Switching Gears

While working as a social worker fresh out of graduate school, I quickly became aware of how rapidly burnout occurs. My focus began with community and organizational work that involved development through policy and admin. The work was anything but easy. When it comes to changing dominant (oppressive) paradigms in an organization, charged emotions, drama, and politics are just part of everyday reality. Yet I kept telling myself that all I needed was optimism and determination. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Within the first year I contracted a disabling upper respiratory infection. I couldn’t make it from my bedroom to the kitchen without gasping for air like a fish on dry land. Immediately after the infection I experienced a profound fatigue that would have me exhausted by late morning, and I’d sleep for the remainder of the day and evening. During this time I dipped into a severe depression and was checked into a critical outpatient clinic at the VA Hospital. I never felt so helpless. I lost my sense of purpose. All in all, this dragged for almost half a year. The signs were all there but I ignored them: random anxiety attacks, nightmares, headaches, and irritability. It also didn’t help that I kept forgetting to eat and hydrate. I quickly developed a love-hate relationship with my work.

When I turned my attention to the topic of burnout and stress, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Some of my peers who graduated with me also have been experiencing significant stress-related health issues. In school and in continuing ed circles there is a lot of talk of self-care. There are books and workshops for how one could go about managing the demands and stress of being a care provider. They are informative, but I found it difficult to implement them in meaningful ways. Even though I was suffering among many, I felt very isolated. One day I stumbled across an article titled “Why I don’t believe in self care (and how to make it obsolete)” by┬áLiz Kessler, a writer and activist. There was so much there to process, but out of all the insightful points Liz made, one thing stood out to me: collective / communal care is often neglected in the discussion on stress management. There’s this heavy emphasis on “self” in self-care. It’s like re-packaging of another similar concept. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, anyone? To me it seemed all very solipsistic and dare I say … privileged and inequitable.

As 2017 rolled around the corner I began feeling drawn to the healing arts, specifically in terms of sustaining the crucial work of social service and social change. Who gives care to care providers? Who’s making a difference for change makers? Individuals and communities doing relief and liberation work are often under-resourced. I began to wonder what it’ll be like to explore options for sustainability. Generative somatics is something that has had many of my peers invigorated. I have yet to experience generative somatics. From what I can piece together, it seems to be a combination of psychosomatics and anti-oppression theory/practices. This inspired me to re-visit my background in mindfulness practices, particularly from meditation (Soto School of Zen Buddhism), contemplation (the Jesuit examen), and movement (Chinese Internal Martial Arts). I began to wonder if there is a way to combine this background of mine with social work, particularly in the clinical setting (psychosomatic). The missing element later occurred to me. I require a license to use my hands as a therapeutic instrument. Bellevue Massage School seemed to have a good reputation with Bastyr University. I interpreted this to mean they had a strong evidence based / clinical emphasis. So I found a way to utilize the remainer of my GI Bill after all. Through my networks I discovered Cynthia Price’s work and the Center for Mindful Body Awareness. The discovery was exciting to me because this meant that I didn’t need to bushwhack my way in pioneering a new market. There’s research, academics, and professionals in this field. All I had to do was get connected.

My Praxis is an exploration into a direct practice concept. An idea in development is to start a co-operative business that integrates health/mental health social work, mindfulness based practices, and massage therapy. My primary audience to reach are care providers and change makers in the community: counselors, nurses, hospice workers, educators, community organizers, activists, social workers, subversive artists etc. I resonate with the idea of getting into the fray to provide relief and reinforcement for those who dedicate their lives to making daring changes in the world. The more I sit in discernment on this concept, the more I feel grounded in my Ikigai.

My name is Brie and this is my blog.

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