If you were to meet me, I might start off by making you laugh. And then you’ll probably hear me talk about the art fair I just went to and the dinner I’m planning to make tonight. I’ll most likely bring up something about Husband and then talk about going back to school and my newfound love of 30 Rock.
I might invite you over and you’ll see my tiny bedrooms and hodgepodge kitchen and I’ll make you tea. At some point, it might come up that I care about poverty and social justice, but you’ll probably look around my cute bungalow and find my expensive shampoo and think “Yeah, right. This girl watches Netflixs, blogs about cupcakes, and owns artisan salts. What does she know about poverty?”
Well, here’s the deal:
I do know about poverty. And I care about it. I’m just burnt out.
I’ve worked in social services for the past eight years and could often be found working past dinner, taking crisis calls on the weekends, and volunteering at the homeless shelter after church. In the past, I took on extra certifications and mentoring assignments. I raised extra funds for charities and talked all my friends and family into volunteering for my wonderful causes. I wrote letters to the editor and went to protests. I cleaned out my closets to raise money at garage sales and baked cookies to cheer up exhausted staff members.
I found meaning in my work and a calling to serve the “least of these”.
I gave so much love, freely, openly, and earnestly.
But then, people threatened to kill me. And left me voicemails that said they hoped I couldn’t sleep at night. And then I went to the hospital in the middle of the night to interview a rape victim, an hour after the attack, and went again to interview sobbing nurses about the injuries inflicted on a baby by her grandmother. I went to prison to ask husbands why they shot their wives and went to juvenile detention to ask children why they took a gun to school. I’ve been on police raids and been handed illegal substances. I think I’ve heard every excuse possible for a positive drug screen and have been lied to so often that I stopped caring about the truth. I’ve had clients steal my things and invade my privacy.
I wasn’t prepared. I got so overwhelmed and discouraged and disgusted that I stopped knowing how to cry or how to talk to God.
I started to experience secondary trauma, where I struggled with apathy, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, fatigue, and emotional exhaustion. I felt I ran out of love and became angry at myself for not being “stronger”. It became so bad that I was frantically trying to figure out a Plan B if I didn’t get accepted into my PhD program because I knew I needed a break from direct practice if I ever wanted to be a person of influence in the field again.
So I’m recovering now. I’m being intentional about my time in school to rest and recharge so that I can start work again with a fresh perspective. I’m saying “no” to a packed calendar and am allowing myself to process my feelings while recognizing it’s OK to feel sad and angry sometimes about my experiences. I’m baking and hosting and laughing and going to church and, hopefully, breathing joy and passion back into my exhausted self.
I’m not trying to be a hypocrite; I still care about poverty and social justice. I’m just focusing on school right now. And trying to care about people again. So I may not volunteer on the weekends, for now, but I will have you over and maybe even make you a cupcake.