In the population of students I support, crises are a common occurrence, both in school and when they are away from school. I have come to realize that the crises that are easiest for me mentally are intense and in the moment. The crises that are the most challenging for me occur outside of school.
Thinking back on various crises that have occurred at school, I realize that I am calmest when they are happening. I pull out my lifeguarding skills and focus entirely on the situation. I do not know who else is in the room if they are not involved. I do not know what else is going on outside of the situation. My eyes are on my student in crisis. In those intense situations, I do not need words and I do not need to think about the long-term impact. I need to think about how to keep this student and the people around him safe. I act on instinct. I get a mat under the student’s head before he bangs it on the floor. I stand in front of other students and give directions to get them into a different room. I block the student’s arm as he attempts to strike at another person. I rely on God to give me the responses I need to stay in control and keep everyone safe. After these crises, I may need time to decompress. I debrief with others and think about long-term interventions to prevent future crises. But, if the situation was handled well and we had the support we needed, I am able to thank God for his help and move on. These situations are less mentally taxing than other crises because I had control. I had the supports I needed and, with my team, de-escalated a dangerous situation. In other crises, I do not have that control.
The crises I struggle the most with happen outside of school. I have gotten better at letting go of situations I cannot control and offering them up to God. However, that does not mean I am not emotionally impacted. Being a social worker, I am often involved in heartbreaking situations, such as when a student loses a parent, a family is evicted or a family is overwhelmed struggling to provide enough support for their child. I have a thin empathy barrier, so constant exposure to these situations can be exhausting. I am able to process these situations better now that I have a stronger relationship with God, yet, the emotions catch up to me eventually. Letting go of control over a situation does not mean letting go of compassion. I have been working on finding the balance of feeling the empathy but not letting it consume me.
I see the pain as a reminder to offer it up to God. I tell myself that I may not see a change in the situation, but I am doing everything I can. I have cast a ripple and may never know how far that ripple spreads. I look at what I can control. Above all, what I can continue to do is love. One of my favorite responses is to feel that empathy and then place the child or family in Mary’s arms. I picture that she is embracing them with inexhaustible love and I know she will take care of them even if I cannot. For “[t]here is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
(Editor’s note: Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)