Last night as part of my work as a Student Recruitment Officer I helped give a short presentation on the basics of what social work is. The presentation was titled Head, Heart and Hands, and described these three key elements that make a good social worker. Head includes theoretical foundations of practice, approaches to work and knowledge of how to do things well. Heart covered the reasons for working, the drive for justice and compassion that fuels what we do. Hands are the skills required to practice effectively- no good having the best intentions and knowing all the theory but being unable to do anything with them. Social work is not possible with any less than all three of these elements, and somewhere along the line, I lost my heart.
When I was seventeen, I was full of ideals, dreams and hope to making the world a better place. In my mind I saw every child with food in his/her belly, homes for everyone to live in and a people who treated each other with kindness and respect. That’s still my dream, but I came to social work under the delusion that by providing food, homes and an example of respect and kindness everything would be okay. But as I’ve learned, teaching a person to fish will keep them satisfied for only a few hours, and I don’t have enough fish to go around. Real social work involves changing the structures in both a person (their perspective, their habits, their lifestyle) and society (organisations, social policy and collective ideology). And yeah, I’m smart. I’m unusually intelligent for someone my age- by no means a genius or the cream of the crop, but I’ve got keen insight and a way with words. And yeah, I can use that knowledge to be very good at things. I’m brilliant at most of the things that I love doing. But I’m having trouble caring again. I’m reverting to a selfish asshole version of myself that will see someone being mugged, and I’ll give them the finger because it’s their problem. I don’t like this potential me, but I feel like it’s too hard to care any more, and I’m getting pushed further and further away from being kind and compassionate.
I guess it’s a kind of burnout. I’ve cared so much that I’ve poured my well of compassionate out, and before it gets the chance to refill, I keep feeling obliged to scoop what little of it I have and pour it on people. I’m quite sure that if I take a break, the holiday I keep dreaming of, a real one not just a short reprieve from an otherwise soul-draining life, I’ll feel better. If I really truly commit a few months to just taking care of myself, doing what I want, being what I want, I’ll be able to come back to social work full of energy and optimism. But right now, if I were to start practicing, I’d probably do more harm than good. It’s not an easy decision to make, but I think I have to drop the course before it hurts somebody in an irreparable way. I’ll pick it up again some time, but it’s quite clear to me that I’m not ready to be a grown up. I’m not ready to be a professional. I should be excited about the possibilities of my next placement and the sort of opportunities I’ll get from it, but I just hate it. I hate the idea of more work with people I don’t really care about. Fuck, I just hate everywhere my life is going right now.
I need to do something before I pour out the rest of my soul and have nothing left to give. I’ve been so dangerously close to that feeling these past few months, gaining a little, losing a little, often more than I can safely lose. I’ve reverted to just saying nice things all the time, to hide how empty I feel. Normally it is my philosophy that people don’t say the good things about each other, they focus always on the negative, but lately I’ve just been spouting light compliments so frequently and so carelessly it’s being brushed off as flattery. I can’t keep pretending to care.
‘course all of this might just be because it’s a cloudy day and my spirits are down. It’s been known to happen. But it doesn’t change how I feel, and I don’t think that I can risk having cloudy days on prac. I think I need to defer my course, and find a way of just dealing with all my social work peers who don’t understand, and my mother who will think I’m wasting my life. I just can’t keep doing this.