I went to the garage this week as my car has major engine trouble and is going to be in the shop for weeks… but it made me reflect, not about my car but about my emotional wellbeing. This time I was able to handle the situation, deal politely with the customer service guy and accept and problem solve my situation. Remembering back a few years that was not the case.
My work made me cry, at the garage, the supermarket, on the phone to a call centre, in fact so many places I’ve lost track. At one point my then 7 year old daughter told a friend ‘mummy can’t do click and collect because she gets too angry with the people when they get things wrong’. Ouch
Back then I’d find myself crying because the man told me the curtesy bus taking me back to work would be another hour… I’d be demanding to speak to management because the shop assistant put processed ham in my shopping not deli ham for the second week running! It wasn’t about the bus or the ham, it was the time I didn’t have….
I’d say to myself, in a less than supportive tone, you are an intelligent, educated woman, pull it together but the more I tried the less effective I was becoming.
In the lead up to burnout this is the challenge, you can’t see what is right in front of you. You are too busy trying to simply hold it all together that you don’t realize what it is doing to you and to those you love.
The World Health Organization have recently classified Burnout as an Occupational Phenomenon, ‘a syndrome characterized by chronic stress that has not been well managed’. Well I was there, at breaking point.
I’ve heard it said you’re not a real Social Worker unless you have cried in the car after a home visit – I get it, our work is meant to impact us – but when you are sobbing and shouting at yourself in the car on the way to and from work, unable to pull any real grasp back on the reality of your situation it has gone too far.
My work made me cry, then it broke me.
• If you find yourself increasingly exhausted and totally depleted of energy,
• If you are increasingly negative and cynical about your job, and losing belief that you can make a difference, and
• If you are finding yourself working more but seemingly still not being able to do enough…
Then maybe it is time you take a realistic look at your work and your wellbeing. I buried my head in the sand for far too long, I turned the blame inwards and told myself that if I just kept going I could make it better, I wanted to get out but couldn’t imagine myself doing anything other than social work, so I stayed. Until I couldn’t any longer.
Don’t stop being compassionate and empathetic, but if the crying isn’t stopping and the overwhelm isn’t going away then it is time to make a change.
Your work should NOT make you ill.
If you are looking for more support register for my online workshop;
At What Cost? How to thrive as a Social Worker, without putting your wellbeing at risk.