I’m 24 years old, working as a Case Manager at a homeless shelter in Massachusetts. One question I get asked over and over again is how did I end up doing one of the most exhausting yet rewarding professions.
Did I go to school for social work? Nope. Did I personally overcome addiction or homelessness? Not I. Are you a saint? That’s a negative.
Growing up, my stepmother was the director of a small family shelter in western Massachusetts. I grew up helping cook meals for the women and children that lived there.
When my mom needed to go in on a Saturday to handle a situation with a client, she brought me to tag along and play with the kids there. In my eyes, my mom was the saint!
I grew up and started going on service trips with my church youth group to Washington DC. We volunteered at homeless shelters, food pantries, and soup kitchens.
I learned how to treat one of the most vulnerable populations with dignity, respect, and love. I went for years, and had a wonderful experience.
I went to college, clueless as ever about what I was going to do with my life.
It didn’t even cross my mind that I could pursue a passion that was engrained in me at 10 years old.
I became the philanthropy chair of my sorority and planned events to raise money for different non-profit organizations.
Still, I was focused on pursuing a future in biology, psychology, and higher education. I was lost, but decided to focus on higher education.
I went to Arkansas after getting accepted to a higher education masters program, and interviewed for several graduate assistantship jobs that would keep me afloat. I didn’t get any of them. I decided to take a year and evaluate exactly what I wanted to do next.
I interviewed for a few bachelor’s level higher education jobs, but still didn’t get them. As the summer drew to an end, I was running out of options. I started applying for any and all jobs.
I came across a job at a small non-profit homeless shelter, applied, and scored an interview. I still wasn’t convinced that this was what I wanted, but quite frankly, I needed a job. I walked into the shelter, and my now work best friend invited me to sit down and the supervisor would be out soon for our interview.
I stood, while the case managers ran back and forth, the phone rang non-stop, and the residents repeatedly tried to engage with me and figure out who I was and what I was there for.
I walked into my future supervisor’s office, and instantly I knew that I wanted to work for her.
Halfway through the interview, I asked if we could stop for a minute. My work experience was hardly applicable, but my experiences at my mom’s family shelter and my years of volunteer work did qualify me for the work.
As I left the interview, my future supervisor told me that she wished she had a case management job for me to interview for.
I had a job offer within a few days, and my journey began.
I started as entry level direct care, and worked another part-time job at a local hospital’s adult impatient psychiatric unit.
As I helped others work through their trauma, mental illness, substance use, and homelessness, my mental illnesses manifested. I found myself taking things home, having flashbacks of past trauma, crying constantly, and contemplated self-harm.
The biggest question arose: how could I take care of others if I couldn’t take care of myself?
The unlikely answer was very well. But in doing so, it took a toll on my friendships and relationships. And I couldn’t do it forever.
I gave 110% to my clients and left myself on empty. I was promoted to case manager, and got some of the most difficult clients I had ever worked with.
I called a local therapy office, and did an intake. Making that first appointment was like taking a breath of fresh air. I felt, for the first time in a year that everything would be alright.
And it was.
I started working through my past, present, and future.
I learned how to apply the self-care techniques that I taught my clients every day.
I learned to love myself like I love others.
I learned that I need medication to function like many do without.
I learned to be happy.
Welcome to my journey of happy: becoming happy, embracing what and who makes me happy, and reclaiming happiness when life throws a wrench in the way.