Two weeks ago, while at work, I was punched square in the ass cheek by an angry six year old. I am a social worker.
And I love what I do.
To be a social worker, according to popular belief, you have to do two things: 1. Buy a pair of the ubiquitous social worker shoes: Danskos and 2. Mainline coffee. Not really, but my guess this is what most people think about social work. This job is straight up crazy, but not in the way that you might imagine. If anyone ever wanted to make a hit TV show with all the drama, betrayal, catfights, neuroticism, and humor of your best after hours cable series, make it about mental health workers. Woody Allen characters ain’t got nothing on therapists. There is the old saying that people get into the mental health field to work out their own “stuff,” and I half-heartedly agree. The problem, however is people don’t actually work out their stuff, they just spew it all over the place thickening the plotlines and making work more interesting.
The clients, in my book, are absolutely amazing. I have been so inspired by my clients over the years. I have seen the depths of suffering and also those moments of sheer joy, and everything in between. I think that I have had the privilege of seeing every part of the naked human body at one point or another. I once had a client who answered her front door pantsless, as casually as ever, and I had to have a conversation with her about how a large t-shirt with a large picture of a cat as her only article of clothing was not appropriate attire for the social security office.
People with no money are often the most generous. I had a client who used to be homeless for a good part of his life. He finally was about to get an apartment, which for him was more of an inconvenience. He always complained about the “responsibilities of indoor living.” It’s understandable, and I think we all get that urge to run away from our lives every now and then. He barely had any money to live on, but every Christmas he would donate money to charity. My clients, with almost nothing, would offer to buy me a cup of coffee or volunteer at a local shelter. They were always there to help out friends and family with an open heart.
Being around this kind of struggle, from the obstacles mental illness brings, to poverty, and to the stigma and discrimination of people impoverished or who carry this diagnosis or that, has put things into perspective for me. This is good and bad. Good, for example that I now can give two shits about most capitalistic consumerist bullshit. Bad, because now I don’t have all the energy in the world to deal with drama. At all. If you know a social worker, and most of the time they would like to spend their time taking baths, drinking a glass of wine with a mind numbing book (Twilight anyone?), or watching some HBO series (I love you SOA!) this is why. It is called vicarious trauma, and it is exhausting. It is also called perspective and it is liberating. Because deep down each therapist knows the key to happiness is keeping things very simple and Buddha like. Get mindful, love, laugh, and ditch all the drama and basically everything else.
Aside from being slugged in the ass, I have also been screamed at, hung up on, and had things thrown at me. I have lost my patience, cried at work, cried at home about work, and dreamed of absconding to Southern Italy to open up a flower shop. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Cause I have also had my mind blown, my limits tested, have grown exponentially, held a lot of love in my heart, learned a lot about myself, and been inspired. I have helped little kids defeat Grumpy Gorillas, taught women how to stand up for themselves for the first time in their lives, and helped people living with schizophrenia to make a friend and join a community.
It’s pretty sweet.