Mary-Margaret Sweeney

Mary-Margaret Sweeney

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Self Care For Social Workers And All

One of the first pieces of jargon I learned in the social work world was “self care.”

“If you can’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of your clients?” Indeed. Absolutely. I’m with you. The insistence on it, however, leads me to believe that it’s often forgotten in practice. That maybe professors of social work are hoping the next generation does better with this.

I have to be on campus three days a week. Given that this is only the second week of class and we also had Labor Day in there, I’m not too busy yet. I slept in until 9am, then laced up my sneakers and leashed up the dog. A Chicagoan for nearly a decade, I know that the likes of this mild sunny September morning will soon be gone to winter’s harsh wind. I poked my head in my room mate’s bedroom and asked him to walk to the bird sanctuary with us. We talked as my dog sniffed and munched on grass, and listened to birds tweet and skip among the wildflowers.

When we got home, I got to work in the kitchen. For about an hour, I sang along to Annie Lennox and prepared a healthy soup to eat off of the next few days. I felt happy. I thought about the packaged processed frozen food I used to eat when I was single, how I let P take over the cooking when we met, and how I eventually taught myself. I thought about how my mother never really taught me, or seemed to get joy out of it the way my family does now. As I tasted at various stages of progress, I tried to imagine what P would like or dislike about it. I thought about what friends I might invite over who would love this soup. I thought about the farmer’s market trip to procure the kale I was ripping, and I thought that it would be so nice to share a meal I made with my mother. I thought about how shocked she would be.

I was, simply, enjoying myself. Sure, preparing food for my family is productive. Walking the dog is necessary. But today, I decided to do them with grace. With joy.

It occurred to me that teaching self care to social workers isn’t enough–that maybe if we taught everyone self care, we wouldn’t need as many social workers. How healing it is for me to spend a Sunday afternoon, as I did last weekend, canning 12 pints of marinara sauce with friends? It does more for my mental health than scrutinizing labels of jarred sauce at the store and finally deciding on the one with the least sugar and preservatives. I have had many mornings before, and will have more ahead, where all I have time to do is run my dog out long enough for him to do the necessary business, and then drag him back upstairs so I can leave. When we can enjoy the day, we should.

City life has made me live in fast forward. The rhythm of the city sort of determines it. And I have to fight against the impulse to wake up early and run on the eliptical in the dark workout room of our building, staring at a blank wall. To then run upstairs, grab a quick shower, run the dog outside, run him back, run to my to-do list. Instead, I walked a few miles, staring at whatever beauty caught my eye. I let my dog lead. We meandered home and I made soup and sang loudly. And I feel whole. How many of us don’t feel whole? It seems that whenever someone shares that they enjoyed some leisure time it’s met with “Must be nice!” or some other comment that basically means: That doesn’t count. If you’re not working hard, you’re being lazy. But I refuse to feel guilt about enjoying life. I refuse to be made to feel less than when, actually, I am whole.

Written by Mary-Margaret Sweeney
SJS Contributor

This post was originally published @ and has been syndicated with permission of the author. 

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