I panic that not everyone is safe in my home. My minor arguments become catastrophic ones in the corner of my mind when Im reminded of calls in the middle of the night to crisis call centres I’ve managed. My sense of safety as I walk alone gets snatched away by images shared by families while I’ve sat next to them as they make Police reports.

What stayed in last week has wafted out this week.

Ive been here before. I know that there is no way of looking at it objectively. That I need to give myself space to think through the tough stuff in order to find some balance again but I often wonder how those who work in such difficult environments all of the time manage the space between caring and the fact that they are living a life alongside it.

The self care bandwagon has been around for a while but how often do we hop aboard?

Whats your tips on what seeps through?

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Such a beautiful post Sarah. Since having my son I’ve also found most of my former ways of dealing with the messy, emotional side of social work (actually, is there any other side?) have weakened … In some ways I see it as a blessing to more fully empathise and feel, but in others I am aware that I’m much more permeable than I was before.
    Like you, I have such a strong sense of this work being a privilege and that the families I work with give me much more than I give them. But that said, two days a week is more than enough!

    • SO true about how much you can take Lindy…two days is plenty. I think no matter how much you do now you can’t erase all those images you’ve seen a long the way.

  2. Great post. I’m a bit different, I work for a charity that does great things with kids with sad stories. But… I’m a marketing coms specialist, not a social worker. I have also worked for a gov department in this area. I find it interesting that we are collateral damage, so to speak. We experience vicarious trauma through stories we hear and write about, but more so from the 3am emails we receive and respond to on behalf of the charity we work for. I think we are often fobbed off, but what we feel is just as real as frontline workers. Self care is important, not so well regarded in the corporate office. Good post Sarah.

    • Thanks Kelly. I was only speaking to a woman the other week about how some staff within helping organisations who aren’t at the coal face need just as much help because even whats written on files, left on answering machines and words contained in stats can make it hard to step away and forget. Thanks for sharing your thoughts x

  3. I’ve often wondered how someone in such a job would compartmentalise such things, would be so tough. You play a very special role in the works doing such a tough job. Thank God for people like you x

    • Thanks Donna – it was never a job I intentionally wanted to do. Social Work travels well and Ive been all over the world working. Research fits me better now. Its like giving back without giving a piece of myself x


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