I have built many walls in my life and they have all been out of necessity. I believe that when you work in social services, you have to build walls in order to do your job effectively. If not, we'd be consumed by the emotional work that we do on a daily basis. My walls allow me to be empathetic versus sympathetic. They help me control my compassion so that it doesn't cloud my judgement. Without the walls that I've built, I wouldn't be able to make decisions based on my clients' best interests.
When I first became a social worker, I used to take my work home with me. I'd dream about the children and families I worked with, I'd worry about them and I would give too much of myself. I didn't even know what this meant but later I learned that if you give too much of yourself, you lose yourself.
I worked as a case manager for kids with mental health disorders for a while. One of my clients was a 15 year old girl. She was removed from her home and living in a foster home. When I first met her, she was smoking on the patio. I remember wondering why in the world a foster parent would allow a teenager to smoke. This was a completely new experience to me. After I asked her to put out her cigarette, we began building a pretty strong relationship.
I followed her to two more foster homes and a group home. She ran away from one of the homes and was hit by a car so I followed her to the hospital. She had no clothes with her at the hospital so I raided my sister's closet. I drove this girl to a therapeutic foster home where I was promised she'd be given the support that she needed. She arrived in bandages and holding the few bags of clothes I had just taken from my sister.
On her 16th birthday, I picked her up from a group home and took her out to dinner. Where the hell was her family? They didn't care. This beautiful girl's father had raped her for years. She finally spoke up in order to protect her younger sister, he went to prison and she became the family scapegoat. My first time in court was standing next to her. I was there to advocate for her. When her father began talking on speaker phone from prison, neither one of us expected it and we were both shocked. She started crying and so did I. I couldn't even talk to the judge or the attorneys. I couldn't speak for her that day because I let my walls down. I fell in love with this girl and I became too emotionally attached.
I don't regret any of it. She needed whatever I gave her during those few months. She began finding herself and became stronger. Right before I left that job, she told me that she was going to request emancipation from her family. She realized that they are not good for her and she needed to move on with her life. How amazing that a 16 year old learned this lesson on her own. She was so full of potential - I admired her independence.
This experience taught me to know when to put my walls up and when to let them down. These walls have affected me personally. I'm not sure if this is good or bad. I guess, it is just the way it is.
Note: This post did not transpire the way I originally planned but I really felt the need to remember this girl and commemorate her for being so strong and beautiful. She will always be a part of me. Thank God for resilient children.