The 2017 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Interns have graciously agreed to share their experiences with all of us. From time to time, we’ll be posting ‘journal entries’ from Naiomi Gonzalez and Katy Morton. Below is one of these entries.
Reflection on the Past Ten Weeks.
Better late than never! This past summer has been an amazing whirlwind experience, complete with tropical storms, car troubles, and a whole new family at Back Bay Mission. To say that this summer went by quickly would be an understatement, it flew!
While I feel as though I was certainly able to achieve a great deal in my short time at Back Bay Mission, the last few weeks especially made me ponder some things about life in the social services field. For those of you who don’t know, I interviewed via phone, and was offered a job as a family therapist in my hometown in Pennsylvania. Naturally, I was ecstatic to have been offered an amazing job opportunity in close proximity to my family and friends. The only thing was that I was asked to begin the Monday after my last Friday at the Mission. Of course this was an opportunity that I couldn’t — and frankly didn’t want to — turn down, so a couple of weeks before the end of the internship, I began packing and preparing to head home.
During that time, Naiomi and I had also begun to take on some more responsibility at the Mission, especially since we knew how to do more tasks and felt more confident doing them! I had the opportunity to mainly split my time between working at the front desk in the Micah Day Center, and assisting client’s with their shopping in the food pantry. While I had an amazing time, met some wonderful people, and formed some great bonds and relationships, I found myself feeling more emotionally drained at the end of the day than I had in the previous weeks of the internship. Now, this is not a complaint, by any means, but simply a fact of life when you work in the social services field. Working with people day in and day out, especially people who may be experiencing some of the most traumatic, difficult, or frustrating times in their lives, does eventually begin to sap some energy away.
I think that as I prepared for another major life change, and felt confident enough to take on more responsibility at Back Bay Mission, I began to slip back into some old habits and forgot something very important. As a social worker, one of the most amazing feelings is being able to advocate for someone to get what they need to move forward with their life, or — even better — working to empower someone be able to work towards what they need to move forward with their life. On the flip side, one of the hardest things social workers and social service professionals often have to deal with is saying no, or not being able to help someone. Oftentimes, funding, time, and resources are limited in the world of social services, and try as we might, sometimes we have to say no. Saying no, or not feeling like you’ve been able to help someone is usually a huge contributing factor to that emotional drain I mentioned earlier. However, something as simple as listening to someone recount a traumatic experience, or assisting someone who is working through a difficult time, can also contribute to the drain.
It is in these times, that it is more important than ever for social service professionals — or really anyone who spends a great deal of time with other people — to remember self-care. This is something that I have always seemed to struggle with, throughout my academic and professional career. I find that I often want to go, go, go, and don’t realize that I really should be taking more breaks, until I begin to feel drained and frustrated. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a family, church, and community that was huge on serving and empowering others. I always knew I wanted to help people when I grew up, and was ecstatic when I found out it was an option for a career! I worked hard to get my BSW and MSW, and have always been fortunate enough to be offered jobs and opportunities to help and empower people along the way. I fell so in love with social work and social justice, that somewhere along the way, I started forgetting to take time for self-care and de-stressing. I got into the habit of throwing myself into my work and my passion, and forgetting to take time to work on my own relationships and emotional well-being.
Fortunately, I have an amazing support system — often referred to as my tribe via Facebook posts — of family, friends, and fellow social service professionals, who gently — and occasionally not so gently — remind me that we all need breaks sometimes. I can honestly say I found some amazing additions to my tribe and support system in my newfound family at Back Bay Mission. Even during my last few — and slightly more stressful — weeks at Back Bay Mission, they were there to remind me to take breaks, have fun, and be kind to myself. This summer at the Mission has truly helped me to recharge and remember why I wanted to be a social worker in the first place. The love and passion that is felt and shown at Back Bay Mission is unlike any other place I’ve ever been. In the world of social services — as well as any other profession where you spend a lot of time with people — it is often way too easy to get sucked into our jobs and professions, and neglect our own emotions and well-being. Here is your friendly reminder to be kind to yourself, and to never feel guilty for taking time for yourself and your tribe.