Sometimes leaving your dream job is your best chance for recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) triggered by vicarious trauma (VT). Leaving the job that continues to trigger your symptoms can create a healthy opening for finding your way back to your sense of meaning, purpose, and an even truer self, a better version of the identity that was shattered.
Leaving that job does not mean you are a failure. I know this to be true because I lived through the harrowing experience of my brain being hijacked by PTSD and coming out the other side whole again.
An article I wrote The Turbulence of Vicarious Trauma Propels Success about my experience with PTSD triggered by the trauma of others was recently published in Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing. If you are a clinician or know someone who is at risk for vicarious trauma, I invite you to read my article in the journal.
The Turbulence of Vicarious Trauma Propels Success: The Overview (get the journal for the entire article)
In 2011, I was working at my dream job in a Level II Trauma Center as an on-call social worker. I experienced PTSD as a result of witnessing a family’s particularly tragic death of their child on a parental holiday. Some professionals call this Vicarious Trauma (VT) or Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), but my doctor called it PTSD. My brain didn’t know the difference; it reacted as if it were my child that died. I took a five-week break, then went back to work. Although the intensity had decreased enough to return to work, I was still suffering from symptoms. I feared someone would decide I couldn’t do my job anymore. I wrestled with big questions: Who was I to suffer so much when it wasn’t my child that died? Why am I so weak when everyone around me is dealing with so much tragedy and they appear normal?
Two years later, I quit that dream job amidst confusing feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and beliefs that I was a failure for having experienced PTSD; I still felt like an imposter posing as a social worker. My social worker identity was still deeply wounded even though I’d successfully navigated the halls of the hospital for two years after the incident.
I was not happy at my job anymore. I didn’t feel “safe” in an environment that didn’t support social workers experiencing vicarious trauma. So when a new opportunity arose at a local hospice, I quit my dream job. During that time, I was plagued with more questions: Was I fleeing as a result of PTSD? And, if so, what did that say about me?
It took years of tears, and a lot of writing, talking, and “doing” to work through my questions and regain my confidence as a social worker. My successful private practice was an integral part of the process.
Publication = Validation
In December 2017, when my mom was dying of breast cancer, I wrote an article about my PTSD experience and submitted it to the editor of Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing. My article titled The Turbulence of Vicarious Trauma Propels Success was not only accepted but was set as the featured article in Vol. VII, No. 1 Focus on Work.
What a happy shock that was! I was only in my first year of creative writing publically over on my Healing through Writing and Creativity blog. I was writing to heal various wounds, not just from my hospital experience.
Four years after submission, the journal was published in April 2022. The truth of what happened is now “public.” It’s out in the world in a permanent space where critics and judgment abound. I invite you to read it.
This edition of the journal is offered as an e-Book only, so it’s reasonably priced at $4.95.
There are 26 articles (some are poetry) containing stories of challenges and recovery related to work life. Many of the articles are written by published authors and poets who are doctors, therapists, and other clinicians.
I am honored to be among them as an unpublished (#futureauthor) writer! UPDATE Feb 2023: Published Author of The 14 Concrete (but not so hard!) Steps to Private Practice: Plus, Six More Steps to Consider – A Guide for Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Marriage Family Therapists.
In Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing, I guarantee you will find inspirational and courageous stories of recovery.
The Timing of Things – Closing My Private Practice
It is both ironic and serendipitous that the article I wrote about finding a better version of my social worker identity through starting my private psychotherapy practice was published during this time when I was closing that private practice for an undetermined period of time. Private practice has been the Best. Job. Ever., however, life has brought new turbulence (unrelated to but tagging onto the effects of the pandemic) coinciding with a strong desire to explore other meaningful avenues in life.
I no longer have the office described in the article (thank you pandemic for that most unwelcome turbulence!), though the furniture, art, and spirit of the office reside throughout my home.
I hope to someday get back to the goal of making another career dream come true: a book-length memoir about being a social worker whose career has continually been propelled by death, loss, codependency, and other difficult realities of life.
For those here for my coaching, consulting, and mentoring help, I will continue consulting with clinicians starting or struggling with aspects of private practice. The foundation of our work together comes from The 14 Concrete (but not so hard!) Steps to Private Practice: Plus, Six More Steps to Consider – A Guide for Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Marriage Family Therapists.
Feel free to contact me with your questions.
Photo credit: Journal eBook cover edited by Lisa Redfern at Redfern.biz