Advocacy · Anxiety · Employee Concerns · Social Anxiety

Pressure From All Sides

In my line of work we are called on to advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations. If it comes to getting my client a resource then I will call whoever I need to, talk to whoever’s supervisor that I need to, annoy whoever is standing in my way, etc. in order to try to get my client what they need. Any good social worker knows you sometimes have to act a bit…extra…. to get what you need for your client. In my personal life I can barely tell the waitress the kitchen messed up and put onions on my burger but professionally I will hunt down whoever is necessary to get my client’s needs met.

I’m good at advocating for individual clients. What I’m not so great at is advocating for a program or service in general. I’m not great at “selling” my program or my agency. I think our mission is extremely important and I’m proud of the work my staff do. But I’m not good at telling people about it, particularly people I perceive to be in a position of power. I’ve noticed my anxiety level is highly dependent on perceived power differentials. When I feel like I am in a position of more power, I tend to experience less anxiety (example, if I’m facilitating a training for staff – not if I’m doing something miserable like letting someone go or writing them up for something). Some people, when they feel powerless, are still able to have conversations and answer questions. Me, I totally blank out. I lose the ability to communicate any relevant information, I sweat profusely, start to stutter, and lose my voice. It’s not pretty.

Imagine my dismay when my supervisor tells me that I am going to have to start advocating with state leaders for funding for our services. In addition, I am to do this in conjunction with one of the employees I supervise. The thought of doing this causes me a great deal of anxiety. I will be forced to enter into situations with individuals who I perceive to have more power (state representatives) while accompanied by my employee (who I am expected to lead/set an example for). I will feel pressure from all sides. Pressure from my supervisor to be an articulate advocate for my organization, pressure from the state representative to succinctly sum things up and get out of their office, and then pressure from my employee to model effective advocacy behavior. It feels like, if I mess up or freak out, that not only will I be creating a bad impression of our agency to people who control important things like funding, I will also look like an ineffective supervisor.

Can’t I just write a letter or something? Why can’t we play to my strengths?!

I am dreading this new expectation of the job. Dreading it so much that my first (admittedly dramatic and not rational) thought was maybe I can quit before I’m expected to do start doing this.

So how am I going to deal with all of this? By taking some time to examine my irrational beliefs in the situation (there are a LOT), visualizing myself being successful in these situations, and learning more about how to effectively advocate with government leaders (something I don’t know anything about). Wish me luck!


Getting Back To It

So, it’s been over a year and a half since I posted anything. My father experienced a significant decline in his health in the beginning of 2018. He was diagnosed with heart disease when I was a small child and given a prognosis of 3-5 years. He outlived that prognosis by decades. When I was young, he explained to me that he didn’t have the kind of heart disease that would kill him quickly with a heart attack. Instead he had the kind of disease that would slowly take away his ability to function until he no longer had the energy or ability to move far from his bed. In late spring 2018 he died after a long, painful deterioration. It was the type of death that, when it finally came, was a relief to all involved.

Shortly after my father’s death, my employer lost the other main supervisor when that person found a job with better career advancement opportunities. Amid fresh grief, I was expected to advise and support staff working with clients I didn’t know who were in programs I only vaguely understood. As often happens with leadership change, some direct-care staff also exited the organization. This left the organization understaffed and remaining staff overworked. All this occurred at a time when I could barely concentrate long enough to finish reading a paragraph. My brain is an unfocused, forgetful, barely-able-to-process-information mess when it is grieving. It was not pretty.

For various reasons, it took quite some time to hire a replacement supervisor. While my supervisor was unfailingly kind, understanding, and verbally thankful for my additional work, the lack of financial acknowledgement that I was going above and beyond was disappointing. I have a friend who advised me to tell my supervisor how I felt and ask for additional compensation for my expanded duties. Perhaps in a future post I’ll delve into all of the reasons my social anxiety kept me from that course of action. The whole experience left me disillusioned. Overall, I still think my organization is a good place to work and compared to past jobs it remains one of the best. However, I no longer see myself working there for the long-term.

So, where does that leave me in this moment? For starters I’m finally starting to get a little bit of energy back. The first year was particularly difficult and looking back, it feels like those months went by in a chaotic daze as I binge watched TV shows, ate everything in sight, and felt guilty about not working on my dissertation. Going to work and dealing with the fallout of my father’s death took every ounce of energy I had. I felt like I was merely going through the motions of living my life. Thankfully, that is slowly starting to change. Grief is funny that way – sometimes it hits me like a tidal wave and other times it ebbs and flows so subtly that I almost don’t notice when it is gone. Of course, as soon as I notice its absence, it comes flooding back as I feel guilty for not feeling it. I always heard that it takes 3 years to grieve a close loss and fully integrate that loss into one’s life. I suppose I should take solace that I’m over 1/3 of the way there.

All of this is to say – I’m doing my best to get back to this blog. Supervising others while experiencing social anxiety did not, unsurprisingly, get any easier when I was grieving. I wish I had documented those times but, frankly, I didn’t have it in me. Hopefully now that has changed and this will become a regular thing moving forward.