when I grow up
Trigger Warning. This piece describes instances of self harm.
When I look back to my childhood, I always think--how did that sad, scared and confused little girl end up holding down a solid job as a successful social worker?
Really, it all started when I was in the eighth grade. I remember being fourteen and confused. I was constantly sad; not the sad that you feel when you get a bad grade or when your best friend doesn’t invite you to her party. The sad that I was feeling was close to numbness. It was so severe it felt like death. I lived most of my days feeling sadness akin to when a loved one has passed away, but no one had died.
I remember the first cut I made and the relief it gave me. Looking at the small little cut from a safety pin, the pain I couldn’t explain finally had a reason. I felt validated, more than anything.
Flash forward a year later--I was hooked. I couldn’t stop. I wore sweatshirts all year round. I would carry something sharp with me at all times in case it ever became too much. Self-harm became my life, and I began to hate it. At first, I had loved feeling like my pain finally had reasoning, but it had grown into a secret that I was keeping from everyone and I was scared it was starting to catch up with me. People started noticing things; the slip of a sleeve exposing my fresh wounds, the fact that I never took off my sweaters, when I began eating lunch alone in the bathroom and I stopped laughing at the jokes people told. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want someone to ask if I needed help, or if I was okay; because I did and I wasn’t.
Eventually, someone did ask me those questions. She got me out of the bathroom, and when she asked if I was okay, she genuinely meant it. I knew that I wanted to stop, but I needed help getting there. Eventually, I made an appointment to speak with my school board social worker. I was nervous about seeing her. Would it be like in the movies where someone always lies on a couch and the other person takes notes and asks questions like, how does that make you feel?
As the appointment drew nearer, my anxiety lessened. This woman was here to help me. I wanted so badly to stop, and she was going to get me through it.
Man, was I wrong.
Every time I left our meetings I would think to myself, if this is the help people are out there getting, then we’re all screwed like light bulbs. She didn’t help me at all with the problem I went to her for, but she did help me with something bigger. She showed me what I did not want to be when I grew up.
I did not want to be her, I wanted to be better.
That was almost ten years ago. I can look back on it now and I laugh and say thank you for the best career advice I’ve ever gotten. I look back on everything from that time in my life and I can now make sense of it all. What that moment taught me is that I am a resilient, strong, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent person. It taught me that there was something in this world that I not only wanted to do, but felt that I was adept enough to do it.
I never thought that I would ever be able to look back at this awful point in my life and be thankful for it, but it made me into the worker I am today. By experiencing this worker who I found to be extremely not empathetic, and tactless, I learned what kind of worker I did not want to be. I also found an inner strength I had never known and it is that strength that got me better and led me to where I am now.
I took the struggles and the broken pieces that I was left with, I put myself back together and here I am. I still have hard days, and sometimes my work challenges the hell out of me. But on those days, I think back to why I first decided I wanted to do this work and I realize that I’m doing okay. As long as I am staying true to myself, then I am doing the best thing for myself and my clients. When I remind myself of those things, the hard and challenging days all sort of melt away, and it all just becomes okay.