By Elizabeth Rylan*
Next week, I am due to start a new social work job after a 15-month break. To say I have mixed emotions about re-entering the profession would be an understatement. I’m realistic that the range and intensity of emotions will increase as my start date approaches. I’m braced for a few sleepless nights.
After a long rest, I feel it would be unwise to jump straight back in at the deep end, so I have found a part-time role in a small and hopefully supportive team. My aim is to rebuild my knowledge, skills and, above all, my confidence, before I consider moving back into frontline practice – a chaotic environment which I had previously thrived in.
I’m aware that a lot will have changed since I last practised. So, in preparation I have been spending time looking up amendments to legislation and guidance, as well as researching services in the area where I will be working. I’m expecting to have a tired brain for the first few weeks at least.
But I must admit that I’m looking forward to getting some mental stimulation once again and rediscovering a side of myself which has lain dormant for so long.
‘A hard but necessary decision’
When I walked out of my previous office for the last time, I left behind not just a job I cared deeply about, but also supportive and effective managers and colleagues that I both liked and respected.
This can seem like an elusive combination of positive factors, and I also had the seemingly rare privilege of an allocated desk – access to a (mostly) functioning kitchen too.
The decision to leave social work was one of the hardest I’ve ever made, but it was a necessary one. It was driven by personal factors as there were events unfolding – or more accurately unravelling – in my own life which had to take precedence.
I have always been a reserved person, and I have often taken the easy option of keeping myself apart from people in order to avoid too many questions about my private life. However, evading speaking about personal matters does not mean that they don’t exist.
The black cloud of depression has long hovered around me, and as it became enveloping and all-consuming, it felt as though I was drowning in hopelessness. Driven by concern about maintaining high professional standards, I eventually overcame my fear of confiding in others.
Upon doing this, I was met by warmth, compassion and more support from my employer than I had thought possible. It was a little beam of light in what was otherwise a very dark, bleak and oppressive time, and I will be always be incredibly thankful to all those who carried me through that trying experience.
Practitioners know how important ‘endings’ are when working with clients, and I feel that the support I was given at the end of my last job has enabled me to move forward and start again.
I realise that I was incredibly fortunate to have been able to make the decision to leave in my own time and on my own terms, before I lost love for the profession. With hindsight, I can see that walking away took more courage than I gave myself credit for. But, re-entering the workplace will take an equal amount of bravery.
My own experience has served as a stark reminder of this cruel reality, but also as a reminder of my good fortune in having a support network around me.
At times I am still fragile, but I’m fighting and I would not be embarking on this new venture unless I, and those around me, truly believed that I was ready to practice again.
Getting back in the ring
I’m hoping that I will be able to use my experiences to strengthen my professional resolve as I have a renewed and clearer sense of motivation, purpose and focus. I like to think that perhaps even black clouds can have a silver lining.
I’ve been knocked down, but I have found my feet and I am actively choosing to get back in the ring. Only time will tell how this next chapter unfolds…
This year’s Community Care Live 2019 boasts over 30 free learning sessions to equip you to face the key challenges in social work practice today. You can also sign up to any of our eight legal learning sessions to help ensure you have the legal literacy your role requires. Register now to ensure you don’t miss out.