editorial with guest editorial by jack phelan

On taking the day off

Do you ever have one of those days when you just can’t seem to find your energy? You can feel it there, lingering just below the surface, resting, waiting for the right moment to come up and launch you in to the world. But it doesn’t come up. You pass through the world, like a spoon through thick molasses, feeling like you are dragging a heavy weight whenever you try to move. The simplest of things, like taking out the garbage, or making lunch, seems like too much effort. Its easier to just sit there.

If you’re lucky, this kind of sluggishness only hits you on a rainy non-work day, so you can linger a little longer in bed, slouch around the house with uncombed hair and slippers on your feet. You can, in a sense, do nothing. Just hang around, passing the time, waiting for the energy to change.

Now I know all those theories, like get up and go for a walk, visit a friend, do something you like, take an energy drink, work out ... but, really, why bother. Why not just enjoy the slow-down, listen to your body as it says to you, “hey, take the day off, will you”. Put your feet up, read a book, sit by a fire, watch a movie. Be lazy. Let your body rebuild its energy supply.

Now, I am not, of course, talking about depression here, so don’t go getting worried. I am talking about those days when it’s just time to slow down. Maybe you have been working too hard, maybe you have been having too much on your mind, maybe ... well, you get the picture.

When we were kids, we would sometimes have days like that. Days when we weren’t sick, weren’t depressed, weren’t malingering. Days when we just lacked the energy necessary to get up and do all the things required of us. And on those days our mother, bless her soul, would let us stay home and do nothing, even if it was a school day. She wouldn’t make us pretend we were sick, she wouldn’t punish us, and she wouldn’t try to make us “get up and go”. Nope, she would just say, “You look like you could use a day off. Why don’t you stay home today and do nothing.” And when she felt that way herself, she would just say to us, “I’m taking the day off. You–ll have to make your own lunch.” Well, what the heck, fair was fair, right.

Now, young people in care sometimes feel this way. And what do you do when they do? Can a youth living in a group home, for example, just take a day off? Have a “mental health day”? Just be with herself, and you, doing nothing?

I can see the pockets of panic arising around me as I say this. “If we let them do this they will want to do it all the time.” “If we let one do this, they will all want to do it.” And all I can say is this, “Maybe. Maybe not.” You could do it everyday, but you don’t. They could do it without your permission, but they don–t.

Sometimes caring does not have to be demanding. Let’s hear it for the occasional day off!


P.S. With this month's feature on Henry Maier’s talk at the recent Conference, he is also “taking the day off” this month. His regular column will resume next month.


Mapping our journey

I have been at the annual general meeting of the Youth Emergency Shelter Society tonight. This agency is twenty-one years old and is providing services, with very little government support, to adolescents who would otherwise be living on the street in Edmonton.

I have done some work for this agency at the request of the program director and executive director, both of whom have a powerful vision of service to youth that requires some drastic cultural shifts in what was a fairly typical shelter program.
The models they are implementing have been built on valuing youth and the staff that work in the agency.

The agency as recently as three years ago had become brittle and resistant to new ideas, and staff were tired and somewhat cynical. The vision of these two leaders is about a flexible, dynamic agency with staff that can work across several program components, able to create innovative approaches for youth that have been traditionally hard to reach.

I won’t describe the details of the programs, since I hope that they will do this in an article written for a future CYC-ONLINE.
My awareness tonight is that there are many people in our field who are articulate and visionary and can inspire others to follow a vision for improved services, but they remain hidden from view. I hope to put my energy into helping them and some of the other leaders and thinkers in this agency to put their work into print so that we can stand on their shoulders.

We have mature practitioners throughout our agencies who need to nourish us and be fed by each other’s good work and ideas. I want to spend my energy helping them to find a voice so that the rest of us can listen to the lessons.

My belief is that the story of the journey, written as if traveling with a rough map, will shape the landscape of our known. The articulation of the program’s experience of successes and failures and the decisions, judgments, value conflicts, politics and human connection points will inform our collective wisdom much more powerfully than another attempt to link textbook theory to living situations.

There is a courage required to write like this. We all have a fear of being judged by our written words and found lacking. Perhaps the most valuable service that academics and writers can provide is to create safety and shield the innovative, amazing Child and Youth Care practitioners out there from feeling that they will somehow fall short if they speak their story.

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