For years I have suffered from a serious case of the Sunday Night Blues, an apparently well-documented phenomenon experienced by most Americans. No matter how enjoyable my weekend was come Sunday afternoon I feel like curling up in the fetal position and crying into a martini.
My Sunday Night Blues generally stem from anxieties about the week ahead, mainly my Monday morning voicemails and e-mails. But I have today off in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and my only plans involve leaving my bed for my couch. Last night as I sat with my despair I realized that I was not experiencing the Sunday Night Blues at all. My melancholy is in fact a case of dem Social Work Blues.
For nearly a decade I have worked with our country’s most vulnerable, disenfranchised and underserved populations. I have seen some really disturbing shit.
I once found a man at a homeless encampment with a needle dangling from his arm. It had been there for two days and was filled with lighter fluid. The next time I saw this man his arm was amputated. I once found one of my clients hanging from a tree. According to the note he scrawled in the dirt the ‘little aliens’ in his head told him it was the only way for him to return to his home planet. I once witnessed an underage sex trafficking victim being raped by three men in a tent. And I have a thousand more stories where these came from.
Yet through the years I learned to process these tragic, unsettling and profoundly difficult occurrences, to accept heartbreak and misfortune as a necessary part of the human condition. I shifted my focus from what was wrong to what could be improved and began to appreciate small victories. I developed a selection of mostly adaptive coping skills, including a fairly twisted sense of humor. Through a commitment to self-awareness I embraced a level of sensitivity and empathy while also mindfully practicing self-care and maintaining solid boundaries.
But today, on the heels of a professionally tough past few weeks, I do not want to reframe my negative thoughts about social work. I do not seek to recognize and identify the inherent strengths in this profession nor the people that it serves. I do not need to rekindle my passion or examine my own biases and emotional triggers. I am not burned out. I simply want to acknowledge that social work is a hard fucking profession.
As social workers our shoulders sag under the weight of the world’s struggles, our hearts made heavy by intense and poignant memories. Social workers bear burdens not meant for them. Every social worker is entitled to an occasional guilt-and-analysis-free bout of dem social work blues.