On the days when you really are not sure if you can keep going… when you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the work, like all your efforts are just a drop in an ever more turbulent ocean, you are not alone in wondering ‘is it me?‘
What are you doing wrong… ?
What are you missing…?
How come others seem to be coping and you are not…?
It’s not you! The simple fact you are even contemplating that means you have a level of self-awareness and understand your role in the complex dynamics of workplace wellbeing.
It is not you! Social Work and other caring professions are hard, they take an emotional and psychological toll on professionals. It is expected that the work you do will impact you.
It is NOT you! The systems, the expectations, the need that often outstrips the capacity to respond in the way you want, these are all at fault… not you.
So if it is not you… what is it?
Social Workers experience wear and tear, the continual grind of doing the work takes its toll. Each one of us experience this in different ways and at different levels.
Imagine a new car spending the time driving on smooth motorways in cruise control, the optimum conditions secured – it will still need a regular service but the demands on the parts, the body, the impact will be minimal. Now imagine that same car, thrown off road, navigating unforeseen hurdles, a constant bumpy road, ever changing landscape, unable to re fuel or top up the water as it just keeps driving on endlessly. That car will be in far worse shape when it comes to the service, far more impact on the body more evident wear and tear. That is if they can even find the time and place to service the car on the turbulent path.
Wear and tear is an expected aspect of doing the work, the key is to know that building in the regular services (let’s call them days off and holidays) the refuelling (coffee breaks and lunches away from the desk) and taking time to travel on a more smooth path for a while (balanced caseloads) is the necessary way to mitigate this.
In professions like Social Work the goal is not to try to eliminate the impact of the work, but to understand it and ensure we build in structures to support the basic demands of doing the work effectively.
It’s not you…. Not your fault.
Wear and tear left untreated leads to corrosion of the basic structures, the car’s suspension starts to falter, the engine starts to splutter and it becomes less responsive. When you are unable to respond to the expected wear and tear of the work you do, damage starts to occur. Your physical body shows signs of strain, the digestive complaints, the headaches, the back pain. And your emotional capacity becomes challenged, you become more reactive, easily frustrated and angered, more tearful and feeling less competent in what you do.
When the car’s red warning lights come on, you know the oil is low, the indicator bulb is broken and you do something about it to keep the car road worthy. When your body shows the same warning signs, the pain, the inflammation, the emotional burden, that is when you need to take notice and get the support you need to stay road worthy, to be able to keep doing the work you love.
You might not have a manual that tells you what each sign means but you know your body and mind, when things are off track, prolonged or out of the norm, your body is trying to warn you.
It’s not your fault… but you do have choices and control.
You are the one who experiences the warning signs first, you know your body and your mind. Just because you don’t see others suffering doesn’t mean they are not. The learned behaviour about pushing through, keeping going for the clients at your own expense, the poor modelling from managers that fail to look after themselves as they try so hard to support you is the reality. But you have a choice about how you experience it from now on.
The car can be run into the ground, kept on driving regardless of the warning signs, not paying attention to the small things that can be fixed, not servicing it until it grinds to a halt, refuses to start and the mechanic says it is not able to be repaired. Then the organisation can buy a new car and start all over again!
But you are not a car, you are an amazing, competent, compassionate professional. You are worth more than being driven into the scrap heap. If you grind to a halt, unable to get started in any situation it is not just your work that will suffer. Your family, your loved ones, they don’t want a new replacement… they want and need you!
It’s not you… but you are the only one who can put your needs as a priority. The system is demanding and flawed, the need is ever growing, there will always be more you can do, more ways to help others, but there is only one of you.
I didn’t listen to the warning signs, I thought if others could hold it together I should too. I pushed on far too long, I drove my car into the ground and for a long long while it wouldn’t start again. I was lost to the practicing Social Work profession through burnout, for a long time I lost my career, my income, my confidence, my health and my purpose.
And the organisation got another Social Work manager and they kept going, business as usual.
It is not you! But if you do not begin to put yourself first, to find the pockets of time to refuel, to listen to the warning signs, to service, nourish and repair, then it will be you next.
The work we do is hard. First be kind to yourself; ensure your needs are met so you can continue to drive those bumpy roads where your skills and professionalism are most needed.
If it is time to get the support you need, consider me the mechanic for worn out social workers…. Let me help you to understand what your warning signs mean, support you to refuel and repair, be a safe place to park that car for a while.
Book now for a free Values Alignment session and no obligations discussion – https://helengray.youcanbook.me/
I believe in you, I know it is not your fault, and I know there is a different way forward.