Two nights ago, I threw a tantrum.
Flat on my back on the floor of my studio apartment and staring up at the ceiling, I breathed deeply and felt hot tears prick my eyes. A surge of frustration spiked through me and I sat up so quickly that rivers cascaded down my face. As I swiped at them, I asked God, “Why did you answer my prayer?”
Because a few days earlier, I had prayed that God would help me feel.
Feel a lot. Feel deeply.
And He did, leaving me wondering if it was too late to take back my request.
Allow me to explain.
My name is Janelle, and I am a social worker. My job is to find foster homes for kids who aren’t safe. And it is sad.
People are very complex, and so are the experiences we find ourselves in. As a social worker in a job that involves families, I have found that some mistakes have really big consequences.
You and I make mistakes every day [And yes, I recognize that I do not know you. It doesn’t matter].
Most of the mistakes I make have small, natural consequences that teach me I should do something different next time. But some mistakes cause pain, serious pain that is hard to recover from. And the worst mistakes cause pain to people that you really love.
That’s where foster care comes from. It comes from mistakes made by parents, and the consequences cause the children to experience pain. It’s always sad.
A few weeks ago, I ordered a book in the mail. One of my favorite organizations is called To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). A non-profit started by a guy named Jamie who liked to surf and spoke gentle words of encouragement, this organization seeks to bring education and awareness to serious topics such as depression, suicide and self-harm. These are topics that apply greatly to my field as a social worker, and I have been immensely impressed with the deftness and sincere fashion in which they are addressed.
People matter. Your story is important. We need other people.
Those are the phrases that ring true from TWLOHA, and I love it.
So, the guy who founded this organization wrote a book and I bought it. Because I knew that I would be able to understand the things that were inside of it and I hoped that it would encourage and inspire me.
The title of this book: If You Feel Too Much.
Interestingly enough, the title is very crucial to my story.
One of the key points that Jamie makes in his book is that our society doesn’t do a great job of talking with and being present with people who are experiencing sadness and pain.
I definitely agree with that.
As a social worker and a human being, I see it.
Most people don’t like talking about things that are sad or contemplating the pain of others. And I can see why. It brings us down. It’s not fun. Plus, will talking about it really change anything? Maybe not.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
Some of the most inspirational conversations I have with people are those in which they are honest about their pain. Because the truth is, all stories matter.
By talking about the foster children in our community, perhaps we are giving them worth. By listening to stories of pain and sadness without flinching or turning away, it says that you don’t have to be perfect to be heard.
I think of the parents who have made mistakes so significant that somebody else had to step in for the safety of their children. I think of their pain and guilt and unwillingness to forgive themselves.
I think of the children who are sad that they have to live with strangers, and might not understand why everything is different now. But I think of how they still love their mommy and daddy very much.
Are we able to hear these stories?
If we are, I believe there is strength in this.
There’s this phrase that gets tossed around in the “helping” professions (nursing, teaching, social work, etc): Compassion fatigue.
It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s not that you don’t care, it’s simply that you have cared so deeply for so long that now you are exhausted from all the caring that you have been doing and you don’t want to care anymore. Having compassion for other people (especially people that are really hard to like) is a lot of work. And you get tired.
This was the place I found myself in a few weeks ago. I have this job that I truly believe is a calling on my life, and if I didn’t believe that, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be doing it. Because it’s hard.
I’m not afraid of too many things, but one thing that genuinely scares me is the idea of complacency.
Some folks don’t like the idea of risk or surprise. I like both of those things. What I absolutely cannot handle is the idea of my life being stagnant. If my life becomes mediocre, there’s a problem.
So setting my alarm every day, waking up, driving to work and robotically going through the motions is not an option.
But that was where I was. I was fatigued, I had lost compassion, and I was exhausted.
So I prayed. I prayed for energy and enthusiasm and I asked to FEEL.
I actually said [in these exact words]: “Hey God, I want to feel. But not just a little. I want to feel a LOT. Actually, I want to feel too much.”
[See what I meant about the book title? It’s all coming together].
And I really meant it. I was unhappy with rote movements and complacent motions. I wanted a jolt. I wanted to experience new rushes of emotion and passion and inspiration in a way that might even lead somebody else to say, “Hey, look at her. She is feeling a little bit too much.”
Leave it to me, in keeping with my free-spirited and impulsive nature, not to consider the consequences of such a request.
Because here’s the truth: I believe in God. I believe that He hears me and sees me and cares about me, so if I’m going to ask Him for something, He might just give it to me.
But I didn’t consider what it would look like if He actually did.
I was ill-prepared for the experience. When the tasks that I faced on a daily basis suddenly became new. I saw them through new eyes, eyes that were stunned by the injustice and pain of the world that I live in. I remembered what it felt like to be stunned and infuriated and insufficient.
Fast-forward to my night on the floor, and that’s what it looked like. My prayer had been answered. I was desperately broken, feeling too much.
And I knew it was what I had asked for, but it felt like a greater burden than I could bear.
People will assume that I am brave, strong, and capable of dealing with really sad stories without breaking down. I guess that’s true. But what’s more true is that I sometimes have to break down. Because sometimes I feel. And I feel a lot. Maybe even too much.
But isn’t that better than feeling nothing at all? I don’t want to be so strong that I can hear about somebody else’s pain and sadness and it doesn’t blip on my radar. Unfazed, I could provide canned and clinical responses that provide direction without compassion. I don’t want to do that.
I’d rather feel too much than nothing at all.
And maybe feeling too much actually makes me a better social worker. There a lot of smart people in this world. And being smart is a good thing. But I don’t want to be analyzing and diagnosing and assessing all the time. Sometimes I need to sit and be real and acknowledge that life is hard and people can hurt other people and that’s sad.
Compassion first, answers later.
[If there are any].
And maybe someday I can reach a happy medium, and I’ll feel just a moderate amount. Maybe. But for now, I guess I’ll feel too much. I guess I’ll care too much and have nights where I lay on the floor and ask God what is going on.
“We are all a people in need.
We are not perfect. We are not machines.
We make mistakes.
We need grace. We need compassion.
We need help at times.
We need other people.
And that’s okay.”
― Jamie Tworkowski
If you or somebody you know is struggling with depression or self harm, please seek help and support. Some resources that TWLOHA and I can stand behind are here.
And if you’d like to purchase a copy of Jamie’s book [highly recommended by me] here’s a link to that, too.
…with much love…