Tuesday, April 12, 2005

workplace blues

It's been a tough week to be a music therapist.

Most of the time, I love my job. It's fun, it's challenging, and it feeds my need to be creative as well as to do something that's instantly helpful to others.

Sometimes, though, the sadness of it all is just too much.

I think those of us who work in human services have to fabricate a certain level of denial about our clients; otherwise, the stress of being face to face with so much chronic pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual) can deplete you to the point where you have nothing left to give.

On the other hand, if you become so calloused to the raw need you're continually surrounded by, you're in danger of becoming apathetic, insensitive, and even cruel to those who need your kindness the most.

The middle path between those two extremes is a narrow one, and not easily kept to.

In the brief period I've been in this field, I've seen otherwise wonderful, compassionate people fall to either side of the middle path, much to the detriment of the clients who need them. It's so easy to burn out with the overwhelming sadness and frustration of it all, and it happens all the time.

Most days I'm able to see the little joys and strengths that shine through my clients like so much sun breaking through an overcast sky. Every now and then, though, the raging unfairness of illness and disability - together with its inexorable and humiliating meanness - get to be too much, and I need to go through a kind of mourning for the health and wellbeing of the people I care so much about.

I hate feeling this way; it's like I temporarily lose the ability to rationalize or see past the pain I'm immersed in, and my heart turns into one big, achingly tender bruise.

In another sense, though, I'm glad I do. I don't want to be a therapist for a year, or five years, or ten, and then burn out and spend the rest of my days as a bitter old crank, full of complaints about the system but without the will to do anything to fix it. I'm in this for the long haul. And instinctively, I know that this cyclical period of mourning, of periodically staggering under full weight of how sad this work can be, is ultimately what's gonna keep me on the road. It's hard stuff, and if I don't acknowledge it now and then, it'll make me hard, too.

But I've learned by now that this feeling eventually goes away, and in a day or two, I can come back to the work I love with renewed energy and passion, able to continue for the next few months, once again able to see the joy, and the hope, and the strength that was there all along.

I just hope it happens soon.


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