A social worker’s secrets

Lila Halliday on broken homes and broken hearts

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After working late one evening I came home to find my boyfriend sat in the living room looking forlorn, with something important to say. “I’m leaving,” he announced. This came as an unexpected punch in the gut and almost as soon as he had said it, he was gone. Of course this set the tone for my week at work. I wandered through meetings, training, chats with staff in a catatonic state of despair and actively avoiding any actual work. I kept thinking, I really shouldn’t be making decisions about children’s lives in this state, and I can’t believe he’s left me.  

While sat in a meeting with some very important police and senior management types and having not said a word, barely listening, something caught my attention. It irritated me and I blurted out: “WELL, THERE’S JUST NO POINT IN ANY OF THIS, IS THERE?!” really loudly. Everyone stopped and stared at me for a long time. I didn’t say another word. 

The good thing about having a broken heart in social work is that you’re surrounded by people who know exactly what to say. Someone I worked with once said to me: “We deal in sadness.” That is very true and we are very good at it! I had spent an afternoon skiving and sorting my life out but I hadn’t told anyone. The next day I had supervision and informed my manager that I would be useless for the next couple of weeks and why. Her response was one of kindness and understanding.  She had noticed my absence and was all set to reprimand me. It all faded away in a moment of female solidarity and social work empathy. So we spent my supervision slagging off men and talking about dating sites. 

Every child and young person I’ve worked with has assumed that because I’m a social worker and I’m there supporting them with the trials and tribulations in their lives, that I’ve got my personal life locked down and sorted. But the truth is we’re just people and bad things happen in our lives too, and sometimes we don’t deal with them in the way we have told you to deal with your hard times. Social work is very punishing on personal relationships –
we work late, we’re stressed and talked out when we get home and if the people in your life aren’t social workers they don’t get it. 

This wasn’t the cause of this particular break-up. My issue is that I can’t be my work self at home. At work I’m calm and confident. I know exactly what I’m doing and love it. At home I’m tired, insecure, guilty about everything and I just can’t keep it together. I manage over a dozen social workers and I’m responsible for hundreds of children and I can’t even keep my tiny family together and happy. This is a hard job to do without someone at home in your corner. Work could be my salvation.

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Interact: Responses to A social worker’s secrets

  • Marie
    08 Jan 2019 17:42
    I love your article ! As a fellow social worker who works in a hospital setting, I completely relate to you! Thanks for sharing your story!
  • Jacqueline C.
    08 Jan 2019 17:34
    Its no secret Lila that we endure hardship and overcome obstacles through our journey as social workers. It takes courage and compassion to do the work that we each day. Needless to say, we need to preserve some of that care for ourselves. Keep believing, keep making progress and stay encouraged. Thank you for being a champion.

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