Thursday, October 27, 2011

Self-Care vs. Social Work

The first time I experienced compassion fatigue, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in a dusty beachfront town called Dangriga, Belize. A young mom walked into my office explaining that her boyfriend just hit her in the head with a hammer. I could still see the blood dripping from the girls ears while she held her 6-month old baby. I emotionally called the hospital, police and offered up a room at my place until she could figure out her next steps. 
Do you take on stress even if you have no control over the outcome?

But not long after, frustration started to set in. After two weeks of accompanying her to numerous court dates, I got sick of hearing her explanations for taking phone calls from the hammer hitting boyfriend.  I could not understand her decision to leave her baby with me while she go out dancing at the club. I quickly became disillusioned, judgmental and confused. 

Why would this girl go back with the same dude who just caused so much pain and torment in her life? Why isn't she doing what I want her to do to make her life better? Why am I so invested in the outcome of her life? My mentor, a domestic violence expert, reminded me of the complexities of domestic abuse. Intellectually, I knew that behavior change is a long process. I knew I should have set boundaries and  I can't expect someone to change after two weeks. But emotionally I was angry, apathetic and felt betrayed. 

I realized that I was experiencing "burnout". Many teachers, social workers, non-profit employees and community leaders feel burned out when they choose to step into the ring and fight against social ills. Sometimes you get knocked out. Sometimes you get back on your feet. 

I got back on my feet. But I came back prepared using  self-care techniques and yoga principles to help me cope with the nebulous arena of social justice work.

Living and teaching East of the River, reminds me alot of my little town in Belize. The beauty and history of hoods like Dangriga and Anacostia are often overshadowed by the entangled issues of poverty, racism and injustice.  Social Justice workers are often ignored and their work goes without recognition. 

If you are working in Anacostia and want to learn more about self-care and preventing burnout using yoga principles, email me at

1 comment:

Alexis said...

Self care is so important :) Thanks for highlighting this!