Welcome to TheMattSchwartz(Cast) where each week we dive into the world of Social Work in Mental Health & Counseling Settings and hopefully provide you with some inspiration to start your week! I’m your host, Matt Schwartz. This week’s episode is Episode 3: Self Care & Sniffles.
So last episode I said we would start getting into Caseload Management techniques, and we are…but then I came down with an awful chest infection, missed a couple of weeks of podcasting, went on a wonderful vacation to Vienna, Austria for the holidays, came back to work, had a blizzard (had the furnace go out on the first day of the blizzard), and then have been in a flareup for the past few days (we’ll get back to that in a minute).
During all of this, I had a bit of an epiphany: you can’t actually talk about Caseload Management in Social Work (clinical or otherwise) unless you first talk about self-care. Like…actual self-care. Meaningful self-care. For realsies self-care.
As social workers, we hear a lot about self-care - from the moment we enter Grad School, until the day we retire and beyond. We’re told to do yoga, drink water, seek supervision, meditate, find hobbies, and more. This is all, generally speaking, great advice. The University at Buffalo School of Social Work even has a fantastic Self Care Starter Kit on their website (which you can find at socialwork.buffalo.edu). All of these things are wonderful to do, and can help keep us centered and improve our wellness. However, no amount of tending to office plants (no matter how much I want to personally believe otherwise) will prevent burnout if we don’t make the necessary time for self-care, and if we don’t set up the appropriate, and necessary boundaries.
What I’ve found missing from the conversation - and I preface this with the standard disclaimer that these thoughts are my own, and don’t represent any organization I work for, have worked for, or may ever work for in the future - are two things. The first, is how are agencies actually supporting their workers in conducting self-care on the job (which I maintain is an ethical imperative)?; and the second is, how are we - as social workers - working to build it into our schedules, time management, and caseload management practices whether our employers or agencies want to support us in these endeavors or not? And I don’t mean in some covert way that Human Resources can never find out about. I mean in a very transparent “I require self-care to do my job, and some of that self-care happens on the clock, look, it’s right there in my schedule…” sort of way.
The answer that I have found for myself (and I promise we’ll get back to base camp if I bring us too far off the beaten path for a while) is Bullet Journaling, or BuJo-ing. I have always been a journaler, writer, blogger, and obsessive calendar keeper and office supply aficionado (some might even say hoarder)…I fell into Bullet Journaling a few years ago because it worked with how my brain worked (and it turns out that the inventor, Ryder Carroll and I have some similarities in that area, and I’m willing even to bet that parts of our notebooks might have even looked the same if we were to compare them back when we were in High School)…but Ryder found a way to really create a way of systemizing his process, and combining his method with CBT, mindfulness, and - while I don’t think it was intentional - even a bit of DBT.
I fell into BuJo-ing even further when I was a medical case manager, and - after having woken up almost entirely paralyzed one morning I entered a medical Odyssey for physical disabilities that I had never thought I’d have to consider. I grew up being neurologically divergent, and learning disabled…but I had never had to contend with physical disabilities or overtly visible disabilities…or chronic pain. I needed a way to walk into a medical professional’s office, and drop something down on a table with data about symptoms: dates, times, feelings, the weather when things happened, my blood sugar, any possible trigger that was nearby, where on my body things hurt. Something like two years later I finally had something as close to a solid diagnosis of a diagnosis as I would ever get. Rheumatoid Arthritis, Polymyositis, and Fibromyalgia.
So when Ryder Carroll released his book, last year, The Bullet Journal Method I was curious to read it; and incorporate it into my self-care practice at work (or more of it than I had gathered on the various FaceBook groups I had been a member of). I started rapid logging during the day as I went. Every single task (obviously no PHI, but reminders of things that needed to get done, events, thoughts, to-dos). I also continued to keep track of the internal side-eye toward things I had agreed to do, but that were likely time-sucks…or that I was beginning to feel were taking up time I could be otherwise using for other things…or that was becoming too physically hard on my body to justify continuing with (I’m super good at providing brain-support; but don’t ask me to show up at your board meeting or committee meeting, it probably won’t happen, especially if it’s after a full’s day work).
Through my own practices, buttressed by Ryder Carroll’s and the BuJo community (which is an endlessly supportive community online, by the way) I was able to become more mindful of my time (to say nothing of always being on top of my case notes, treatment plans, and other tasks). I continue to monitor my symptoms…and I continue to focus on my self-care. Through mindfulness, and intentionality of “why am I doing this? (which Ryder preachers a lot in his book) I was able to truly, for the first time, start saying “no” in a meaningful way (…mind you, the last convention I went to, I took a 45 minute workshop where we all stood up and practiced saying “No” together in a variety of different voices…so clearly it’s an issue in our field). Think of it as the KonMari method for “Does This Bring You Joy” but in your professional life. We can’t do everything. We can’t be everything to all people. We can’t save everyone. We have to take care of ourselves. To do that, we have to honestly, and as self-critically as possible look at where we are spending the incredible valuable amount of time we get a day…and then liberate as much of it as is ethically and feasibly possible and possible to do.
So next Sunday when I share with you some of my custom made templates for case management (who doesn’t love a good DOC/PDF download combo?) I’m going to entreat you to think about your own intentionality, your own time management (at home and at work), your own boundaries first. I’m going to ask you to reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing…because if we can’t manage our own time effectively, if we can’t determine how and when we’re going to take care of ourselves: at work, at home, with friends, on the road…then we’re going to burn out. I’m also going to ask that when the notion of self-care comes up at work (as no doubt it will) that we begin discussing these things openly, and at a deeper level than squish balls and water bottles.
2018 was a hard year for most of us (despite some amazing successes, personal growth, and transformations). Let’s make sure that we practice radical self-care in 2019, even if we have to bring our agencies kicking and screaming forward into the future with us…because we need you to remain a Social Worker from now until you retire…and then we need you to become a mentor after that. The world needs you and your talents…and we all lose out if you leave the field of Social Work due to burn out.
The music you’re listening to in the background today is Boston Landing on “Blue Dot Sessions” generously shared through a creative commons license, found through the Free Music Archive. Please find more of their music at www.sessions.blue. You can interact with me on twitter by @‘ing TheMattSchwartz. I’ll see you next week, until then, make good choices.