Gifts from Social Work.

My job is difficult. I know everyone has a difficult job, there are difficult things about EVERY job. I get it. There are, however, many emotional difficulties that come from jobs that involve humans in difficult and traumatic situations on a daily basis. This encompasses many career choices such as EMT’s, Shelter Workers, Nurses, Social Workers, Police Officers, etc…

It’s hard to have hope on most days. For me at least. Even if you are a christian or buddhist or jewish or whatever religion you follow that gives you hope on your darkest day….working in the human services field will have you question everything in life. I’m not even sure why I ever thought I would be able to handle this type of work. But here we are.

I get to work with many different clients throughout each month and even some who are not technically my clients. It’s one of my favorite things about my job. I do love my clients and respect them as humans. This doesn’t mean I never get frustrated or annoyed. I am human. It’s hard to watch people struggle when essentially you want them to be out of pain and hardship. But we have to be the ones who keep pushing forward even when our client has given up.

I hear what things people say about people who are on welfare or involved in the “system.” It’s usually something rude and gross. No system will ever be perfect because we are humans and we basically suck. But we keep trying. Even those we disagree with keep trying. I know that much of society doesn’t understand the barriers that stand in the way of our clients moving forward, nor ourselves as human service workers who in some cases also struggle with our own mental health issues.

I bring these topics up because yesterday I got to be a witness to a young woman who is trying to make it to the other side of what she would call the bottom. She sees herself much differently than I see her I can tell. Much differently than many see her so I make sure I am vocal about it. She is beautiful in her unique ways. When I asked her what her favorite thing about herself was she thought hard for a couple of minutes and finally said, “she had a big heart. No matter what has happened to hurt her, and even though she has to hide it, she knows she loves people.”

Although I haven’t known the woman for long, I would have to agree with her that her authenticity and truthfulness shows to me someone with a big heart. I have watched her push words out of her mouth with the intensity of a body builder bench pressing their own weight. The words stuck inside, heavy with the fear of rejection and judgment. What a gift to be able to watch something so powerful. A simple trip to a public place that cannot be avoided brings waterfalls of tears and panic to someone who struggles with mental health issues. Mental health issues that no one asked for. Mental health issues that would bring you to your knees. She cries and beats herself up for crying. Frustrated that she struggles with what she views as a simple task. As what society says SHOULD BE a simple task. But it isn’t.

And that is okay.

We sat together. I don’t know her enough to just know what is helpful. I do what I can to support. Validate. I let her know she isn’t in this moment alone. I make a joke. She doesn’t laugh. I let her know that I really need her to laugh at my jokes. A small smile appears through the tears. She pushes through. She says let’s do it. Let’s go inside. She apologizes about what may or may not happen while we are inside around other humans. She is worried. She is not certain this will work out. We enter and take our seats. I experiment with talking with her to see if it seems helpful. It definitely does not look like she wants me to be talking so I take the hint. We are quickly called for our turn at the counter and we proceed. I can see her processing things that we do not know of. We do not all share the same realities and experiences and it’s important to know that. Again, I see her continue to push through her discomfort. She has no idea how strong she is and how amazing it is to see. We finish. She describes herself as feeling lighter. She becomes someone, some part of herself I hadn’t met until this moment. A girl, a woman who is free and can have a moment of joy. She is proud of herself. I am proud of her. She is terrified to ask a question but forces herself. “Would you mind stopping at Chick-Fil-A? I have always wanted to try it. It’s okay if we can’t.”

This wasn’t easy for her to ask I can tell.

I smile.

Of course we can stop. Absolutely! It was just like watching someone complete a marathon and with such admiration wanting to encourage and affirm their journey. We sat together while she finished her very first Chick-Fil-A experience. Getting to know each other and me getting a better understanding of her goals and direction in life so I can support her along the way.

These are the moments and the days that make my job feel worth it. Even had she not been able to complete the task completely she had gotten farther than before and that was a success. If you want to know why it can take someone so long to find stable housing or beat their drug addiction or get to where you think they need to be these are the things real people are struggling with in life. Every fucking day. Her accomplishment yesterday was the same as a businessman getting a promotion or someone making it to a finish line. They are the same to me. I am lucky to get to see people overcome their own difficult daily tasks because it helps me remember that I can be strong too.

While I may never get to see most of my clients make it completely to where they want to be in life I am so proud to see them accomplish the next goal of their day, no matter how big or how small.

I do believe Chick-Fil-A may now become a monthly meeting spot for us. 🙂


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