A little over a year ago I left social work
for the last time. For once my manager was correct when she told
all who were interested that my reason for leaving was a “mid-life

We can
either cross the threshold into the unknown and unfamiliar with all
the risks and possibilities that this entails or we can hold on to
security and the hope of a long stable life. We know the pain that
may be involved. But we also know the deep cost to our souls if we
never find fully who we are and what our potential might

I had
come to this threshold before in the early 90’s when my health
collapsed and I had to leave social work for the first time. I
explored other avenues but somehow returned to what I knew best,
the murk, the pain of human emotions at their most tortured. My
excuse was financial security. Yet this time round I had to face
the reality that social work is one of the most poorly paid
professions and if the attraction was money I would earn more
working in most other jobs.

other excuse was that I was doing something useful for society. Yet
day in day out I witnessed and colluded with decisions made by
higher management based entirely on politics and budgets with
minimal concern for the impact on children and families.

day I found myself sobbing with my closest friend sitting beside me
while I tried to explain to her how I could not leave because of
the guilt and responsibility I felt to take care of “the children”.
I meant all children everywhere. My friend gently told me that I
could not take care of them all. I thought she was cruel and

However, my trust in my friend
was such that I realised this time that something was amiss. With
the help of my therapist I started working on the premise that
maybe I would have to first leave social work and then make sense
of it all later. Last year, I finally had a peaceful Christmas. My
mind and heart were no longer full of images of children and adults
whose Christmas would be unhappier than mine. I had not forgotten
about them, but I was no longer there with them.

work was a strange paradox for me. I could live with the illusion
that I was okay and the madness and chaos were outside, yet at the
same time I could remain in the familiar realms of emotional pain
and terror that I had experienced as a child. I was good at social
work because I knew people’s pain. What I couldn’t do was leave it
for fear that there was nothing else I could fit into.

But I
have found new and wonderful things. I’m doing a watercolour class
and am planning to start a photography course in the spring. I am
self-employed, running a business with my partner and teaching and
practising psychological astrology part-time. My fears and
anxieties are slowly being replaced with excitement, fun and hope;
things I had left behind a long time ago.

Margaret Gray is a former social


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