Work life balance went up the Swannee.

Saturday 1477 – 7th April 2012

Last week I told you about the loss of my sense of smell in my post Olfactory Deprivation  

Little did I know then that this week I would be writing about stress at work and how it can make you ill but here I am doing just that.

Many of you will know that I’m a Social Worker  and work with Older People. Some of you will know that I am also one of the safeguarding leads which means I work with cases where there is suspected abuse or neglect either by family, friends or agencies and their workers.

Of course this type of work takes its toll but it’s not just that which causes the stress – Oh No, it’s the paperwork; the mountains and mountains of paperwork. The government led processes that take 3 times as long as they used to and become ever more complicated with many, many different steps to try to remember with constant changes.

That and the feeding of computers which I can tell you are voracious!  It is hard to keep up and the work just keeps coming and coming. Also because of cut-backs when staff have left or been moved to different departments they have not been replaced which naturally increases the pressure on everyone who’s left.

I’ve been feeling stressed for some time; unable to finish paperwork, thinking about work too much when I wasn’t there and feeling overwhelmed. On Monday morning I drove to work with a heavy heart; I felt like I literally had a weight on my chest .It takes me 40 minutes to drive to work and by the time I got there I was feeling pretty tearful and not at all well.  As soon as I got into work I started crying and couldn’t seem to stop… My body was telling me that enough was enough.

I’m lucky in that I have excellent work colleagues and a wonderful manager. None of this is her fault she fights valiantly to improve things for us all at a considerable cost to herself and is the best manager I’ve ever worked for. She sent me home with strict instructions to visit my GP and take at least 2 weeks off which I have done.

I’m not the first to buckle and I don’t suppose I’ll be the last but many of my peers in the Social Work field are under considerable stress too so why have I been unable to cope ?

The doctor I saw on Monday was excellent having been off with stress herself she understood exactly how I was feeling and told me this was not my fault but was because my work was made so difficult.

She recommended a book by a Dr Tim Cantopher called Stress Related Illness which I’ve now got and which is shaping up to be very good indeed and most helpful. It highlights the type of person who is most likely to have difficulty coping with work related stress. 

They are people who want to try to make things better for other people, who are prone to self-criticism, hard on themselves and fear failure.  Unfortunately I certainly fit into all those categories.

I haven’t got to the bit in the book about what I can do to stop this happening again after I have recovered !! but I wanted to share this with you not for sympathy but for the following reasons.

Firstly If you are feeling out of control of your work or overwhelmed with stress act NOW – don’t wait until you get ill. Buy the book or see your GP,  go for counselling or just work out why you are not managing your life and get support where you can.

The second reason is that Social Workers get a bad press and I wanted to redress the balance and tell you that the majority of us do great work and this caring about what happens to other people and trying to improve their lives often takes its toll on the individual.

Thirdly, when there is the next scandal with the death of a child or vulnerable adult (and there will be, as these things are unfortunately impossible to prevent at times) and you hear some jumped-up Government minister making a Social Worker the scapegoat and saying he will make sure this doesn’t happen again etc, etc , think about this post and remember that the Social Worker in question will probably be just like me, overwhelmed with work, hampered by ridiculous government led processes and feeling very undervalued. Remember too that whilst we used to spend 3/4 of our time out doing face-to-face work and 1/4 doing paperwork this figure is now reversed thanks to that same government and it’s policies and legislation. ( and I don’t just mean the present government but successive ones! )

By the way the photos of flowers throughout this post are of the bouquet of flowers my colleagues sent me. Wasn’t that nice of them  🙂  My photography has been keeping me sane and the production of my 2 blogs has helped take my mind off things while I recover.

Added 9th April My friend Eleanor, a Social Worker who has sensibly retired, sent me this photo in response to this post and I just HAD to add it in as it made me laugh.. ( the first picture isn’t accurate but the rest pretty much are!)




Just wanted to add a link to an excellent blog I follow called Sarvodaya as it just so happens I noticed today, when I was taking a break from writing this to catch up on some blogs, that he had also written about stress in his Bad Job Leads to Bad Health post

I thought it was time I threw in a poem too and what more appropriate one than this by Phillip Larkin about work!  


Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losers, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually _starves_.

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both.


 I don’t like to leave this weeks post without something a bit more lighthearted so I’m including a few photos I took when I was in town today –

Was he the gateman do you think??


Honestly put some people in front of a camera !!

But it was all in a good cause 🙂


That’s it for this week “Recovering nicely thankyou very much Saturday Girl” signing off


You can see lots of photos on my other blog Helen’s Photomania here


24 comments on “Work life balance went up the Swannee.

  1. […] I haven’t always got things right in the past,  when I have been ill, first with work-related stress and depression, then my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis ( which unbeknownst to me at the time contributed in a big […]

  2. […] As I worked I thought about a dear friend of mine who is also a Social Worker and has just gone off sick with work related stress ( the only sickness she’s had for 7 years) . She’s having a tough time and those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that I too have been off with the same thing. You can read my post about it here.   […]

  3. Rachael says:

    I am so sorry to hear that you have been suffering from a stress-related illness, Helen. I can empathise as I have been struggling since January to learn to cope with chronic pain and have become very stressed. Like you, I have found photography and my blog to be good therapy. In fact, that is why I started blogging, because it enabled me to continue to enjoy photography when I wasn’t able physically to take new photos. I hope things will get better for you soon. And, no, I have never thought being a social worker was an easy or “bad” job. You have my total respect.

    • Helen Cherry says:

      OH dear Rachael.. chronic pain is so very debilitating.. It’s a long story but I have an ankle problem and before extensive surgery 4 years ago the pain was so bad I nearly couldn’t bear to put my foot to the ground.. agony. Sending you positive thoughts and wishing you strength to manage your pain.

  4. […] been following my blog I’ve been off work with stress related illness ( I wrote about it here ) and on Tuesday morning I had visited my GP because I didn’t feel as though I was improving. […]

  5. Adrian Lewis says:

    Good stuff, Helen! You know I’m on board. Adrian

  6. I hope you’ve gotten the rest you need. Sounds stressful, but then again, you do very important work — helping others. 🙂

  7. Tilly Bud says:

    Sorry to hear you’re having a bad time. It is not surprising, given the nature of your work. I imagine a lot of people burnout in your job, because you are dealing with horrendous situations and ridiculous amounts of red tape.

    Laughter helps. I recommend buying the full collection of Only Fools & Horses dvds and watching them at every opportunity. It won’t hurt, at any rate.

  8. When a social worker acts on behalf of someone else and it goes wrong the media report it. What about all the times the actions prove to be a success? I hope you find the road to recovery Helen.

    At work we often find ourselves in claustrophobic costumes, all in the name of children’s literature. I feel for the chicken 😉

  9. scillagrace says:

    Less than a year left on a house you love sounds very good…congratulations!! Sounds like you know what you really want; it’s not an obligation, then, it’s a choice. Brava!

  10. scillagrace says:

    The flowers are a lovely reminder; “they toil not, neither do they spin” and the Larkin poem is a friend. It’s hard to spread peace and care over stressed out people in frightening junctures of life without it rubbing off…while doing system paperwork that is without compassion. How to be an internal combustion engine of loving calm, a sun in a darkening world? Find that light inside, nurture it and practice working with it, over and over. I know you have it; it shines in your pictures and makes them possible. You can’t create photography without light! Spend your time stoking it up, dear Helen. You’ll be shining brightly soon, I’m sure. Hugs and smiles across the miles. 🙂

  11. Stress, I understand….but…you are doing important work …AND surely your photography and poetry are saving graces.

  12. Caroline Warnes says:

    Sending you a big hug, and hoping you feel better soon. It must be so frustrating to want to do your job and make things better for people only to be bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy. And worrying that many other people probably feel the same as you do. Let’s hope for a revolution in Social Services that puts the needs of both Social service workers and the people they are caring for before form-filling, cost-saving etc.

  13. How interesting!
    Guess what I do for a living?
    There’s no place I’d rather less be than work right now – I can’t deal with my own life, let alone advise others on how to live theirs.

    I wish I could tell them to stuff the pension too … but in my case, it’s nothing to do with a toad squatting inside me. I would quite happily give it all up in an instant … it’s all about the mortgage 🙂

    I hope you’ll be on the mend soon!


    • Helen Cherry says:

      Ha Alice ! Then you know exactly how it feels.. and I agree the mortgage has to be paid!!

      • scillagrace says:

        “Has to” is relative…you can always sell the house and move in with a friend…I did! There are often many more options than we realize. Perhaps seeing that relieves some pressure?

      • Helen Cherry says:

        There are indeed options Scilla and I have excercised those too many times in the last 7 years! moving country once, house 4 times, jobs 4 times!! Selling a house and moving in with a “friend”, moving out! moving county, renting ( extortionate prices over here) and then buying the 1st house that I have solely owned ( along with mortgage company) and which I love. I’ve worked hard to pay off the mortgage ( less than a year left now) which will give me the freedom to work less hours I hope and frankly have more pleasure!

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