A new category

It is only in the last few years, as a direct result of backpacking, that I’ve been able to go to sleep without reading.  I can’t recall learning to read, just I can’t recall being able to sleep without reading at least a few pages.  It’s a blessing and a curse that my mind does not like to rest.

Sometimes I wish that it would, at least a bit easier.  My job as a social worker is one of interminable and perpetual loose ends; on even the most staid and boring days at the office there is an endless series of deeds to consider and reconsider.  I deal with fragile human lives during some of their most formative months, and staying sane for the long haul requires balancing a humble appraisal of my own capacity to effect change with a careful weighing of the enormous influence I can have in crucial moments.  A while ago a client with whom I’d been working for a very modest amount of time committed a series of probation violations and was sent to juvenile detention, and in due time the justice system ground on as it does inexorably, never responding to the transitory needs of human drama, and my client had her/his day in court.  A later conversation with a probation officer revealed that the 2/3 page letter I had written on request, discussing my knowledge of the situation of exceedingly circumspect recommendation for placement was the material of the trial.  The court was prepared to lean on me, the sole mental health professional involved, and take my modest recommendation whole-heartedly.  I have no regrets regarding that particular instance, but I’ve thought about it on many occasions since.

I’ve also been thinking, for quite some time, of what it would take to be able to write about my work here.  It seems almost disingenuous, writing a blurb about gear after a long day when so many other things are running through my head.  It’s not as simple as doing full justice to the tortured confines of inter and intrasubjective relations in crisis, there are weighty issues of confidentiality involved.  The Flathead Valley is not a big place, and the world of the web so very small in so many ways.  An anonymous blog, as so many health professions write, was one way to go, but I like the diversity of all my thoughts under one roof, and the integrity of having to public own all their many warts.  So I’m going to try and see if discretion on my burden as a professional can be melded with my self-standards as a writer, and most of all with the necessity of doing justice to the lives and spirit of the people with whom I’ve worked over the year.

Like the anecdote above, they’ll have to be general, removed somewhat in time and space, and lacking in common identifiers like gender, and with others like age obfuscated when possible or necessary.  Social justice work is not only one of the major parts of my life, it’s an important part of modern life which almost always goes unnoticed in the shadows.

Apgar Range, Glacier.

One of my professors in grad school, Janet Finn, prefers to call the profession of Jane Addams and Frances Perkins social justice work, correctly in my view imbued it inextricably with cultural, economic, and political over and undertones.  For me today, as a case manager for emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children and adolescents, this most directly means that what can be very generally termed mental illness has a strong cultural and hereditary component.  I don’t believe we’ll ever be able to isolate diagnoses to a mere gene, yet it’s clear that two hypothetical children with vaguely comparable predispositions to anxiety and depression will express those capacities in vastly different ways, and that taken as an exceeding broad and general whole, problematic social, familial, environmental, and parent influences become more prevalent as one goes further down the socioeconomic ladder.

What this often means in the daily practice of my job is designing and implementing treatment based around and dealing with hereditary mental illness and problematic behavior.  Not hereditary in the genetic sense (necessarily), but hereditary in the nurture sense.  A parent whose child is having similar behavior problems to those which they themselves had 25 years earlier (young parents is a topic for another day), because even though they escaped and ran from their own troubled childhoods, and learned to become capable adults against tremendous odds, never learned anything other than the most troubling parenting skills.

So to serve this end, I have the second new category (of posts) in three weeks.  Expect more social justice work in the near future, as I sort out how this might work.

9 responses to “A new category”

  1. According to this latest post, I also go to sleep by reading. In less than ten minutes of reading my eyes have closed and the book has fallen to the floor.

  2. I don’t have too much to add. Except to say that I like the expanded subject matter. I’m interested in you writing on social work further.

  3. I’ve often wanted to share or discuss more of my work at an international school on my blog but have so far resisted. Not just the frustrating, saddening moments but the good as well. The days that the kids made me laugh out loud and fill my heart with joy. That happens with frightening regularity to the point where I wonder how I ever did anything else for a living before stumbling into this profession. The only time I felt comfortable with sharing work-based observations, in the self-imposed narrow focus of my ‘outdoor’ blog, was during times when we would take the kids out on ‘outdoor’ related trips. Obviously there are confidentiality issues for people who write such material to seriously consider but what I do for eight hours a day does have an impact on who I am the rest of the time so maybe there is a validity in it’s inclusion. My mind and sense of duty doesn’t stop when the bell rings at three o’clock. As for reading about your work on here? Wether its to add a degree of context, educate or as a cathartic act, your vocation dovetails into what I see and do everyday. For me, at least, it’s a relevant category.

  4. As a father of a 13-year old autistic boy, I thank you for your service to your community! In my book, people like you are saints.

  5. What Joe said. And looking forward to hearing a little more.

  6. As a mother who has had children in the juvenile system – I commend you and hope that you do a fantastic job with these kids.. some of them have nothing but you.

    I’ll be stopping by your blog a little more often from now on.

  7. I’ve been waiting for this to come into your blog. Philosophy + Social Justice + Backpacking trips/gear all in one place; this really is my favorite blog

  8. Is there any room or opportunity for a marriage of your profession and your passion for the outdoors? I am aware that Outward Bound, for one, runs a program for youth much like the ones with whom you work.

    1. Thanks everyone. I’ll do what I can to deliver interest.

      Jed, I’ve been there and done that. I’ve worked wilderness therapy, as well as just plain outdoor guiding (climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering). I like the diversity in my life, and having work and play be separate. That and I’m convinced that my current job is on the front lines of preventative intervention, whereas a residential placement (most wilderness programs) is almost always reactive.

      The trick at the moment is that I can’t do my job well, ie maintain the relationships with clients over time, without working full time. I’d love to have more time to adventure, but even were financial considerations irrelevant that wouldn’t be the simplest thing to just up and do.

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