The thing about work, is that it takes a lot of our time, and as a social worker it also takes a lot of my “heart space.” An artist I love, Mari Andrew, often posts an illustration of her “heart” as she prepares for the upcoming month. The simple illustrations touch upon those basic parts of the human experience– What do we hold closest to us? What makes us excited? What triggers our feelings (good and bad) and how big a space do they hold for us?
Today, I facilitated my last group with adolescents (maybe ever, but at least for awhile) as I prepared to start a new job in October. For the last three years (with the exception of the occasional vacation), I have spend 4-7pm each Tuesday with a room of teenagers grappling with substance use as well as challenges related to their friends, families, mental health, schools, and/or probation officers. At times it has felt like the longest three hours of my week, and yet at times it felt like the highlight of my week.
I had no idea when I started working with teenagers three years ago,that I would have to work on healing MY inner 16 year old. Working with teens and their families has brought light to the challenges I faced back then. It brought me back the terrifying place of not knowing myself and not knowing if I was pretty-enough/ smart-enough/ liked-enough. Seeing teens in conflict with their parents, gave me insight to what a moody kid I used to be. To be fair, I still AM moody (probably thanks to my strong family history of mental illness!), but at least my coping skills are far more sophisticated now. In many ways, working with teens helped me close my life chapter as (what psychologists now call) an emerging adult and feel equipped and empowered to simply be myself.
Joining the lives of various teens over the last three years has truly been an honor. I have gotten a brief opportunity to once again know what’s “cool”–although quite frankly I miss the mark most of the time. I have gotten to watch young men and women truly find themselves– and their place in the world. On the other hand, I have also watched teens crash and burn, which at times was funny and more often was sad. Perhaps best yet, I have gotten the best possible crash course in parenting which hopefully will come in handy one day.