Mirjam (30) vomited every day before and after work. Then she realized something was wrong

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Hanna Skotheim

[email protected]

I wish someone would tell me how important it is to put on your own oxygen mask before helping everyone else.

30-year-old Mirjam Gregersen sits in a meeting room in Fontene’s premises. She would like to meet here, have a reason to get out of the apartment. She thinks it is not good for her to sit inside.

In 2015, Mirjam took a bachelor’s degree in social work. She was going to become a social worker and work with addiction and psychiatry, that was her big dream. For a long time she did not know if she was able to work with people again.

– When you work with people, you have to take care of yourself. What I have been through is the ultimate consequence of not having managed it.

Hanna Skotheim

Own and other people’s feelings

In care professions, it is not uncommon to become so-called emotionally exhausted, according to figures from the Norwegian Working Environment Institute (STAMI). Care workers and social workers are among those at risk. They are the ones who to the greatest extent have to deal with other people’s or their own feelings at work, according to STAMI. While the average is 19 per cent, health and social workers are in first place with 60 per cent.

Just below the health and social workers we find doctors and psychologists, nursing and care workers, nurses and teachers.

To find out why many of those who work with people become ill and burn out, FO has recently invited all its members to take part in a multi-year study. Members from the Trade Union and the Norwegian Nurses’ Association will also be able to participate in the study.

This is the case

Many of those who work with people get sick.

Some choose to work on helping others after they have needed help themselves.

Health and social workers have the greatest risk of becoming emotionally exhausted.

Too much at once

Ever since Mirjam was a teenager, she has been a typical “good girl”. Or a “walking cliché” as she herself says. Growing up with drugs, mental illness and death in the family could just as well have resulted in her ending up in a drug institution herself. Instead, she started working on one. At the same time she took a bachelor’s and later a master’s. For a period, she also took further education alongside her master’s.

– There were quite a few balls in the air even then, says Mirjam and smiles cautiously.

READ MORE: – You must be aware that you are being emotionally beaten

She knows very well that she has a tendency to say “yes” too much, and knows that it can backfire.

It happened when she was subjected to violence by a client. The job was her first as a social worker.

Mirjam, who had always been so tough, was scared. And she has been ever since. Afraid of leaving the house, taking the bus, not getting a job, going broke, losing friends.

The episode led Mirjam to quit her job, but the next position she got was no less challenging.

Fontene knows where Mirjam has worked, but she wants to keep it anonymous for the sake of clients and the workplace.

- I am a person who likes action. I still think I am, even though I was scared after the violent episode. When you have lived a life with many ups and downs, you don't stop enjoying it.

– I am a person who likes action. I still think I am, even though I was scared after the violent episode. When you have lived a life with many ups and downs, you don’t stop enjoying it.

Hanna Skotheim

– No room for yours

– Many people choose a career that can repair something inside themselves. I’m probably that cliché. I have always had a big heart for those of us in society who are vulnerable. And since I have felt that there has been no room to raise my voice at home, it has become natural to raise my voice for others.

In job number two, Mirjam quickly noticed that she was very influenced by what the clients said. She failed to keep the professional distance.

– Meeting clients made me think: I don’t have room for yours. I have more than enough of my own.

Mirjam also started vomiting every day before and after work. She didn’t sleep, didn’t eat.

– How did you function at work then?

– I probably worked well. It has been my Achilles heel, even at my worst I did a good job as a social worker. But it went beyond myself.

We have always been tired

Mirjam was eventually told that she was burnt out. 13 percent of Norwegian workers have a high risk of becoming just that, according to a new study.

Being exhausted is nothing new. In fact, it can be traced all the way back to China and the year 2070 BC. This is revealed in the self-help book “Exhausted An AZ for the Weary”.

Today we are often tired due to chronic stress at work, social media, loneliness, lack of meaning in life and belonging. In the past, people blamed it on the fact that the bodily fluids yellow and black bile, blood and phlegm were not in equilibrium.

The way we look at being exhausted has also changed. In the past, being exhausted was seen as a sign of intellect and sensitivity. But it has also been seen as a serious threat to our society.

The term “burnout” first became known in the USA in the 1970s, in connection with the work of health and social workers and employees in other care professions. They often put themselves ahead of others and see work as a social and moral project that gives them meaning in life, and this leaves many struggling.

In the 80s and 90s, people began to talk more about burnout as something employees in all sectors can become. Then you are often emotionally exhausted, indifferent to the people you work with, and then you are no longer able to give as much at work.

Employees who have to deal with strong emotions in others:

Carer/social worker: 63 per cent.

Kindergarten teacher: 58 percent.

Care workers: 51 per cent.

Police/guard: 36 percent.

Lecturer/educator: 18 per cent.

Sales agent/broker: 10 percent.

Accommodation/catering: 6 per cent.

Information/communication: 5 percent.

Construction activities: 2.4 per cent.

(This is only a small selection of occupations that STAMI refers to in its graph. Source: STAMI)

Clarified relationship?

When Mirjam was studying social work, someone said that “you must have a clear relationship with the past in order to work with people”. It stuck with her.

– When things have become difficult in life, I have often thought that I do not have a clear relationship with anything. I can’t work with people. At the same time, I have thought that I am a good resource in meeting people.

Mirjam herself believes that it is impossible to have a completely clarified relationship with her own past, but she believes that it is important to have a conscious relationship with it.

– You must know what your triggers are. I have now learned that mine are drugs and violence. Unfortunately, that is also my field of expertise.

And that is also why Mirjam mourns. Because in recent years she has not been able to work with the only thing she wants.

– I have been and am very sorry.

READ MORE: They look after employees in emotionally demanding professions

A polished exterior

When FO Vestland organized a professional conference on emotional work in the spring of 2023, the response was overwhelming. The conference was fully booked and several were on a waiting list.

Care fatigue was also highlighted when the union asked on social media what the FO members wanted to hear more about in 2024.

When Mirjam saw the post, she had thought for a long time that there needs to be more talk about caregiving fatigue. If so many people are interested in the topic, perhaps her story could benefit more social workers?

She contacted Fontene, but with some scepticism. Mirjam had always measured her own worth in performance, but now she had become one of those who failed to do her job. And that at the age of 30. If she told her story, all her polished exterior would unravel.

– I challenge myself now. Pierces the perfectionist in me, she says.

– The people you have met at work are not polished. Why is it so important that you be?

– That’s probably why I’m sitting here, because I have to give more shit. No one is perfect.

Hanna Skotheim

– Save my life

Mirjam has experienced being welcomed by many employers, but there have also been cases where she has not been followed up well enough, she believes. She thinks that’s a shame.

– When you work in tough places, the jargon often becomes that you have to endure a little.

And that’s exactly what Mirjam did – until her body said no.

– I wish I put my gut feeling before “must”, “must” and “should”. But when you’re new and you’re doing temporary work, you often feel like you have to prove something.

For Mirjam, it went so far that she was finally admitted to Modum Bad. Then she had been depressed and isolated herself for a long time. She had also thought about taking her own life.

– It was more an expression that there were so many emotions inside me that I couldn’t handle them more than that I didn’t want to live anymore. But I was scared. I had never known that I was so done, that I couldn’t take it anymore.

Mirjam found it paradoxical. After working with clients who had had suicidal thoughts, she sat there and felt the same way herself.

Today, Mirjam is grateful for the weeks she received in treatment.

– It probably saved my life. Or: it has saved my life.

Boring routines

Before Mirjam was hospitalized, she did not deal with negative feelings towards and within herself. When she was discharged, she understood that there is a difference between the emotions anger, sadness and fear and that these emotions were connected to her childhood. She also got new routines: eat four times a day, get fresh air, cut out things and people that don’t do her good and talk about what’s difficult.

Mirjam has also started meditation, ice baths and saunas.

– I am a cliché.

– What advice do you have for other young people who are going to start a care profession?

– Say what you need to feel good at work. If we all become a herd of sheep who do not dare to speak up when things are not good or if you yourself are not feeling well when dealing with clients, then the problem will persist. At the same time, I know that the price of speaking up can be high.

Did not manage

The last job Mirjam had was in Nav as a social consultant. Far away from drugs and violence. But when, after a while, she was offered a temporary job, she declined.

– I didn’t want to work close to the client. Or I wanted to, but I couldn’t. And then I realized that I needed another workplace with a slower pace and more room for adaptation.

She has now got that: a 60 per cent position as external contact. Mirjam has been open about what she has been through and what she needs and is now fully facilitated by her employer.

– I have to try and maybe fail, and then I’ll see if I manage to be in positions close to clients.

– Do you perhaps need to have a clarified relationship with your upbringing first?

– Maybe, maybe not. I’ve probably chosen jobs that are too close to my own history, but I don’t think I have to have a settled relationship to move on. On the other hand, I have to be aware of the emotions that working with different themes triggers in me.

With your head held high? At least that is the impression Fontene's envoy gets after talking to Mirjam after the interview. With a new job and an employer who makes it easy for her, it may seem that life has become at least a little easier.

With your head held high? At least that is the impression Fontene’s envoy gets after talking to Mirjam after the interview. With a new job and an employer who makes it easy for her, it may seem that life has become at least a little easier.

Hanna Skotheim

The article is in Norwegian

Tags: Mirjam vomited day work realized wrong

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