Social work

That’s what I do – social work. This was a fairly typical week, and illustrates the fact that helping people take part in creative activities is, without doubt, social work.

Monday was at the hospital, catching up on the day I missed when I had flu. I met some lovely people, including a lady who spoke eloquently about her time living on an island in the mid-Pacific. It was a long session, and ended with a poem that brought tears to her eyes: “So many memories,” she said, just like the lady the week before. The day was made a bit different by a lunchtime session training art students who will also be working in hospitals – well, helping with their training, rather, by talking about some of my experiences, and making them do a bit of role play (which of course they hated, despite being good at). That sentence was too long – I would have criticised it if any of my students had written it.  Anyway – I tried to convey that the important things are to understand the mixture of feelings that hospital patients have, and to accept that if people don’t want to take part, it’s not a rejection of you.

As it happened, my hospital work that morning had shown both of these points – the first four people I spoke to said no. Finally, I decided that the next one was not going to get away; she seemed a bit reluctant, but I thought I knew why, and in the end she said it – “I would feel embarrassed.” I pointed out that no-one would overhear where we were sitting, asked her a few questions, and she was off; and by the time we had finished she was really pleased she had agreed. I read last weekend that in plane crashes, a lot of people survive the initial impact but then die, still strapped into their seats, because they are waiting to be told what to do. They don’t want to be the first person to do something. Can it really be that people are more frightened of embarrassment than death?

Tuesday and Wednesday were at the prison. Tuesday was a day of problems, which I would love to describe because they were really very funny – but I mustn’t, just in case any of the prison staff is reading. But one of my groups did an excellent job of selecting pieces to go in their new book. The guys were analytical, objective, constructive and balanced; they used creative methods to reach a consensus; they wrote the blurb themselves. In short, they did things they would not have been able to do two months ago. How pleasing was that? It made up for all the stupidity of the rest of the day.

Wednesday was a day for solutions – all the problems sorted. The newsletter can after all be distributed; we have a space for a visiting drama workshop; I completed every job on my list for the day. This is extremely rare, and as soon as I reached that point I went home, before anything could happen to upset things.

Thursday was oldies in the morning; ok, nothing special. Much like most days of social work, I guess.

For the rest of the day I wrote stuff up. This is why  I never watch TV or have any fun at all. All the work I do has to be recorded; good copies printed of poems written for or with people, and sent out; hours logged; diaries written and so on and so on. Actually, I felt a bit sad on Thursday. I have been working so hard that I think I have forgotten how to have fun.

Back at the hospital on Friday! No bitter people, just positive ones, who really enjoyed spending time working on poems. I have to ask them to sign a form saying that it’s ok for the work to be seen, etc., and it also says something I like “I understand that this will not affect any treatment I receive.” One lady said that she thought it would affect her treatment, because it had made the time waiting just fly by. Which was nice.

Yesterday was fun. Not only was my daughter home, with a friend, but also my son with his girlfriend; today I have to go to a production meeting about OTWAP (it’s less than a week away!), and then it’s rehearsal, and my friend Paula will be staying overnight. House full! It’s lovely having the kids around; now, they really do know how to have fun. I could do with them providing some social work for me – a bit of therapeutic fun is called for, I think.

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