I’ve worked in areas that many people shy away from…domestic violence, sexual abuse, trauma, suicide, grief, and disabilities, amongst others. Since I was young, I knew I wanted to live a life based on servant leadership and these are the areas it’s led me to. I’m often asked how I do it and if it gets to me.
When I first started in the field, I had a difficult time finding balance. My emotions from work followed me home and changed my worldview, impacting many areas of my life. In the field of Social Work, finding balance and understanding what self-care works best for you are critical because “vicarious/secondary trauma” and “compassion fatigue” are common risks. These terms relate to the change that happens because you care about other people who have been hurt, and feel committed or responsible to help them. It’s a transformation that happens through empathic engagement and it can lead to changes in one’s psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being.
My vicarious trauma came through my dreams and intrusive images. I would recount stories over and over, see the abusers in my mind and be chased by people while in my sleep when I didn’t have control and was seeking much needed rest. I would fear going to sleep because I didn’t know where my mind would take me.
Through the nightmares, broken heartedness, deep sadness, tears and heaviness, my one wish
It’s been over a decade that I’ve been doing this work and while I’ve come a long way in finding balance, I still have my days. Just a couple weeks ago I got a call from a family at their wits end. Referred to me by the police, they had tried everything to help their son with autism. They were in a true state of crisis and have been for a long time. Their lives include regular trips to the emergency room, police involvement, serious safety concerns, no services left to help them and $80 left in their bank account. After our 2 hour phone conversation, with my office door closed, I wept. They viewed me as their last hope and I wasn’t sure if I could do anything to help them.
Through the nightmares, broken heartedness, deep sadness, tears and heaviness, my one wish is this…I hope there never comes a day when it stops getting to me. The day some of life’s hardest circumstances don’t impact me anymore will be much more concerning. My “Why” is much more powerful than my “Why Not” and it takes constant effort to ensure it stays that way. My Why is how children have so much resilience and I am constantly amazed by them. My Why is that I believe in post-traumatic growth. My Why is that getting to be part of someone’s healing journey is a privilege. The other things are just some of the sacrifices and prices I’m willing to pay for the life I am committed to living. It’s the cost of caring that I am okay with. With push comes pull. Ups come with downs. When you come to expect this as part of the journey, it makes it much easier when you are going through the challenging times. Give all your energy to your Why’s and choose that path always. Anything else will only distract you.