I think, 6 years on, I have found the way to maximise my capabilities as a support worker.
For the first 2 years, I dragged myself about town, from house to house meeting new faces and absorbing life story after life story. Naturally, no one had an incredibly positive story to tell, and me being a kind, caring support worker I took them all on board. By the end of each day I felt physically more hunched and emotionally more fragile. It got to the stage where I was drowning in the job and I had taken in far more than I could carry.
After losing one of the people I worked with most often, I realised that I was unable to cope, and that I had gone about the job completely the wrong way. I thought I was doing my best to help people by giving them my all, but in fact I was leaving myself with nothing to take home and nothing to protect me from another day. I was losing who I was and I couldn’t see how it would be possible for me to continue doing the job. I knew however, that it was the job I wanted to do, and aside from that, I knew I could be good at it!
The best decision I ever made was to apply for another job. As much as it pained me to admit it, I was not able to carry out my current role as well as I should have been. In my new post, I made a conscious decision to be somewhat sponge like and spend the day absorbing all that I could, but ensure that I rinsed myself out at the door before heading home. This may sound a little odd, but I literally imagined myself twisting and rinsing the emotional pressure and responsibility out of me as I stood on the doorstep. Now I’m not going to pretend that this worked every day, and I definitely went through spells of not being about to rinse everything out, but, this technique was what let me be able to start each day with the same strength and openness that I had shown on previous occasions.
Being a support worker in the field of mental health can, and usually does mean dealing with intensely emotional situations day after day. If I had continued with the same approach of giving my all to every person I work with, I would not have been able to continue in the job and would be heading towards becoming very unwell myself.
I was too embarrassed and scared to admit that I couldn’t cope emotionally. I mean, it was my job right? How could a mental health support worker not cope emotionally? That seemed ridiculous to me and so I could only assume that it would to everyone else too.
In fact what I learned was that it was incredibly common amongst my team. Many of my colleagues had been through the same process of struggle leading to realisation. I now look back and feel fortunate to have gone through that process. In fact I think this made me better at my job. I learned how to support people to the best of my ability without impacting on my own health and wellbeing.