Going in blind
I did not always dream of being a social worker- I’d like to meet the people whose childhood dream is to be a social worker. Even when I registered for school to return for my social work degree I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just wanted to “help people”. Cue eye roll.
When I was little I wanted to be a dolphin trainer or a veterinarian like basically every other kid who ever had a cat. Looking back I don’t know how I would ever even know that dolphin trainers exist. I had never been to SeaWorld and didn’t live by the ocean or know how to swim, but still I had it in my mind that I wanted to train dolphins to do flips. That faded quickly. When I was a teenager I wanted to travel the world and teach English. Unfortunately, at this time of life is also when you choose to go to college or university for a particular line of work. It should be illegal to have to decide on a career before the age of 21, and even then it would be real iffy. But at 17, I wanted to teach English overseas so I got a B.A. in Applied Linguistics. No one told me that in Canada I wasn’t really qualified to do anything with a B.A. except work at Starbucks… which I did. I also worked 3 years at a church and their non-profit and as a Teacher’s Assistant. These were not jobs that I wanted to hang on to for very long. I wanted a career, a passion. I was also single and wanted to be able to provide for myself and buy nice things once in awhile.
A friend of mine, who is a social worker, told me about her education at Booth and starting salary as a social worker in child welfare. At the time, it was triple what I was making and the decision was made. I put together an application to Booth University College in under 3 days, dropped it off an hour after the deadline and waited. Shallow right? I was accepted and started in September. I did no preparation or research and walked in cold. I sat in my very first class- Research Methods- confused the whole time because I thought it was a class about doing research for paper-writing… not a class on how to perform ethical research that informs the social work profession. It was a hard slap in the face that I had gotten myself into something foreign to me. Slowly, things started making more sense and with the help of my new boyfriend- yeah, apparently I didn’t need to worry about being single for the rest of my life- who I was checking out in that first class, I was seeing A’s on almost every assignment. Eventually I began practicing social work in practicum settings and found that I liked being pushed and challenged the way social work pushes and challenges.
It’s hard to describe succinctly how the social work profession is so challenging but perhaps I can paint a picture of my first practicum. I was placed with a small team that works with adults in the community who struggle with severe mental health issues and any number of other concerns. Everyday at this placement I would interact with people who have been dehoused and live homelessly, struggle with alcohol or drug dependence, hear and respond to voices, live in an alternate reality that their illness has convinced them is real, struggle not to give in to voices that tell them to hurt or kill themselves or are scared of water/people/hospitals/medications, etc. They are also on social assistance which means they live below the poverty line and face discrimination based on race, socioeconomic status and for living with a mental illness. They live in a constant state of pain. This is where I believe that social work is special: social workers lean into the pain when the world wants to back away from it. I am trained to be comfortable with discomfort. When the rest of the world wants to ignore or disregard the hurting and vulnerable, social workers dive into the issues with people. Sometimes we have answers and can help but most of the time we cannot change a person’s circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of the human spirit to change and transform itself, but I cannot prevent poverty, racism or ableism overnight or alone. Changing these issues would mean changing culture.
I am hoping that someday Ben will write a blog or two on here because he is a profound thinker. So profound that Ben’s goal in his career and life is to change culture. I used to be a pessimist about the state of the world until I met Ben. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to leave Canada and teach overseas- it seemed more hopeful in other countries. But Ben talked me into believing that small, compassionate actions- and big, radical ideas- can change the world. It is our goal as a family to change culture in some way in order to improve the lives of the poor, vulnerable and hurting. We don’t know how we’ll accomplish this but each day is a new opportunity to change someone’s world and in turn change the culture of stigma and oppression.