The 16th of February 1995 was an ordinary sort of Thursday, when for the second time in just a few short months, my life started to change completely and immeasurably.
My life changed for the first time when I was the victim of an unprovoked attack that left me permanently unable to walk, in pain, confused and trapped in my house. In just a few seconds, my life was turned upside down and I was in a really dark place emotionally. This second transformation, the one I want to talk about today, was very different and took longer.
Picture that ordinary Thursday. An ordinary-looking woman cross the ordinary street in Birmingham. She is looking for an address. She finds it and knocks on the door.
Inside, my girlfriend at the time – now wife – said: “I’ll just answer the door”. I shouted back: “If it’s a goody two-shoes professional like a social worker, then don’t you dare let them in.”
I was right. The ordinary-looking woman was a social worker. After a few moments, she put a card through the door and went away. I thought “thank god, that’s her gone”.
But the next day, the social worker came back. She knocked the door a little harder. I told my wife, “don’t you let that woman in my house”. The next day she didn’t come, or the day after that. I thought, “there it didn’t take much to see her off”. But what I hadn’t realised, because time was an angry, despairing blur then, was that those two days were Saturday and Sunday. So Monday morning, there she was, back again. Knocking on the door.
“Mr Farquharson? Clenton? Can I just have a chat with you?”
This routine went on for several weeks. Until one ordinary morning, this ordinary-looking woman achieved a breakthrough. When she called through the door, I used some fruitful words like “fuck off”. Yes I had replied to her. From one side of the letterbox to the other, but we had enjoyed our first conversation. This became the new routine. I don’t know what she thought, but I sort of enjoyed it. Until I realised that my wife had been unspeakably rude to this poor social worker for several months, and as man of the house, it was down to me to put things right.
“Joanne, you can’t leave her standing there. Answer the door.”
If you think that getting into the house is the end of the story then you are wrong, because in fact, that was the easy bit. Talking with me and getting me to reframe my view of the world and my situation over several months – now that was difficult.
But this social worker, she did it. It took those incredible reserves of resilience, perseverance, empathy, commitment, and skill that are the hallmark of all good social workers. She did the normal social work stuff – arranging support, making suggestions – but more importantly, she saw me as a person. She was prepared to think flexibly, listen to me and what I wanted, and think of different ways to help me move out of that dark place.
Next time my social worker knocks on the door, my answer will be:
“Come in, I want to thank you for saving my life.”
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